Dec 182012
 

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All you want for Christmas! Nikon Steals, RX1 Shipping, Pentax, Grado, Parrot Zik and more!

Ho Ho Ho! It’s almost that time again and I am sitting here writing yet another Christmas gift post. We only have just over a week until Christmas day and I am sure most of you have completed your shopping but I am sure there are a few stragglers holding out…waiting for that deal. Maybe some of you are looking for an X-mas gift for yourself after a year of hard work :)

This week I brought home a new gift for the family from a local dog rescue. A one year old Chihuahua named “Baby” who is super sweet (but now I know why she was named BABY). My old Scrubby is still kicking and looks like he will see yet another Christmas day, so for that I am thankful.

The Rescue Dog – Shot with the Sony RX1 at ISO 6400, no flash, f/2, indoor low light. Converted to B&W with Alien Skin Exposure 4

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So to all who are regular readers here and to those who may have just stopped by this one time, I wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays/New Year. 2012 Was amazing for me yet again and I am expecting 2013 to ROCK. I already have one workshop in the planning stages in an AMAZING location with Ashwin Rao and another in an even more Amazing location with Craig Litten. Craig is actually putting on this workshop and when I saw where it was and what it would consist of I knew I had to be in on it. I emailed him and mentioned that we should do a team effort and I will at least be there to join Craig and all the others who attend. These two workshops will be quite special and will be announced soon and they may be the only two I am involved in for all of 2013.

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Deals and Steals on the Nikon 1 System are still here, through December 31st

With that out of the way, let’s check out some last minute gift ideas! I will start with that amazing Nikon V1 deal, which keeps getting better. I swear that B&H Photo must have had about 1,000 of these in stock as they seem to have an endless supply. STILL in stock and at these prices they are outright STEALS:

 

 

Nikon V1 and 10-30 for $299 - WOW!

 

Nikon V1 with 10-30 and 30-110 for $399 – WOWZERS!

 

Nikon V1 with 10-30, 10-100, Nikon Lens Adpater, Flash and bag for $799 – Triple WOW!

 

 

This V1 deal is damn good and while the V1 sensor is not the best in class (that prize is taken by the Sony RX100) the camera as a whole is highly capable of superb results with fast and accurate AF and super RAW files. 10Mp means small file sizes which means manageable files and the HD video is VERY good as well. Also has a Mic input if you want super QUALITY Audio to go with that video. Take a look at my V1 setup that I am just now starting to use for videos:

The Nikon V1 and Rode VideoMic Pro – $299 for the camera and lens, $299 for the mic :)

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That is a Rode VideoMic pro attached and let me tell you, this mic is a HUGE upgrade to ANY on camera mic. The sound quality is up there with more expensive mics and it even has three settings. One that is a normal audio level, one with a reduce level and one with a higher sensitivity and if you want to record sounds from afar, this will pick it up with crystal clarity. It’s $299 at Amazon or B&H Photo.

The Nikon V1 at ISO 800 with the 10-30 Kit Zoom. Indoor no external light source besides the floor lamp behind me.

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So overall, I’d get in on the Nikon V1 deal, even if it is for a gift. The person getting it will be like “WOW, this is a $900 camera” and believe me, this is so much better than any $250 point and shoot.

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How about a steal of deal on a Pentax K-01? 

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I reviewed the Pentax K-01 a while ago and could not fault its image quality one bit. My main niggle was no EVF nor a way  to even add one because the LCD in full sunlight was awful. The IQ with the included 40mm lens was stellar though. You can read my review HERE and FYI, Amazon has the K-01 on clearance with the 40mm 2.8 lens for $449 and they have most colors available as well. Click HERE for all of the K-01 Deals at Amazon. Great camera, odd design. If you happen to like the design it is a GREAT buy right now. I was even tempted at this price but I have to stop myself as I already own the next camera on the list and it is doing just about everything I need.

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The Sony RX1 – In stock on December 22nd with free next day air shipping! 

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Amazon has the Sony RX1 coming in stock on December 22nd (ships and sold from Amazon) and they are giving FREE Next Day Air shipping with it so you can get it BEFORE Christmas. Amazon is up there with the best of any online retailer and I shop from them just about every single week. Never an issue and the best return policy in the camera business (though B&H is a close 2nd). While not a steal or a deal, I know a few of you are waiting for this one to be in stock and Amazon is taking orders NOW for a ship date of December 22nd, just a few days from today. My fave camera and yes, I own one with the EVF.

You can order the RX1 here and if you do, it will ship on December 22nd. The cool thing is Amazon won’t even charge you until it ships, not even for an authorization.

