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Incase Sonic Headphones

The funny thing about reviews is that you never know when you can trust them. In the end it almost always comes down to one single personal opinion. No matter how much of a technical expert one may be, there is always room for a bad call. We all have odd days, right? We all have opinions that change, grow, mature. While a review is a good starting point for discussion, what it really boils down to is YOUR opinion. Your expectations should not be based off of one happy or upset reviewer, no matter how much you may or may not respect them. I am not trying to instill paranoia or distrust in anyone, I just think its worth considering whenever you start to research a new product.

That out of the way, I know you guys have always seemed to enjoy when I review things so I am getting back in the saddle with a new pair of headphones. They are not a new pair to the market, but they are new to my ears and I figured some of you may appreciate the opinion. You know or can read my opinions on the last two pairs reviewed, AiAiAi Tracks and TMA-1’s.

I continue to use a pair of TMA-1’s for work, but now use the “studio version” which I honestly don’t care for as much as the originals. The redesigned ear pads are much prettier than they sound and the updated drivers don’t sound as well rounded to my ears. I switched simply because my previous pair was stepped on in an audio booth by a large guy and cracked the headband, so I bought the updated model simply to try something new.

My poor Tracks, however, recently died on me, again due to my rough lifestyle at work. I was wearing them while wiring a stage at a theater and the cable was hanging too low as I kneeled over. It got stuck under my knee as I stood up and pulled the cable out of the “Y” junction with no hope for repair. Usually one of the headphones would just pop out of the headband for me but it was too sudden and forceful of a tug that it ripped it right out.

I am not an average user when it comes to headphones, I tend to have a few pairs around for different uses. The TMA-1’s are for work because they are sturdy and I don’t have to worry about blowing the drivers when pushing them heavily in loud environments. My iPhone earbuds are nice enough for riding a bike or casual, quick needs. I also have a modest pair of Ultimate Ears that are more of the “shove in your ear” variety which I like because they offer a fuller, more controlled sound than the Apple buds so I toss them in my bag if I am packing light for a trip or day out.

Which brings me back to my dead Tracks. I really loved the pair and still fully stand behind my previous review of them, but, I could not help but take the chance to move on to something new, fresh for my ears and something to review (brag about) here. Also, before I forget, the reason for owning a pair like the tracks is to use as a casual pair for day to day listening and average travel. Something better balanced and fun than my work pair but more fulfilling than my Apple or Ultamate Ears pairs.

After a little bit of reading and digging around I decided on a pair of the Incase Sonic headphones. I remember seeing them enter this market a while back and while it seemed odd at first seeing a bag company get into the headphone market I realized it actually make a lot of sense. They have top notch industrial designers on staff so of course all of the models they sell are gorgeous. Do they have a great sound to back that up? We’ll get back to that shortly.

Among the four options they offer style wise, I have only tried two pairs, their Sonic and Reflex models, back during my last trip to Seoul. The cushions on both are like pillows and sit comfortably over your ears because of the suede like fabric used to line them. The big difference between them is the way they sit on your ear, the Reflex sits on your ear while the Sonic lies around your ear. I went back and forth trying to decide on which I would purchase and decided to give the Sonics a run for their money.

After a few days spent with them I know already that I made the right call. I was a little worried about the overall size but because of the nicely padded carrying bag included with them its a breeze to carry around with me in my backpack. For a pair of over the ear headphones like these they have a surprising amount of comfort without the bulk of most over the ear headphones. It is easily one of the most natural feeling pair of over ears I have worn, no small statement I know, but in my personal experience it’s true.

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The physical construction of the Sonics (and the Reflex for that matter) is pretty much outstanding so far as I have noticed and felt so far. The fit and finish is wonderfully tidy and detailed, not unlike many of their products. I would go as far as to say it is very Apple like. Nothing goes to waste. They have a slight rubberized feel to them and so far, unlike other headphones with this finish I have seen or used, the coating has not been peeling off, even in a couple of circumstances where they drug against a rough surface while I was on a job site. They have a respectable, solid feel to them and the ear pads have a perfect amount of give to them to perfectly shape to your head.

