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Holiday gift guide: Outdoors photographer

Colin
December 3, 2018

It’s an affliction that every photographer suffers from; we love gear. It doesn’t matter if it’s a camera lens or a headlamp, we’re like bees to honey when it comes to gadgets.

For me and a ton of other photographers, it’s not just camera gear we lust after; it’s the other stuff we use out shooting. Whether it be the 20-mile hike to that epic sunset location, or killing time during a long airport layover, there is always something that can make you more comfortable. For me, considering most of what I do takes me far from civilization here’s a few things I’d be stoked to unwrap this year.

Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody ATOM LT HOODY MEN’S

I’ve got one of these hoodies, and it is probably my favorite insulating layer. The Atom LT Hoodie tips the scales at just 415g, but it warmer than garments weighing twice as much, and the air permeable CoreLoft insulation means it breaths and hot air can escape during exertion, unlike most puffy jackets.

The face fabric on the inside is soft to the touch, and the wrist cuffs are the best design I’ve come across on similar layers for comfort and durability. It’s got big pockets and the hood will accommodate a climbing or ski helmet too.

US$299 / AU$380

Goal Zero Sherpa 100 AC + Nomad 28 Solar panels

Of all the gear I’ve used this past year traveling, the Goal Zero Sherpa 100 + Inverter and Nomad 20 solar panel have been the most useful things we brought. With phones, cameras, headlamps and even headphones needing batteries these days having a portable power pack is becoming essential. The Sherp100 can be charged with the panels, through a 12v car charger or a wall socket, and holds enough power to charge a smartphone 10x or laptop twice.

When you charge with the solar panels, it takes about 8-16 hours to top the Sherpa 100 off, and the panels can also be plugged directly into your device via USB too.

Everything is water resistant, but I wouldn’t leave things out in a deluge and weighing 5lbs total, your devices might even outlast you.

US$549.90 / AU$948

JBL Flip 4 Bluetooth Speaker

Sometimes a campsite or a day at the beach needs some tunes, and the JBL Flip 4 is a compact reachable Bluetooth speaker. It’s water resistant (IPX7) and sees and features like voice assistant integration so you can use Siri through the speaker. What’s better, it also allows you to connect multiple devices and alternate which device it’s playing from so that everybody can pick a song.

JBL Flip 4 Speaker US$99.99 / AU$128

Garmin Fenix 5

Garmin’s Fenix 3 is the ultimate Ron Swanson approved manly smartwatch. It does everything a watch does, but with built-in GPS, and ABC (alto, barro, compass)  it can record your hike, help you navigate both directionally and topographically and let you know if there’s a storm coming.

The watch is also Bluetooth enabled meaning you can export your activities to Strava wirelessly and download apps from the Connect IQ store, there’s everything from detailed weather forecasts to sunrise and sunset times, and it’s got wrist-based heart rate too. It’s like a swiss army knife for your wrist.

Garmin Fenix 5 US$599 / AU$789

Petzl – REACTIK+ 300 Lumens Headlamp

Petzl’s REACTIK headlamp, along with a space blanket and pocket knife are all things that never leave my camera bag.

Being outside you never know when you’re going to get stuck in the dark, and having a decent light source on hand has saved me more than once. This little light packs a 300-lumen punch and can be set to change its brightness based on the ambient light to maximize battery life. You can also connect it to your phone to see remaining battery life and change the light mode in real time.

Petzl’s REACTIK headlamp US$109.95 / AU$200

Smartwool Merino 150 Boxers

Bear with me when I say merino wool undies are one of the greatest things on earth. Not only does the soft material cradle your undercarriage nicely, but they also don’t chafe or smell — an especially nice feature after three or four days camping or a long haul flight from Dallas to Brisbane. They’re a little pricey but worth every penny!