BTW, dont forget to check out the amazing RX1 shots posted at this TUMBLR page as well as the brand new Facebook Group devoted to the RX1! The group is not mine but I will participate from time to time and I expect lots of good photos and info there.

BTW, if anyone in your life is searching for the best pocket compact camera, my vote goes for the Sony RX100. You can read my review here.

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DEAL ALERT! Cool point and shoot! Great for teens or anyone who wants a small P&S! $96 deal.

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The Nikon S-01 is a very cool little P&S and in chrome/silver it looks damn amazing as well. These are marked down from $179 to $96 and are decent performers and super pocketable. Amazon has them for $96 HERE. Probably the coolest P&S this season.

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Other gift ideas that get my stamp of approval…

Being a tech guy I am in to all sorts of things besides cameras. I love guitars, headphones, audio equipment and anything “techie”. Technology is amazing and I try out so much gear it is insane. What I have kept out of all of that gear can be seen below so if you are also a tech person maybe you will enjoy reading what I have to say about these items.

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The Bella Lumiere Swan LED Lamp Black/Red – Great for video blogging, conferencing, and more.

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I have been using this lamp on my office desk for a few days and have to say that I really like it. The cool thing about this lamp is that it has three color temperatures from super cool to super warm. The lighting is soft and perfect for video blogging which is what they market it as… For example..if you use skype for video calls or conferencing or blogging this thing is great. It brightens up your face with a nice soft and flattering light, instead of harsh ugly light. I have even used this for a couple of product shot photos. It is a touch lamp and you can even adjust the intensity of the light in 3 levels per temperature just by a touch. Here are the specs and  I have the red and black on my desk and love it.

  • Excellent light for video blogging, video conferencing, makeup application, reading, and task lighting.
  • Uses 13W DiCon Dense Matrix LEDTM technology
  • 3 color temperature settings: tungsten to daylight
  • Dome-shaped diffuser accessory provides smooth softening of light
  • Touch control intelligence for convenient dimming. Modern design with a flexible neck allows ease of use

When I 1st saw this lamp I was like “yea, why would I want or need a $149 lamp when I can go get one for $15 from Ikea”? But this lamp has found a place on my desk due to the softness of light and color temperature and intensity settings. It also looks great with its bendable head that is easy to position. Amazon has them in BLACK or RED for those who appreciate good tech and light. Bottom line? If you do lots of video conferencing or Skype this lamp can come in handy.

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Headphones that I own and use and LOVE! (I’m an Audio Geek)

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Love good sound and good design? I do  and when I sit and work for hours every day I sometimes enjoy music running through my Grado PS-500 Headphones and Grado RA-1 amp. I also enjoy the Grado SR-80 and at $99 it has some of the best sound for the money easily beating ANY of the popular “Beats” headphones that are so popular due to style (but their sound lacks big time).

One set of headphones that I settled on for travel and wireless use after testing about 15 sets is the Parrot Zik bluetooth headphones. These have been causing quite the stir and some love them and some hate them. Me, I love them! I have spent quality time with them and learned how to get them to sound their best and the coolest thing is that they are WIRELESS and have rock solid bluetooth connectivity with my Apple Devices.

They are build like $1200 headphones, sound like $350 headphones and have the comfort of the Bose QC15 (but beat then for build and sound) and just about the same level of noise canceling. You can use them wired or without wire but if you try to use them with the wire and no battery the sound will be awful. Wired with battery is awesome and wireless just as good. They lean on the more Bassy side but also have some detail. They do not resolve the details anywhere near what the Grado’s do but they have a nice pleasing sound that is not fatiguing at all. The video below is of my Grado PS500′s. Love them for my serious listening…

With the Parrot Zik You can even use the special App on your phone, iPad or device and control an EQ, Noise Canceling and the Hall effects (which are awful for the sound). Overall I use these wirelessly with only the NC turned on. I love them and they have been on my head every day while I work. I love that when I am needed in the house for something all I have to do is remove them from my head and they pause my music automatically. The touch controls on the side means you can change songs or volume with swipe of a finger. These are pretty technologically advanced headphones and I have used them for music, phone calls, and meetings and movies without fail. The only thing I can say is get an extra battery as the included battery will last about 6 hours when using only NC. With the EQ and other effects you are looking at 4 hours.

The Parrot Zik headohones are NOT audiophile in quality but they are perfect for travel and causal use. Their convenience can not be ignored, neither can their beauty. If you buy a set keep in mind that you must have a charged battery in them for good sound and I highly recommend to keep the hall and echo effects OFF. This only adds sibilance and a hollow sound.