Something worth noting is the cable included. The Sonic has a detachable audio cable with a non-obtrusive Apple compatible remote built in. The removable cable is nice for transport and for the accidental tug on the headphones which would result in the cable unplugging rather than your headphones being pulled apart. The travel bag shipped with the pair has a little pocket inside for the cable as well as an included adaptor to quarter-inch connections. The length of the cable I could see some people finding too short but I love it. The less cable, the less of a chance it will get caught up on things. It is just long enough to reach into a pocket or carry a device in your hand but not so long that there is a lot of extra length getting caught on things. This may be an issue with anyone using them with an iMac for instance where the cable would have to reach across a desk and behind the computer.

As an added bonus, and I assume they are still shipping this way, there is an additional cable included with the headphones. The two cables offer two different color options, to either match the highlight color seen on the inside of the cushions or the color of the shell.

Well, that brings us to the best part, the sound. Nine times out of ten with this kind of style centric headphones you get a sub par sound out of them. (Heres looking at you Beats) Having this in mind I was pleasantly surprised with the frequency balance in the Sonics. They did not go after the pop music audience with the way these were tuned, they seem to have gone after more of a broad, discerning audience. The most obvious example of why that is would be in the bass response. It is not at all overwhelming and leaves plenty of headroom for the rest of the music to be heard while still providing enough of a punch to feel a nice warm bottom end while listening at modest levels.

There is a bit of a dip in the upper mids but still has enough shine in the highs to give you a nice clarity that won’t leave your ears feeling exhausted. Being over ear headphones, there is a fair amount of space to the overall sound also referred to by many as the ‘sound stage’ but not a very open one which is to be expected seeing as it has a closed back design. I prefer ambient sound dampening from closed back headphones in many cases which I did miss from time to time on the Tracks in circumstances such as a loud table neighbor at a a coffee shop.

Of course as with any pair of headphones your ears and personal taste goes a long way into what works for you personally and it may take a moment to get adjusted to the tuning. Also worth noting is that they are not the loudest pair of headphones you will find out there, at least not without a dedicated headphone amp. Straight off an iPod or iPhone you may find yourself with the volume a click or two higher than usual. I don’t see this as a bad thing at all because they are plenty loud really, just something worth noting.

All in all I could easily recommend these. As of the time of this writing they are being sold with a fairly deep discount over on their own site which is nice to see. See also this nice video from Incase about the process of designing them. I don’t own their Reflex models I can also safely recommend those from my short time spent with them, they also have a nice solid sound and construction but with a smaller overall size. If you have any questions about the Sonics I would be happy to answer in the comments below, otherwise, happy listening.

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EDC

I have been following the slow rise of the EDC (Every Day Carry) movement for a few years now and always enjoy seeing what sort of interesting small gadgets people carry around them every day to get their work done. It has spurred quite a lot of new products and refined products to match the needs of the mindset which is, broadly speaking, doing as much as possible with the smallest amount of gear.

When it comes to what I carry with me every day it varies greatly because my daily needs vary quite a bit. Some days I am an audio engineer, some days I am a photographer, some days I am both, and other days I just want to relax. This leaves me with a lot of different tools to juggle and I certainly don’t need everything with me all the time. One thing never seems to change though and that’s what makes it into my pockets every single day, everywhere I go.

What you see above are the items that are constantly with me, minus my keys which have no interesting gadget to show off on them because I don’t like any junk hanging off my key ring other than keys. I figured it would be interesting to some of you to briefly talk about what you see above, sort of mini reviews of each item.

Starting on the left, the wallet is one YoungDoo bought for me in Seoul from a stationary store called MMMG. It’s a sturdy simple leather wallet with just enough for all I carry in it; ID, a couple business cards, a couple credit cards, and a bit of cash. I also have an amazing travel wallet I may review here on 50ft if I find the time.