Smartwool Merino 150 Boxers US$49 / AU$60

SOG Aegis Assisted Folding Knife

 

A high-quality pocket knife is something everyone should have. Once you get an EDC knife, you’ll be amazed how often you use it and wonder how you got by without it! You also don’t need to spend a fortune to get a great knife. The Sog Aegis Assisted open folding knife has a 3.5in straight edge blade and sees the brands assisted open technology.

The blade itself is made from high-quality AUS-8 steel and gets a black TiNi finish.

Patagonia Black Hole 60L Duffel Bag

Patagonia’s Black Hole duffels are nearly military grade. Whether it be remiss baggage handlers, or dogs who’re confused what’s a chew toy and what’s a bag, this duffel will keep your belongings safe, dry, and organized. I’ve got one, and after a rough life, it still looks brand new!!

Patagonia Black Hole 60L Duffel Bag US$129 / AU$169

AeroPress Coffee Maker

There are few things better in this world than crawling out of a tent and brewing a hot cup’o Joe. The AeroPress system is like a french press but way more portable and makes fantastic coffee in a couple of minutes. What’s better it’s super portable and easy to clean.

AeroPress Coffee Maker US$29 / AU$49

MSR Pocket Rocket 2


When climbing out of said tent and brewing that cup’o Joe, you’re going to need to heat some water. MSR’s Pocket Rocket is pretty much the smallest lightest stove you can buy and is claimed to boil a liter of water in 3.5min.

MSR Pocket Rocket 2 US$44 / AU$107.95

Yeti Rambler Lowball

Now you’ve got your coffee brewed, and the scenery is sorted you’re going to need a receptacle to drink from. Yeti is known for making hard-wearing functional gear, and the Rambler is no exception. It’s vacuum sealed and will keep your coffee warm (or another beverage cold) for hours, and of course, because it’s not made of plastic there’s no risk of BPA or other nasties. I’ve got a couple of these in my kitchen cupboard, and I can honestly say they are my favorite mugs.

Yeti Rambler Lowball US$19.99 / AU$24.94

Don’t forget to check out my 12 Gift ideas for photographers

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13 Gift Ideas for Photographers

Colin
November 27, 2018

Photographers are a hard bunch to buy for because we lust after gear that costs thousands of dollars. What’s worse is there’s so much photography speak involving dynamic range, bokeh, F-stops, chromatic aberration, and it all sounds like gibberish to the uninitiated.

To help you cut through all the BS I’ve put together a short guide of gift ideas for photographers that are sure to make the shooter in your life smile (hint, hint, nudge nudge).

Mindshift Backlight

 

Mindshifts Backlight is the perfect pack for the adventure photographer. The back panel access pack comes in 26L and 36L sizes and has plenty for Pro size DSLR bodies and lenses as well as room for extra layers, snacks, and even dedicated compartments to carry a 15in laptop and full-size tablet.

Mindshift Backlight 26L US$249 / AU$362

Mindshift Backlight 36L US$289 / AU$379

DJI Mavic Air

Drones are all the rage at the moment and they allow for some truly unique imagery. The Mavic Spark is the brands smallest, lightest and one of the most capable in its lineup. I’ve toted one of these all over the world in my bag and it’s been a solid performer throughout, and the size and weight factor make it an easy travel companion. Weighing just 430g, the Mavic Air has a three-axis stabilized gimble which totes a 12mp / 4k ultra HD camera, follow me modes, collision avoidance and so much more a whirlybird from DJI will put a smile on any giftee’s face.

DJI Mavic ProUS $689 / AU$1,299

Fstoppers Flash Disc (FS FlashDisc) Portable Speedlight Softbox

 

fstoppers-flash-disc

Portable light modifiers that don’t suck are few and far between. Because of their size quite often modifiers that will fit in your backpack just are not big enough to defuse the light from a flash very well, but an exception to that rule are the FStoppers Flash Discs. I have two which never leave my bag because they’re lightweight, pack down to just about nothing and work surprisingly well. They have their limitations but can be put onto any Speedlight and are extremely portable.

