Category Archives: Photo Kit

Lowepro Fastpack 250 Review + Pics

[singlepic id=13 w=320 h=240 mode=watermark float=left]So you need to carry your camera somewhere and your laptop so you need two bags right?, wrong. You need a Lowerpro fastpack 250 than can do both with ease. I wanted something that would allow me to carry my laptop and my camera gear in one bag and luckily for me Lowerpro had just launched the fastpack series. I went for the fastpack 250 as this is big enough for a laptop of up to 15″ screen size and I use a smaller more portable Dell XPS 1330 which has a 13″ screen, after a fair bit of research I found it cheapest at Amazon and ordered it straight away. As you can see from the pictures below the laptop fits in with ease and with plenty of room to spare. The back of the bag is also well padded to protect me and the equipment in the bag and it works well on both counts.

Lowepro Fastpack 250 Laptop opening and rear padding.

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But how much camera gear can it carry, well quite a bit I think considering its size. The images below show that there is plenty of space for several lenses, some filters and space for other bits and bobs. Its wide enough to carry a 40D with a 70-200 f4 or f2.8 L anything bigger and you will struggle to get it in. In the picture below there is a 40D with a 17-85 fitted, a Sigma 30mm f4, Canon 60mm Macro and a little Canon 50mm plastic fantastic, a few filters and space to spare. For me this is more than enough space to take some kit on holiday to take a few shots. Whilst on holiday I transfer some of my kit to one of my other bags such as the Crumpler Muffin Top 5500 that has enough space to carry some of the lenses and a few essentials.

Fastpack 250 Camera compartment

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In the top compartment you can store batteries, battery charger and more besides. I normally put a Nintendo DS in there and the power supply for the Laptop along with other bits and there is still room to add more see the image below to how big this areas is.

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All in all I’m very impressed with this bag it more than meets my requirements to carry may laptop and a few lenses on holiday which is exactly what I wanted it for. It’s not a full on dedicated camera bag so if you have 5 or 6 smaller lenses and a 300mm f4 then this isn’t for you have a look at a Lowerpro Trekker AW. It would also be nice to have the ability to lock some of the zips up as you might be carrying some pretty expensive gear that you don’t want to go walkies but with all the flaps at the back you would have to be very good to get in undetected if you were wearing it on your back.


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So I’m going to award it 9/10 losing a point on the slight security issue, but otherwise its highly recommended.

Crumpler Muffin Top 5500 Review

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So a bag is a bag is it, erm no, especially when they have names like Muffin Top and Pretty Boy they aren’t. We all have our own preferences on what makes a good camera bag and lets face it if you are into photography you will have almost as many as your other half, come on you know its true.

So this is the latest addition to my collection, the Muffin Top 5500. Its larger than my first Crumpler bag by quite a margin but some how it doesn’t look or feel to big which is great. My first Crumpler was a Pretty Boy Large (3000) which was good to carry around just my SLR (40D) but not much more really.

Crumpler Muffin top 5500 and Pretty boy (L) side by side

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This is a whole different story, I can now carry the Canon 40D (Which is a fair bit bigger than a 350/450D or Rebel) with the 17-85kit lens attached, a 30mm f1.4 Sigma and maybe 1 or 2 other lenses as you can see from the picture below. It looks like the tardis in comparison to the Pretty boy (L) that struggle to carry anything other than the body and the kit lens.

Its very well made with the same fabric as before and the expandable compartment at the front that you can fit a few memory cards in and other bits and bobs like some filters. I think you could even put something like a Canon 70-200 f/4 L standing vertically in the bag without too much trouble and still have room for another lens on top of the kit lens.

Crumpler Muffin top 5500 with 40D+2 Lenses inside

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All in all if you want a bag to carry around a larger SLR like the 40D and a few lenses then this is all you will ever need. It doesn’t feel heavy with the padded shoulder strap and has plenty of room in it without it feeling big, it doesn’t feel much bigger than the Pretty Boy to be honest and an important point for me it doesn’t ‘look’ like a camera bag. This last bit alone made it a top choice for me, I don’t really want to look like a target walking around the streets of foreign countries if I don’t have to and with this bag you don’t.

So for me I’d give it 10/10, a great bag at a very reasonable price.

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Backup using Homeserver and Carbonite

So you have loads of photos and data on your PC that you can’t afford to lose and need a method to ensure that both your PC and your images are backup up correctly. But you also need to know that you have a copy of the data off-site.

Well here is a simple guide on how I do it and what you need

Firstly this guide is only useful for Windows PC’s on the whole sorry, I know plenty of people use mac’s but currently I don’t but I’m sure you might be able to use elements of this guide.

Windows Homeserver

What is it and why do you need it? Windows Home Server is a piece of software that Microsoft have created specifically for the home. It’s based on Windows 2003 Server edition but with many of the features simplified for the home.  It can be installed on most older PC’s, I’m running it on an old Dell P4 desktop with 1Gb of memory and that’s more than enough.