Next up is this thing I picked up a few months ago called an iPhone. The “i” stands for internet or something and it’s kind of cool I guess. Ahem… Right, I have had an iPhone since day one with its first version which now lives in a drawer with my original iPod. I was at the MacWorld where it was first announced and first saw one slowly spinning around in a plastic tube of a display case.

I love the iPhone, its the kind of device that I would daydream of existing in some made up science fiction world growing up. Actually, I remember thinking in the future we would not buy cds or tapes but would take a little tiny device not much bigger than a headphone jack to music stores where we could buy music to fill it up. I am always amazed at technology and how far we have come. To be anything but completely amazed at the devices we take for granted every day is a crime. I have plenty I could ramble on about here but I will leave it at that. The case is super minimal and snaps on the the back glass of the phone and is flush with the metal antenna*.

Next up is my knife. Some areas of the world see carrying a knife as an act of aggression and for many that may be the case, but this is far from a weapon, its a tool that I use through out the day. I have tried a number of knives over the years but have happily settled on the Spiderco Dragonfly G-10. It has a short blade and overall length but is brilliantly designed to be held with your full hand. Your index/pointer finger safely rests at the joint of the blade and the handle giving you great control over the knife as you use it. More traditional knife designs feel strange and sloppy to use after getting used to this type of Spyderco design.

I equally love the design of the minimal wire clip which is sturdy and allows for the knife to sit nice and deep within my pocket. While there are a number of handle options I prefer the green g-10 version because its nice and grippy. Anyways, there are a lot of great knives on the market and everyone has their favorite but in my opinion Spyderco makes some of the best available today.

Next up is the Field Notes notebook plus the little pen I shove inside. I started using moleskine brand cashier books this size but the cover would fall off all the time so I gave Field Notes a try and never looked back. The quality of the paper and cover are second to none and the various editions they make available are always fun. I use these all the time during work and as a place to scribble quick notes and ideas.

The pen I keep inside is one I ordered from Jet Pens.  I have tried small pens like this in the past but none have ever had as smooth of a line as this Ohto Petit-B. I love a smooth skinny line from my pens and this is fantastic considering the size. The only downside is having to pull the pen out of itself, spin the middle around and insert it back into itself to get it to full length but I have used it so much that its second nature at this point.

Last but far from least is my flashlight. There are countless amazing lights on the market now because of a few dedicated small companies constantly improving themselves. This is a Quark 123 Tactical light from 4Stevens. After a lot of research I settled on this light because of the great combo of price versus performance. The tactile version allows me to have two separate modes to easily jump between with a simple twist of its head. I jump between a medium brightness and the full power mode. I usually use medium bright to save battery life but love the full brightness which is blinding and satisfying and comes in quite handy in certain situations. The flashlight takes a beating too, I use it constantly at work both in dark venues and while navigating my way through dark corners of a building during an install. It is not invincible though.

A few months back I dropped it while working on a lift four or five floors up on a score board. I watched as it slowly fell down, down, down. It was far enough a distance where I could sit there and watch it fall and have time to anticipate it hit the ground. After recovering it the body itself was perfectly fine outside of a dent on the base, but the circuits inside came loose and the lights head no longer worked. Thankfully, 4Sevens sells replacement heads and I was able to get it fixed up without having to buy a new light. I also bought an alternative clip that allows me to push the light deep into my pocket so it is more secure as I carry it around.

Worth noting is the fact that this version of the light is no longer available. The company has been transitioning into a new variation on their brand which can be found here. Also worth noting is they have some of the best prices on CR2 batteries anywhere. a 10 pack of them for 20 bucks is amazing.

Other common sights in my pocket are sharpie markers, a handkerchief, a smaller flashlight, and maybe a tool or two specific to the job for the day. I also carry a mini tool kit assembled to take care of as many needs as possible without the bulk of a full took kit. If there is any interest I can discuss it and its contents some other day.  So that’s that, what and why I carry what I carry from day to day, hopefully some of you found something of interest in here.