Fstoppers Flash Disc US$39.99 / AU$66

Vortex Media Pro Storm Jacket Rain Cover

Vortex-Media-Pro-Storm-Jacket-Rain-Cover

Like with flash modifiers, rain covers for cameras are extremely bulky. You could argue they should always be with you, but sometimes there just is not enough room in your bag for something that packs down to nearly the size of a telephoto lens. The solution is the Vortex Media Pro Storm Jacket Rain Covers!

Made from rip-stop nylon it’s essentially a tube your camera and lens goes inside that you cinch down on either side. Weighing all of 70g, they come in a variety of sizes and colors, I have two a medium and XL and that covers all of my lenses – I’ve even used them to cover off-camera lights too. They’re not the ideal solution when it’s raining cats and dogs, but for inclement weather, you’ll be glad you have them

Vortex Media Pro Storm Jacket Rain Cover starting at US$50 / AU$65

Think Tank Pixel Pocket Rocket

Think-Tank-Pixel-Pocket-Rocket

Keeping memory cards organized is a royal pain in the ass, and they have the uncanny ability to find every hard to reach nook and cranny inside your bag.

The Think Tank Pixel Pocket Rocket is a small card wallet designed to stip cards from disappearing into the deep dark depths of your bag. It can hold up to 10 cards (SD and CF) and the outside is made with DWR treated ripstop nylon, so even if you get caught in a rainstorm your media stands a chance of staying dry. What’s better is it comes in bright color combos that you can easily spot in even the messiest camera bag. There’s also a strap which can be clipped to your belt or the inside of your camera bag for a bit of added peace of mind.

If you  to buy the Think Tank Pixel Pocket Rocket, and you spend $50 or more you’ll receive free shipping and a free gift courtesy of Think Tank

If you click through to Think Tank with as THIS LINK, you’ll get to choose a free gift at checkout when you spend more than $50

Think Tank Pixel Pocket Rocket US$19.95 / AU$21

Giottos AA1903 Rocket Air Blaster Large

Nothing can ruin an awesome shot faster than a dirty lens, and camera lenses seem to be a magnet for dust and dirt.

The best way to get rid of these pesky particles is to blow them away with a sharp blast of air, and the best tool for the job is the Giottos AA1900 Rocket Air Blaster. There are plenty of these handheld air puffers available, but what sets the Rocket Blaster apart is the one-way valve which prevents it from inhaling dust and puffing it back onto your gear.

Giottos AA1903 Rocket Air Blaster Large US$12 / AU$20

Peak Design Clutch

This is by far my favorite camera strap at the moment, and the Peak Design Clutch secures your camera body to your hand to the point you don’t really even need to hand onto it.

It’s compact, bomb proof and super comfortable to wear, what else do you need?

Peak Design Clutch US$ 39.95 / AU$ 69.95

LensCoat Lens Cover for Canon 100-400 IS II (Real Tree Max4)

LensCoat-Canon-100-400-IS-II

If you know me, you know I love camo. I can’t explain it (maybe it’s because I’m a little bit red neck), but I just do. So Lens Coat’s neoprene lens covers were a no-brainer for my telephoto lenses. Not only does it look cool, but it also provides a bit of added protection for your $2000+ lens. The neoprene covers offer a bit of impact protection and also insulate the lens from extreme temps and a bit of moisture and dust.

They come in a variety of colors other than camo, and just about every lens on the market. Even more, if they don’t make a cover for your lens, they’ll make you a custom cover!

Pricing varies depending on lens and color

 Data Color Spyder5Pro

 

If you’re printing photos, having a color calibrated screen is extremely important otherwise it’s a shot in the dark as to what your photos will actually look like.

The Spyder5Pro is a relatively inexpensive way to make sure the colors on your computer screen are true. I use the exact device,  and it’s as simple as having it from your screen pressing play and following a few prompts.