However if I was buying something dedicated to Home Server (WHS) I’d have a look at one of these Tranquil Homeserver . It costs about £430 and consumes less than 40w of energy ideal for something you are going to want have switched on all the time.

Tranquil

So now you have your Home Server, you have bought it off the shelf or installed it on something you have already got and you are ready to go.

Install WHS connector software on your PC – PC Backup

To get the next feature that you will need you have to install the WHS connector software, this can be found on an additional CD that you should have got or connect to your WHS and go to the Software share and you will find the Homeserver connect Software there. Install this on each PC in your house.

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The WHS Connect software will do several things but the purpose of this guide the main thing is that its the conduate to backup each PC to your home server. Its extremely efficient at storing this data, if it backs up three Vista 32bit machines all with the same patch levels it will only hold one copy of the OS data and just reference it for each machine.

You can log onto the WHS via the connector and configure the backup’s to be done each day, week, month etc. and it will nag you if you miss the backup window by showing the server as ‘Critical’ its not but hey you got to love Microsoft sometimes.

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Important – Don’t use WHS to Backup Photos / music

One point to note, I don’t use the WHS software to backup my images in fact I specifically exclude them from the process. Why? Well speed of the backup for one and control being the other. I use a syncing tool to backup all my images, music and data directly to the home server so it can be viewed by other clients. If you only let the WHS do the backup itself it sits in a special file on the WHS that none of the clients can get access to other than via WHS. Don’t forget using WHS Media Connect software which is DLNA compliant you will be able to view the photos or listen to music via a compatible media player if you sync to the WHS not use the WHS Connector to do the backup.

Syncing Photos, Music to your WHS

To transfer your images and music to the WHS I suggest using something like MS SyncToy V2 you can configure this to your hearts content. Get to sync from the PC to the WHS only or both directions or just detect changes on one end. You can also set up multiple transfers.

I configure my Photos on one sync and Music on another to the corresponding directory on the WHS, I set it off once a week or so when I have carried out any major changes. Then after the sync is complete all the other clients and see the new files and can use them if they need to, he presto you have a media server.

Off-Site backup of your data via Carbonite

So you have constructed and configured your Windows Home Server, added files to it by syncing them from a PC and now you need to take another copy just in case the worst happened, Hard disk failure, fire, theft you name it, do you really want to take lots of lovely photos or rip all your CD’s to lose the lot…… no I thought not.

So you need Carbonite or a similar service. I use carbonite for several reasons, it works on WHS, it allows for unlimited (within reason) backup space and its not expensive. At $49 a year or $89 for 2 and now $135 for 3 years its extremely competitive especially when you consider the storage you can use. Currently I have a none to small 140Gb of space used up and its still growing fast. The data transfer is quick and the restore’s I’ve tried also seem to be ok.

Carbonite WHS Issues

Its not perfect, with WHS there seems to be a small bug when you allow WHS to span data across multiple disks itself, for some reason WHS won’t back them up. Carbonite sees them as if they are on other drives and they stay in a wait state, its a shame but it can be solved. If you store the data on one disk or use RAID so the OS doesn’t know where it is all is fine, so its not a big thing but worth mentioning. You can also start and stop the backup if you need to and even tell it to work on a lower priority so it doesn’t swamp your connection.

If you want to backup video files you will also need to select them individually, a hassle but at least you can do it. I think they are trying to limit the space people will use but if you have a compact camera that makes videos you are going to have to make sure you go through each directory to ensure they are all being backed up.

Backup times for me have been fine but remember that a typical UK broadband upload limit is only 256k not the 6-8Mb (6-8000k) download you enjoy when surfing the net and downloading things. If you can go to one of the newer services from someone like Be Unlimited they offer a service that gives up to 1.5Mb upload speeds very useful when you are using an off-site backup service such as this.

Conclusion

So there you go, you have a triple resilient solution that will have your data living in three places. Your PC, the Home Server and off site. This should be more than good enough for just about anyone. The only other thing that I’d advise to make things very secure is take a backup yourself to another hard drive and take it off site yourself, give it to another family member. This would only be needed if there was an issue with Carbonite of some sort and as anything is possible I might as well mention it.

So you need a Windows Home server, a couple of PC clients, a media player, an internet connection, router, and last but by no means least some great photos or music or other data to take advantage of this easy peasy full backup solution.

Useful Links

We Got Served
Windows Home Server – We Got Served – Widgets
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If anyone has any questions I’d be happy to answer them post away in the comments section.

Need some gift ideas for a photographer?

Ok so your other half or family member has a photography hobby and you don’t know what they want. So here are a few ideas that you might want to buy they.