*Update: Almost immediately there were a number of people asking about the iPhone case. Of course I should have remembered that my audience here consists of a lot of iPhone users! I bought the case in Seoul while traveling in Korea. It is made by a local brand that, as far as I have been able to find, only sells their product within Korea. It’s been a great case with a nice matte finish making the phone easier to hold without adding any bulk to the device at all. It would never protect the phone from a real fall but keeps the back of the phone nice and clean. It snaps on with an optional double sided tape which uses a very light adhesive to make sure it stays on the back of the phone. You can see the companies page on the case here. It’s also available from 10×10, a great Korean online shop but I don’t know if they ship anywhere outside of Korea. I daydream of importing great Korean products like this and selling them on 50ft.

Another small update while I’m here, I also now wear a wristwatch everywhere I go which is a watch YoungDoo and I bought for each other to celebrate our wedding. It is a Uniform Wares 200 Series watch which I am madly in love with, its such a beautiful watch.

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Ari Marcopoulos Camera Bag

A couple of months ago the thought crept into my mind that it was time to get a more suitable camera bag for my needs. Oddly enough I have only ever had two or three camera bags, one of which was a small, single camera crumpler and the other a small Lowepro backpack. The problem I was coming up against was that I found myself carrying two or sometimes three different bags around with me from day to day. One for my essential camera gear, one for my simple small day to day things like an iPad, notebooks, etc. and one for my work needs like my laptop, tools, cables and other such things. Problem was that more often than not it was the cameras that were getting left behind and while I always at least had my small rangefinder on hand I often wished I had my 5D or other cameras for different things that would come up to shoot.

When I first started to look into getting a new bag I thought I wanted something that could carry everything all at once. I researched all of the big camera backpacks on the market and was close to jumping in but was quickly grounded when it was suggested to me that maybe I don’t really need to have everything with me all the time. Perhaps its best to split work and casual needs into a couple of bags because more often than not I don’t need both sets of gear at once. Once I let the idea settle in I realized I could do all I needed with a nice simple photo bag that was also capable of carrying a few other everyday needs like my iPad, notebooks and pens.

This made the search a bit more simple and I narrowed it down and decided to get one that I had my eye on for quite some time. The Ari Marcopoulos Camera Bag made by Incase which was co-designed with the bags namesake. Clumsy name aside, after measuring it out and deciding it appeared to be big enough for my needs I jumped in.

The first thing I noticed when loading my gear in for the first time was that it felt smaller than I thought it would be. I was used to using a slightly larger lowepro backpack for my camera gear. After considering the size of the bag versus what I felt I  really needed to carry from day to day I found that its humble size helped me fully realize that I don’t need to go full tilt with camera gear every day. What I narrowed it down to still may seem like a lot to some but it’s just enough for me to feel prepared to pull out a camera of choice at a moments notice. As of this writing the photo below shows what I am carrying inside at the moment. It varies a little depending on the day but this is a pretty typical set up.

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After spending some time with the bag I can see why it may have cost so much for such a simple, mid sized bag, it’s the details. A lot of thought seemed to have gone into the details of how it was assembled such as reinforced stitching all over the place, plenty of cushy padding, and different types of fabric to best accommodate each part of the bag. For instance, there is a nice soft furry fabric liner for both the iPad area as well as the spot designed to accommodate a small point and shoot camera. I usually stray away from products that have been over engineered to the point where they feel contrived but I feel this bag manages to hold steady to that important balance between cleverness, usability, and style.

The attention to detail where the internal organization is concerned is very specific and planned to the point where the only logical places to store your different gear is exactly where it was designed to be stored (such as your main camera body with lens fitting only in the middle slot). This is because that while the interior section dividers are secured with velcro, and are able to be removed if you choose to do so, they can not be placed wherever you please inside the bag because most of the interior is a simple padded nylon fabric. This limits your options if you are the type that feels the need to be overly specific with such things but for me the design intentions worked out perfectly.