Data Color Spyder5Pro US$189 / AU$296

ProGrade Digital Dual Slot Workflow Reader USB 3.1 Gen 2

After Lexar unexpectedly was sent to the chopping block after the brand was sold earlier this year, a couple of former staffers branched out and created ProGrade Digital – despite being a young company its got 60-years experience working in the memory card business.

ProGrade makes a couple of different dual slot readers that cover MicroSD, SD, CF and CF Fast cards, so no matter what you shoot you should be covered. The reader utilizes a USB-C highspeed connection and even has a magnet on the back so you can stick it to the back of your laptop when desk space is at a premium.

ProGrade Digital Dual Card Reader US$79.99 / AU$TBC

 Bose Quiet Comfort 35 Noise-canceling headphones

I think everyone should have a good set of headphones. Between traveling and working and sometimes you need to be able to drown everything else out and focus.

I myself have a set of these noise canceling headphones and they are the first thing I stuff into my camera bag when I’m headed to the airport. They are super comfy and I’ve worn them the entirety of international long-haul flights and long days at the computer working to a deadline.

 Bose Quiet Comfort 35 Noise-canceling headphones US$349 / AU$499

Phottix Odin II TTL Flash Trigger

Camera Hacks: Phottix Odin Wireless Shutter Release

The Phottix Odin II triggers are my radio triggers of choice. The reason being, they just work! I’ve never had any issues with misfires, they’re easy to use and offer advanced features like high-speed sync and rear curtain sync. They are also backward compatible and will work with the older Odin triggers.

Phottix Odin TTL Flash Trigger for Canon US$210 / AU$365

Sigma 35mm F1.4 ART DG HSM Lens for Canon

Sigma-35mm-F1.4 ART

Lenses are super expensive, and for the most part, you get what you pay for. However, Sigma’s 35mm F1.4 ART has proved to be a workhorse lens, and at half the price of the Canon version, it demonstrates a fantastic performance to price ratio.

It’s sharp, fast focusing and does a pretty good bokeh and has accompanied me to everything from the Tour Down Under to the One Hit Wonder Big Air.

Check out my first impressions of the Sigma 35mm F1.4 ART

Sigma 35mm F1.4 ART DG HSM Lens US$899 / AU$942

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV Full Frame Digital SLR Camera Body

Canon-EOS-5D-Mark-IV

On the extravagant side of the spectrum is the Canon 5d Mark IVCanon’s 5D series of cameras are workhorses for photographers the world over, and the Mark IV is the latest edition the range. While Canon’s new mirrorless EOS R has been in the news, it just doesn’t quite measure up to the 5D Mk IV. Taking 30-megapixel images and a burst rate of 7fps is ideal for landscape and action photographers alike. It’s also got built-in Wifi, a touch screen, dual pixel focusing and majorly improved dynamic range.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV Full Frame Digital SLR Camera Body US$3,599 / AU$4,788

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Skyroam Solis Global WiFi Hotspot review

Colin
November 26, 2018

Having been on the road for roughly 10-months one of the most significant issues I came across was the need for data. Whether it be maps, emails, catching up on work, or entertainment; through Europe, North America, and New Zealand staying connected was more difficult (read: expensive) than expected.

Before I left Australia back in February, the folks at Skyroam sent over their latest unit, the Solis, for me to put through its paces.

On paper, the service that Skyroam is offering sounds like the perfect solution to buying sim cards, navigating prepaid wireless/data plans around the world, or searching out free wifi. In practice, however, the Solis comes up a bit short

Highlights

What is it?

Sky Roam Solis

The Solis was able to pick up a signal on the ferry trip from Iceland to the Faroe Islands

With the Solis, SkyRoam advertises unlimited 4G LTE data 24-hour day passes which cost US$9 or US$9per GB credit which lasts up to one month — the unit itself will set you back US$149.99. There are no contracts to sign up for, and you only pay for what you use which is convenient.