Less than £50

Crumpler Muffin Top

Crumpler Muffin Top

Crumpler – Muffin top 4000 or 5500Shoulder camera bag – Yes that is what its called, it might have a quirky name (virtually all of there bags do) but its a good bag and they also do a great range. The company is a little off beat but there is nothing wrong with that. I went for a Pretty boy in the past but this is the latest over the shoulder camera bag they offer. The 4000 and 5500 will carry and SLR and a couple of lenses the 5500 could carry a charger and a flash as well perfect to take on a day trip or on holiday to carry a your gear during the day. I went for one of these because it doesn’t look like a camera bag and with hope will attract less attention as a result. On a recent trip around the Med on a cruise to Barcelona and Rome it was perfect. Camera out of site but easily to hand and the padding on the shoulder helps with coping with the weight of an SLR.
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£50-£100 Cleaning

Visible Dust Arctic Butterfly SL724 – Every photographer with an SLR gets a spec of dirt on there sensor at some time or other but how do you clean it without damaging it? Well the Visible dust ‘Arctic Butterfly’ is the answer. This model can be found as part of a kit from Warehouseexpress that also gives a lit sensor viewer and other cleaning swabs and fluids. Basically you get just about everything you need to look after mild marks on the sensor of an SLR camera a perfect gift for someone that hasn’t got all the cleaning bits that has just started out, this is a must have.

Tripod

Manfrotto MN190XPROB Tripod £77 – Just about every photographer needs a tripod at some time or other but to the person that knows nothing about them what do they get? Well with Manfrotto you can’t go far wrong I’d class them as the BMW of the tripod world, well made, handle well but don’t cost a fortune. This model has recently been updated with some new features that makes taking the shot you need easier and faster. The legs release quickly, its not too heavy but it is sturdy and you can make the column go horizontally out from the middle of the tripod to help get close to the subject when taking macro shots which is very useful. My only comment is that it doesn’t go very high, if the person thats going to use it is 5’11 or above then look at the 055XPROB (£110) as it extends higher when required but then it is quite a bit heavier, either are great.

Oh one other thing, you need a head. This is the bit that goes at the top of the tripod that enables you to mount the camera to the tripod. For this level of tripod get a 486RC2 head its about £35-40. You will have a VERY happy photographer if you buy them this combination.

£100+

This is where things can get a little tricky I’ve got one extra thing but note that everything so far doesn’t mention the actual camera. At £100+ you would need to look at getting specific things relating to the camera they have got. Is it a Canon, Nikon or maybe even a Pentax because it makes a huge difference as to what might be best to get and if it will even fit the camera. At this level you need to ask them about what lens they would like or how much something they are looking at is or get ideas from a good camera shop make a note of the model of camera they have got before you go though.

A full Camera Bag

Lowepro Trekker / Trekker AW / Compu – Now this can get tricky, but you need to look at Lowepro. Which exact bag can be down to how much you want to spend and which lenses they have got. As this is most likely a present for someone that doesn’t have too many lenses I’d go for either the Lowepro Nature Trekker II AW Black £140 or the Lowepro Photo Trekker AW II Black £165. Why are they good? Well they have everything; Space, they can fit just about every lens they will ever need to store for the amateur at least. They are waterproof, can hold a tripod on the side of the bag and have more little cubbyholes than you can shake a stick at. They are padded all over the place to protect the equipment and on the back to protect you from the probably substantial weight it might need to hold.

There are so many other ideas I could give I would be going on forever but here are the must haves for a photographer or certainly items like them. Put it this way they are ALL on my Christmas list and I certainly done my research.

Places to buy

If you are looking on the Internet then places like Warehouse Express and Jacobs are good, have a look at the likes of Amazon as well. Be careful with places like Jessops on the high street, they do price match other high street stores but you can and will often pay a premium for the same product, the list above would cost £100 more if bought from them put it that way. Looking for some lenses or equipment and want to get a good deal? then this is the place to check out, I use it all the time highly recommended link to bookmark CameraPriceBuster.

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Just got a Canon 60mm Macro

First Macro Shots

First Macro Shots

So into the land of Macro photography I go and what a cracking little lens the 60mm is. Its certainly not big and heavy like just about every other lens I’ve got other than the 50mm plastic fantastic I grant you but I was pleasantly surprised none the less.

In use its quick to focus but it does hunt about a fair bit if you are  just that little bit to close, zooming all the way out and back in again before stopping. But for macro photography  its better to go manual anyway. I’ve not got any fancy flashes or anything else yet but you don’t need anything.  All of the pictures in this post have light assisted by…… an LED touch, yes its really that sophisticated but it works and with a bit, ok a lot  more practice could get great results.

The 60mm is also very sharp, I’ve none a few shots and found things when post processing that I just couldn’t see by the naked eye.

I decided not to go for the 100mm EF lens and went for the 60mm ef-s for several reasons, weight being a big factor. I can only carry so much and really don’t think I’m going to want to take to many shots of bugs and they are are each as sharp as each other. Plus its cheaper and we are in a credit crunch after all.

Torch assisted Macro shot

Macro lens plus torch

I will post some more shots soon, but above is a classic little flower shot with a little back LED torch driven back lighting.

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