What camera should a beginner buy?

Stident on old collage chum George Neal had never picked up a camera till I got him shooting a Fujifilm X-20. Later he ugraded his camera to a X-T1. Here is George on the left with both camera next to Piet Van den Eynde on a recent trip to India.

Student and old college chum, George Neill, had never picked up a camera till I got him shooting a Fujifilm X-20. Later he added an X-T1 to his kit. Here is George on the left with both cameras next to Piet Van den Eynde on a recent trip to India.

One of the more frequent questions I get asked, is “What is the best camera I should buy if I am a beginner?” Honestly, these days there are so many choices, which can make it confusing and overwhelming. But the reality is it doesn’t have to be. I tell newbies to step back, take a breath and answer a quick question or two. Then I give them usually one, possibly two answers. They are almost always happy if they follow my advice. Continue reading

Protection for your other Camera


You know that a good camera bag is an essential. You also know that you can never seem to find the right bag, right? If I ask any given photographer how many bags they have I usually get an embarrassed eye-roll and then a number between 5 and 20. Seriously, bags are important, first and foremost for protecting your camera and lenses. But what about your other camera? You know, your phone. Continue reading

Review: Polaroid Camera Instant App

Instant The Polaroid App

Instant The Polaroid App

This post falls under the heading of Just for Fun. We have covered some pretty heavy subject matter over the past few weeks so I thought it might be fun to let our hair down and play.

I have used a small app called, “Poladroid.” It was a small little app that would take any existing photo you had on your computer and turn it into a realistic Polaroid snap. The fun started as you got to watch the image slowly appear over three or four minutes. It has a few options but was pretty straight forward, much like the Polaroid it was styled to mimic. One of its fun features enabled you to take your cursor and shake the image as it was developing, and after it was processed the image would have fingerprints on the frame, much like the original. But recently I was trying to use it and it kept crashing. Apparently it is not Mountain Lion compatible, so off I went to the App Store and found what amounts to a younger brother, “Instant” made by ThinkTime Creations. It is not made by the same folks who made “Poladroid,” but it is branded by Polaroid. In fact it is the official Polaroid app, and does the same things Poladroid did, only better. Plus, it does the old app one better in that it is available for both the Mac as well as iPhones and iPads! My review here will mainly be for the Mac app.

Continue reading

Move over Pogo, your little brother is on the way.


Sophie is a printer and case.


Under the heading of, Wouldn’t This Be Nice comes a concept by Mac Funamizu, an iPhone case and printer combo called Sophi1. To me it looks like it is based on the Zink inkless printers like the Polaroid Pogo. The Pogo is a printer I have been using on and off for the last several years. Lately, it has been more off than on. Why? Two reasons. First, it is cumbersome. You need to carry the printer and cable in another pocket as you photograph. Continue reading

  1. Thanks to Victoria for the heads up in this.

Depth of Field: Kevin Russ

Kevin Russ

Kevin Russ

Kevin Russ, by his own admission likes to take the path of least resistance. This path has taken him from a shooting studio work (on a DSLR), being one of the first photographers with iStock and later becoming one of their inspectors. To now shooting almost exclusively with his iPhone and living out of his car. He sells his images both on iStock as well as society6.com, a social media website that sells prints and kitsch with your images on it. He goes where he want to go, he shoots what he wants to shoot and he lives by his own rules. Kevin Russ is his own man. Continue reading

Review: Think Tank Photo Urban Disguise 60 v2.0

The Urban Disguise with modular pockets added to give it even more versatility. The modular system is held in place small attachment straps.

It’s been some time since I’ve written a review on any photo bags. One of the main reasons has got to be the fact that I haven’t bought or been given anything new in a while. Today, I received an e-mail from Think Tank Photo about a promotion they’re running and it reminded me that I never gave you my thoughts on my Urban Disguise 60 version 2.0.  So I felt this was as good a time as any to list out a few thoughts about this bag. On the outset let me say that I use this bag on almost every trip I take. This is not a bag that lives on the shelf. This bag has seen the world!

This bag is about the same size as its predecessor, this should come as no surprise as they are the same bag just different iterations.  Starting from the back of the bag and moving forward, these two versions look almost identical.  The padded compartment that holds the computer as well as the main large compartment that holds your camera or other gear is about the same. The big differences in this version appear in the front.  They completely redesigned the front pockets on this new bag. All your documents and accessories are much easier to get to. Before, to get at any of your documents or accessories you needed to lift the main flap and unzip the compartment holding your documents. This was unwieldy and sometimes frustrating. This new version places the main zippered pocket right on the outside flap. Inside it are several smaller pockets and dividers one of which is inside zippered for security sake and another locked with a “hook & loop closure”1. Some bags have just too many pockets. I’ve been known to put things in a pocket later to not remember where I put it and start freaking out thinking I’ve lost it. I haven’t had this happen with this bag.