They do great with rock, jazz or acoustic and while not a master of any of these Genres, they will please almost anyone except the super demanding audiophiles. If you want a travel headphone with KILLER sound but wired and without noise canceling then check out the Sennheiser Amperiors. Light, comfy, great build and style with amazing sound. $349 at Amazon. These beat the new Momentums for Sound quality and look amazing in the blue Aluminum finish.

You can buy the Parrot Zik at Amazon HERE. Extra batteries are HERE

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HOLD FAST GEAR! Amazing quality accessories…

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Hold Fast Gear sent me out a couple of products about a month ago as a gift..they did not even ask me to review the items. I was told they loved my site and they wanted to send me a gift to show their appreciation. Of course I know this was probably a way for them to get a review but I never did review the stuff they sent, mainly because I have yet to use the main product which is a cool as hell photo belt designed to hold your lenses and accessories on a shoot, and it is BEAUTIFUL and well made with amazing Leather. They also sent me a little leather wallet that I have been using daily and it is pretty sweet. Even has slots for SD cards.

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I suggest everyone check out HOLD FAST because not only are their leather products jaw droppingly beautiful, the packaging is something to behold as well. They have a mix of straps and accessories that some will enjoy. They are on the higher end of the price spectrum  but the product is HIGH END and gorgeous. If you check them out, tell them I sent you!

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The Scarabeaus – A new way to carry your camera with German engineering and build. 

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I have had one of these for a couple of weeks, and I am the 1st to be using one. The inventor of the product wanted me to try it out and see how I like it. Well, I have been using it and have to say it is a pretty unique invention that does what it claims to do, and it does it well. The Scarabaeus is a solid German made device that attaches to your belt and allows you to carry your camera holster style. It fastens in securely so no one can snag it from your belt and it is easy for you to remove when you need the camera. This is a quality piece of engineering and while I enjoy it, I can not say I would use it with my Leica M because of the size and the possibility to ding your lens on a wall or something near you. BUT for cameras like the RX1, RX100 and Micro 4.3 this thing is super cool. No straps, no weight on your back or shoulder, just your camera at your side locked in and loaded ready to shoot.

I used this device to carry the RX1 on a full day shoot and it was pretty amazing. Most of the time I forgot I was carrying the camera as you do not even notice it there on your side (unless you have something larger like an M).

This device is perfect for the smaller mirrorless cameras and is constructed of quality materials. Made in Germany with precision. You can see their website HERE though I have to say that the site is extremely basic. Just the image above with an order link. If you would like a camera carry solution and are sick of straps this could be just what you have been looking for.

There is one con though. If you need to change your memory card or battery you will need the tool to remove the device from the base of the camera (allen wrench). Other than that it is a cool device and invention that I will enjoy using.

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Ready Cap! Put an end to losing your lens caps!

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Ready Cap is a very cool device that straps on to your STRAP and it stores and holds your lens cap when you shoot! If you are like me then you have gone through your share of lost lens caps and this is a pain especially when you have to re-order a few Leica caps :) From $14.99 you can put an end to lost caps, period.

I tried out the system and it worked for me and was simple and easy. The holder stays on your strap and just by reaching over and snapping your cap in place you are in business. You can buy any size adapter ring for any size lens cap you may have. The system comes with one size at $14.99 and each additional size is $3.99.

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So basically for $20-$25 you can be all set and never lose a cap again. Very cool idea and works as advertised. You can check out more of this at the ReadyCap website HERE!

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THE MICRO LENS POUCH! A must have to store your lenses on the cheap.

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These are cheap and amazing for storing your lenses. I have several and they are soft, protective and come in sizes to fit any lens. They are also CHEAP. Here is the popular 3 pack for under $30.

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and finally, some credit where credit is due! Great new music…

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It may sound cheesy but I highly suggest anyone that loves music..hard driving rhythms, catchy hooks and rythyms and superb songwriting that makes you want to sing along loudly ..to check out the new CD from none other than 80′s sensation RICK SPRINGFIELD. His “Songs for the End of the World” CD is so good there is not one stinker on the CD. These sound modern, not like 80′s rehashes. I like a few Springfield songs in the 80′s, hell, all of us from that generation did but I have to say this is his best music ever. It’s not just me either, read the reviews at Itunes, Amazon or on the web. At 63 Rick can still rock and create some kick ass music. If you buy the CD all of the tracks are awesome but stand outs are #2, #3, #4, #7, #8, #9, #10, #1 and #11.

I am a huge Music fan but I enjoy everything from Jazz to Bluegrass to Soul to Rock to the Classics. This is a GREAT CD. My fave of 2012. Don’t believe it? Take a listen for yourself.