Using what SkyRoam calls ‘vSim technology,’ there isn’t an actual sim card you need to install, simply fire up the orange hockey puck and it will connect to a wireless network in a claimed 130 countries and provide wifi for up to five devices at a time.

The Solis is, in fact, a tad larger than a hockey puck measuring 90mm across and weighs 186g. There are only two buttons on the device, an on-off button on the side and the wifi button on the top to be honest; I’m not totally sure what the second button does.

It’s here where the SkyRoam’s cracks begin to show, for starters the power button does not work every time. At least one out of every five times I went to turn the device on or off, I would hold the button down, and nothing would happen. When it does work, you’re going to have to hold it anywhere from three to ten seconds to make anything happen. On a few occasions, the device would turn off and on every five seconds for a period of about 15-minutes after only one button push.

The Solis utilizes a USB-C connection port and takes eight hours to charge fully the battery life is in line with the claimed 20-hours. With such a large battery, the Solis can be used as a powerbank to charge your other devices too.

The Interface

SkyRoam Solis

Unless you download maps ahead of time, you’re going to need data to get around. This is where the Solis shines

To get started, you either need to download the Solis app or go to a.skyroam.com. Here you find a mobile-optimized dashboard where you’ll register the device and can go on to buy day passes. The Solis gives you 20-minutes of free wifi to for registration only.

To be frank, the interface could use a bit of work. Quite often the web portal comes up with a popup written in Mandarin, and the device would regularly disconnect from devices with a prompt saying the password was incorrect, even though I’d already been connected to the Solis seconds prior. In the months of using the unit, I never discovered a workaround to this, other than turning it off for an hour and trying again.

There were also many times where the unit would get stuck halfway through its boot up process, and no amount of turning it off and on again would make any difference.

SkyRoam has recently released a Solis app, which is an improvement, but in my experience some of the same issues still present.

The big problem

Even light social media usage between two people leads to your connection being throttled

I’ve used the SkyRoam all over Europe, North America and even in New Zealand and Australia. Provided there was cell service, the device would connect to the network once properly booted up.

SkyRoam explicitly advertises the Solis as ‘offering unlimited high-speed internet around the world,’ however, this is not exactly what’s on offer. With each 24-hour day pass, you get roughly 1gb of high speed 4G LTE and then your connection is throttled to 2G.

Pulled directly from the SkyRoam website. The claim about unlimited fast data is misleading

I asked SkyRoam directly about the drop in speed and Laura Sebastinelli from the brand’s marketing team had this to say.

“As for speeds/data, please note that there are a variety of different factors that can contribute to connection and speed such as crowded places, the buildings surrounding you, structures that don’t give you direct access to antennas, etc. With that said, our day pass model is optimized for average data use. Our fair usage policy states that in order to deliver on our promise to provide the best high-speed connectivity experience to our community, we may need to reduce data speeds after a certain amount. With each new day pass, the data limits reset.”

This is fine if you’re the only one using the hotspot for checking email and scrolling through social media for a short period of time. However, if more than one person is connected, or you’re trying to use the hotspot for work you will FLY through this data, and be stuck with dialup speed internet.

Final thoughts

SkyRoam Solis

The Solis will connect to a mobile network in a claimed 130 countries

Ultimately for intermittent use, the SkyRoam Solis is a convenient solution for the need for data while traveling. Being able to hit the power button to and within a few minutes have portable secure wifi is handy.

But, I would not rely on the SkyRoam as your sole source of data. The brand’s claims of unlimited high speed 4G LTE data are a bit dishonest, and the recent launch of the pay per Gb program  where 1Gb costs the same as a day pass  is quite telling.

The long battery life and the device doubling as a power bank set the Solis apart from similar hotspots on the market. However, the data slowdowns make me hesitant to rely on the device as a solution to keep connected while on the road.

Where to buy

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