Big enough to carry my MacBook Pro, a pro camera and a few lenses to boot!

I find the Urban Disguise 60 to be the perfect size. It’s big enough to carry my MacBook Pro, a pro-size body and the lens or two if you wanted. But, that’s not how I use it. So here’s what I do – I packed my pro bodies in my Think Tank Photo Airport International. In the urban disguise I carry my computer, my power cable, my Fuji X Pro 1 with both the 35 mm and 18 mm lenses and my Kindle Touch. Of course, I also carry all my documents and any tickets that I need as well as iPhone and headphones. Speaking of my iPhone, I have switched out the strap that comes with the bag and have replaced it with the Think Tank Photo Keep it Up strap. The strap is more comfortable for me and in addition it has a small pocket for my phone.

Secure zippered pockets on the outside of the bag in Version 2.0 make it easier to get to your documents.

There have been occasions when I am traveling light that I have shot out of this bag. However, to be honest I rarely do this. Not that I wouldn’t, especially using the attachment Straps as seen in the top images. It is just that I never travel all that light and I usually pack the bags or holsters I need.  Out of the many models of Urban Disguise I find the 60 to be the right size. However Think Tank makes five versions:

  • Urban Disguise 35 V2.0 – Carries a 13.3” laptop with a regular size DSLR or a 10” netbook with a pro size DSLR.  Also carries a 70-200 f2.8 attached to a DSLR with two to three additional lenses.
  • Urban Disguise 40 V2.0 – Carries regular or pro size DSLR with a standard zoom lens attached and two to four additional lenses.
  • Urban Disguise 50 V2.0 – Carries up to a 15.4” laptop, a regular or pro size DSLR with a standard zoom attached, and two to four additional lenses.
  • Urban Disguise 60 V.20 – Carries up to a 17” laptop, a regular or pro size DSLR with a standard zoom attached, and three to five additional lenses.
  • Urban Disguise 70 V2.0 – Carries up to two pro size DSLRs with lenses attached in main compartment.  Can fit a 70-200 f2.8 attached to a pro size DSLR.

Here is a short video on the Urban Disguise series of bags:



So here is the special offer for September that might of interest.  Should you order one of their popular Urban Disguise shoulder bags, you can receive one of their Urban Disguise Attachment Straps or a Shoulder Harness V2.0 for free!




Disclosure: I don’t want any misunderstandings. Whereas I try to be honest and forthright in all my reviews, you should know that I am sponsored by Think Tank Photo and they on occasion provide me with bags. I have had product owners and manufacturers approach me about sponsorship, but I usually turn them down. I seek out my own sponsorship because I believe in certain bands so much that I want my name associated with them as I hope they will want their name associated with my mine.


Free Strap or Harness with any Urban Disguise v2.0


  1. aka Velcro

iPhone Offline Maps Review Revisited

Back in September of 2010, I did a blog post on a few iPhone offline maps. It became actually one of my most read blog posts. I realized I have struck a nerve with many of my fellow travelers.  The iPhone Maps app is great. It can direct you through a city with very little difficulty. The problem is it needs a data stream to work. But let’s face it, most of us don’t want to pay for international roaming so we can’t use the Maps app on the iPhone. This is precisely why “offline maps” have become so popular with travelers. Continue reading

Singapore: Just a snap.


Limitations almost always lead to creativity. I’ve blogged about this in the past. It seems counterintuitive, but it’s true. Whenever we limit our resources we force ourselves to be creative. I can recall in the early 90s my first computer was a Mac SE. I needed to do what today is called a presentation. In those days there was no presentation software or at least I could not afford it. But my Mac did have something called HyperCard. HyperCard was one of the very first hypermedia applications made and came free with my Mac. It was a very simple “stack” of virtual “cards”. I pushed it’s abilities to create a complex and engaging game that led players through all kinds of questions that I wanted them to address and explore. I used this later at a kiosk and let visitors play it. My budget and technology forced limitations on me and yet I did things that the software was not even designed to do.

The same principle applies to photography. When we limit our camera, the lens or even the subject matter we force ourselves to be creative and explore new options. We force ourselves to see things in new and different ways.