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Also, do not miss the 99 Years of Leica book! It is well worth it for any Leica fan!

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Jun 202012
 

Gizmos and Gadget Review: Audio. Jawbone Big Jambox and AKG K495 NC Headphones

Good morning to all on this sunny and hot Wednesday (at least in AZ it is steaming HOT at around 113 degrees). Today I am supposed to post the top 10 selections in the B&W photo contest but I have delayed this to Friday because I have had over 1000 entries and looking over them all is taking me longer than I thought. I did not expect so many entries for the Wotancraft bag!  So what do I post today instead? How about something new and different? Many of you know of my love and passion for cameras and photography but you may not realize I also love technology and gadgets, especially audio gadgets. Many many years ago I built up a home stereo system that eventually ended up costing me over $25,000. It took me 7 years to build it up but just when I finally did  (2 months after it was completed) I went through a divorce and was forced to sell it all to pay the mortgage for the house I was left with. That sucked..but the good thing is life goes on and things like that are really not needed nor are they necessary to be happy in life.

So that was about 2 years ago now and these days I have decided to NOT go down that audiophile road again as

A: It is much to expensive and I am not a rich guy…

and B: It can get crazy and take up too much of my time…

and C: There are much more important  and meaningful things in life.

Nope! These days I keep it simple with only a couple of things around the house that can stream my music and I also have some headphones I use for travel. So today I thought I would change it up a bit here and post about these little gadgets that I love and live with every day.

The Jawbone Big Jambox

I am sure many of you reading this are also gadget guys and gals so if you are then I am sure you know about the Jawbone Jambox. The original jambox is basically a small (but very well constructed) bluetooth wireless speaker that you can take anywhere and have your music streamed from your phone or even iPad/Laptop. The only issue with the jambox, for me at least, is that I find the volume incredibly low. So low in fact that when I bought one I thought I had a defect, so I exchanged it for another. Same thing though. The original jambox can NOT fill ANY room with sound as Jawbone advertises but it does work well when used with the “Jamchain”, lol.

When Jawbone released the BIG JAMBOX I decided to try it out and let me just say that this guy is LEAGUES better than the original in “real world use”. The Big Jambox WILL fill a room with sound, even my living room. It also comes loaded with “Live Audio” which is absolutely incredible when you have the speaker close to you. While in bed I heard the singer right in front of me, a guitar plucking to my left and a cymbal crashing to the far right – filling my whole bedroom. The effect is astonishing if you are in a quiet space with the Big Jambox really close to you (within 2-3 feet).

The Big Jambox comes in at only $100 more than the small jam box at $299, which may seem pricey for a bluetooth speaker but this one sounds good, and is close to the B&O Beolit that comes in at $800. The battery lasts for 15 hours, it has a bluetooth range of 33 feet and it has loads of volume.

You can see a video demo I did of the small jam box and big jam box below…

Basically, if you want a great and portable nice sounding bluetooth speaker I can highly recommend the Big Jambox. Great design, build, controls and sound for $299. It is all wireless but you can also plug-in a device as well. I use this in my bedroom at night and sometimes in my office and even when I shower. It delivers where the small jam box chokes. I bought the Graphite Hex version but it is also available in a cool RED color as well as White. Great device.

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Noise Canceling Headphones: AKG K495NC or Bose QC3?

Headphones seem to be making a comeback as I remember they were pretty big in the 70′s and 80′s but in the 90′s and early 2000′s it seemed earbuds were more in style. These days it seems that everywhere you look you see a teenager with some “Beats by Dre” around his neck or head like it is more of a fashion statement and they are trying to fit in with the crowd..the masses who buy these things called headphones. The fact is though that those “Beats by Dre” headphones are simply awful when it comes to sound quality with even the $199 Solo’s sounding like they are made of cardboard. Muffled highs, muffled mids and bloated bass rule the Beats line. In other words, they suck for sound but the teens like the way they look so they buy them and like them but they really have nothing to compare them to besides the $3 earbuds that came with their iPod.

I have had MANY headphones on my head over the years ranging from $20 KOSS models to $1600 Sennheiser models (HD 800) as well as some pretty snazzy headphone amps but all I keep around these days are a cheap pair of Bose OE2 (and I am NOT a Bose fan) DUE TO THE EXTREME COMFORT and a pair or noise canceling headphones. A year ago I bought a pair of Bose QC15′s as everyone said they were amazing for noise canceling. At the time I was traveling constantly and I found the Bose to be a lifesaver on the plane because I would just use them to shut out the noise so I could sleep. That was the cool thing…you can use them without a cable and you do not have to have music playing. The noise canceling on those QC 15′s was scary good.  Only problem was that they were $300 and the sound quality when I wanted to listen to music was AWFUL. Very laid back..no dynamics, no slam, no good bass, soft treble and recessed mids and even distortion if turned up with some high energy music. For $300 I was  hoping for good sound but did not get it, so I sold them after a year and planned to find something better.

The Bose QC3 – Noise canceling really good..sound quality not the best

I tried demos of a Sony pair but found the treble harsh…tried a Sennheiser but it was HUGE and even some smaller Sennheisers but they were coming it at $499, too much for me to spend on NC Headphones. I eventually ended up with another set of Bose NC phones, the QC3..and to my surprise, I really liked them. The comfort level was amazing..the most comfy set of headphones I have ever had on my head. It was like the earpieces were made of pillows, lol. The QC-3 headphones are light, small, on ear style and come with a rechargeable battery that will last you 20-25 hours. Form factor is just right. Comfort is off the hook. Build is good but not “great” and they come with a case, a couple of cables, a charger and an airline adapter and even a 30 day trial period with a no questions asked return policy. Like I said, I am NOT a Bose fan but these headphones do what they say they do, and they do it well. They are quiet due to the excellent NC feature and they are comfortable as a headphone can be – so the name “Quiet Comfort” fits them perfectly.

The only issue is the sound is a bit on the mellow and laid back side, typical Bose style though I must say that the bass and treble is better than it is on the over the ear and much larger QC 15′s. To me, these have been the best sounding Bose set I have come across (and I have tried them all) with the small and super light OE2′s coming in 2nd (FOR BOSE, not headphones in general). The Bose sound is a little muffled as well..sort of dull but “pleasant”. NOT for Audiophiles.

At $349, the high cost of these headphones, I was hoping for a better quality of sound. I guess you can’t have it all (size, comfort, portability, noise canceling quality, superb sound quality and decent price).

Enter the new kid on the NC block, the AKG K495NC

About a week after I found and bought the Bose QC 3 I found the new AKG K495NC headphones. They are also noise canceling, also on ear (my pref) and have a built-in battery that lasts for 40 hours and recharges via USB. The build also looks (and indeed is) much more solid than the Bose. They come in at $349, the same price as the Bose but come with a cloth cable (two of them to be exact) and a wall charger and USB charging cable. They also have a case and they fold up nicely though they are larger than the Bose QC-3. As for sound and noise canceling, the AKG K495 NC’s actually  do a better job than the Bose 3′s in both of these areas.

I made a video showing both of these which will go into more detail…

So long story short, due to build quality, sound quality, volume of sound, longer battery life and AKG name I decided to stick with the 495′s and return the QC3′s to Bose (who give you a 30 day try out to see if you like them). The AKG’s are nowhere near as comfortable as the Bose but they are not bad at all. The issue I have with them is they clamp my head a bit and the cups are not as soft as the Bose. They are also heavier on my head but in reality I know they will loosen up a bit (all headphones do) and get more comfy with time.

Audio wise they do not distort at high volume like the Bose and they will play much louder and have more slam, dynamics and with much better treble and tighter bass. At the same price point it is a no brainer UNLESS you are one of those people who just LOVE the Bose signature sound which is a bit muffled, laid back, mellow and soft.

Either set would be a good choice but the AKG offers more for the money IMO. At $349 these are not cheap but compared to $1600 headphones (that can not be taken anywhere due to size and the open back designs) these are really not that insanely priced for what you get…which is silence on airplanes or trains when traveling. For that, both of these cans work extremely well and have given me much more peaceful flying time as well as pleasant dreams :) One thing to note about the AKG’s is that you can also listen to them without having the NC turned on. You will lose Bass quantity but it is possible. With the Bose when you turn them off or run out of battery the headphones are useless. No sound. So there you go. Also, the Bose have much more sound leakage than the AKG as well so when you wear them the person sitting next to you may hear what you are listening to with the Bose – not so with the AKG’s.

BTW, I am well aware there are MANY NC headphones out there and I have demoed MANY of them. The best of the NC bunch for actual NC have been the Bose sets and now this AKG set. The others never stacked up when it came to NC, Sound or portability (which is a big one for me and traveling).

For all of you wondering why I posted this to my camera blog don’t worry! I will not be writing much at all about non-camera gear but since I put up the youtube videos this week on these gizmos I decided to make a post about them while I work on this B&W Photo contest. Besides I know many of you may be interested in these things anyway, so thank you for reading!

Steve

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