Last week I wrote a post called, A Black Box about how I was trying to encourage my daughter in photography using an iPhone and a simple application called Hipstamatic. I talked in that blog about how we put too much emphasis on gear when photography is done in large part through the eye of the shooter. A few days later I read Chase Jarvis’ blog about his new project called “Dasein: an Invitation To Hang” a project about the importance of the “snap shot” in photography. Then, only a day or two later David duChemin talked about the creative freedom a point & shoot can give in his post Point & Shoot, My A**.  Between David, Chase and I, it seems many of us are coming to the same conclusion one way or another. I would say it is a longing for a simpler time, except shooting film and processing it was never simple. This is not an issue of film versus digital. It goes beyond that to something more basic. It goes back to the image itself. The simple visual structure of what makes an interesting photograph. What is visually compelling? Where things like subject, angles and composition are everything. I think we get seduced by technology, I know I do. I love gadgets and I love “messing” with an image for hours in Lightroom. But at the core, isn’t it about the moment? Different moments than are time spent in Lightroom. Those second between when you see what you think might be a photograph and when the camera comes to the eye and you move to position yourself for the shot and then of course the… snap! There in that 15 to 20 seconds you have the bulk of the creative process. Limited options forcing you to do something to, dare I say, be creative. It is there where the photographer longs to live. In those moments we find joy.

Last week I took my family to Singapore for the Broadway (can you say Broadway when it is in Singapore?) show The Lion King. I wanted this to be  a family time so I left my 1Ds MK III and 5D MK II and all my lenses at home. I took nothing more than my iPhone and my favorite camera app Hipstamatic. I wanted to practice what I was preaching to Jessie and the world. Singapore is one of my favorite cities in the world. It is alive and vibrant. The city is made up of three main cultures, Chinese, Tamil and Malay with a heavy Colonial influence. So whether walking Arab Street, shopping on Orchard Street or eating at one of the many wonderful cafes I took my phone to share with you what I saw. I put together a slide show and I hope this might inspire some of you to use what you have and get creative.

You can find a html version suitable for iPads and iPhones HERE.

A Black Box

Fast as lightning.

All photos in this post taken by Jessie Brandon. Click on an image to view full size.

© Jessie Brandon, 2011

The debate over what is the best camera, best format of camera or even what is the best lens has been going on long before digital media ever was even conceived. I really had no plan to address this issue, but then something happened last night.


Mom on the beach

Last night my daughter got excited, again, about taking and making creative images. Here is the back story; we decided to go for a family walk on the beach. My wife loves to pick up driftwood and bring it back to the garden. But, last night there was no driftwood in sight. So we sat on some rocks on the edge of the ocean and watched a storm moved through. I pulled out my iPhone and opened up my Hipstamatic app and started snapping shots of my wife and the storm. Jessie, my daughter, soon grabbed my iPhone from my hands and started playing with it. In fact she got obsessed with it. I joked with her and suggested she should try to take a picture of the lightening lighting up the horizon, knowing there was no chance she would catch it with an iPhone. I showed her that if you hold the shutter button down how you can have it “triggered” and ready to go off as soon as you lift up your finger. It wasn’t a minute later that a lightning bolt struck, then one struck immediately afterward. Jessie lifted her finger off the shutter and shot her picture. She tried to catch the first, obviously not knowing there would be a second. But she captured the second bolt. I was amazed!

She got so excited that she started taking pictures of everything, our feet, us walking down the beach – everything. I’m always amazed at how good of a compositional eye my daughter has. What she doesn’t have is patients, at this point in life, to fiddle with f-stops and shutter speeds. I wish she did, but she doesn’t. And so, I’ve wrestled with how to keep her interested in something she’s obviously very talented at. Sometimes, I think to be a photographer you have to have a fancy camera with buttons and dials. But I’m seeing that the true photographer is the person who has the joy and excitement of creating moving artwork even if it is with an inexpensive app and an iPhone. The phone might be the way to keep Jessie’s interest in the medium. I bought her a Canon Rebel but it stays most of the time in my dry box. I guess it is a lot of effort for a 14 year old to get the camera out, shoot, then download the images to Lightroom or even iPhoto. But the iPhone seems to have that immediate gratification that she needs. Hipstamatic helps with that, giving her creative options with different lenses and film effects.

So what’s my point? The point is, fancy gear and tons of money is not necessary to make beautiful, artistic images. For fulfilling art, it doesn’t matter the camera or the lens. A camera is nothing more than a black box with glass. What matters is your vision. Can you express it in a creative and communicative way? For me, my expensive gear gives me a creative control. For Jess, for now, maybe the iPhone and this app is all she needs. Certainly, these pictures talk. They tell a story. They are the voice of a 14-year-old. And I think they speak loudly.


Dad and Mom