The ambidextrous nature of the strap design was a huge plus in my eyes as I greatly prefer having the strap rest on my left shoulder where many sling type camera bags force it onto your right. Once it is pulled tight across your chest it fits really comfortably. The strap also features a clever design that makes it quick and easy to tighten and loosen the bag on your back as needed with a simple pull and while did take a little getting used to I found this to be a really handy feature on a camera bag. Speaking of the feel of the bag while worn, I have a fairly wide frame and this bag suits me well. My brother, who has a tall, slim build couldn’t get as comfortable in the bag as it fit a little too big for him. This is something to take in consideration if you are someone with a smaller build but may not be true for everyone, just wanted to mention it.

When I pull the strap to fit lower the bag can be pulled around in front of me and sit open which makes for a great work surface. This is because of the way the zipper opening pulls back some of the fabric of the front of the bag leaving its overall profile slightly curved when closed. The fabric then does not simply bunch up at the opening, it sits open in more of a ‘V’ shaped opening which makes it easy to get to what I need. With many messenger style bags the weight of the bag will pull the main opening closed leaving it a bit more difficult to easily get things in and out of the bag. This already came in handy recently during a trip to a lake nearby. I had waded out 20 feet or so into the water and was able to confidently have the bag open by my side where I was able to change out cameras and gear without any struggle and left me not worried about dropping anything into the water.

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One last little thing I wanted to toss in here about its physical features was the fact that there are a couple of straps on the bottom of the bag for a tripod or jacket should you need them. Also, as you will see in the photo below, there is a subtle grey scale screen printed on the back side of the bag, most likely a random idea from the photographer that ended up in the design. I am thankful they decided to simply leave it hidden on the back side of the bag.

There is a nice zippered space inside the bag behind the main camera compartment where you can store a notebook/papers and has a dedicated sleeve designed specifically for an iPad but any small tablet or device similar in size would fit in there just fine. I was actually surprised at how much I could comfortably fit in this section of the bad but if I stuff it too full it does eat into the space within the bag overall.

Of course, a perfect bag does not exist and there are a couple of things that I didn’t really care for personally. On the front of the bag there is a small flap held down with a magnet and behind the flap is a small zipped access point to the inside of the bag where they made space for a small point and shoot. While this is a handy feature that I have used a couple of times I feel the zipper opening there under the flap is not quite long enough and I have to put more effort into digging my little XA2 out than I would like. I do sometimes miss having a place to put a water bottle but I have gotten used to this and on occasion I will shove one in the bag above the cameras, not ideal, but it works. There is also a rain fly that is stuffed into a hidden bottom pocket which is great and all but the fly has a weird face printed on it that they added supposedly as a design feature from the photographer they collaborated with on the bag but to me its just a bit to ugly for its own good and clashes horribly with the otherwise wonderfully minimal appearance. This can be remedied by flipping the fly inside out but this does leave the stitching exposed.

My solution for this was to simply head to a local camping store and buy a bottle of Tectron water repellent. The bag is a heavy canvas material which appears to be as close to 18 percent grey as they could manage to make it, another clever design detail, but this does leave it fairly open to attract dirt and stains so I felt better after adding a couple of coats of the repellent which left water rolling right off it’s surface and has over the last couple of months kept it cleaner than I feel it would have been otherwise.

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Overall I feel it was well worth the money spent and I can see getting a lot of use out of this great bag assuming it stands the test of time and heavy use which is always the deciding factor of any bags true vitality. I have no reason to believe I wont get a few good years out of it. I have already grown to miss it when I don’t have it around and it has proven to be a fantastic companion to my every day and allowed me to keep shooting along side my often hectic life. I can easily recommend anyone looking for a new camera bag to give this a go. You can find more information on the bag on its dedicated page on the Incase website here.

If you have any questions more specific about the bag I can do my best to answer them so feel free to leave any in the comments below. Also, after a couple of requests, I added the top image in the review as a desktop for anyone interested.

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AiAiAi Tracks

Many of you may remember when I reviewed my pair of AiAiAi Tma-1 headphones a few months back. I still have them and love them and use them all the time for work but I did eventually decide that they felt a bit big for my daily carrying needs. I switched to a smaller day bag and like to keep less on me on casual outings so a lightweight option for listening on the go felt like something worth investing in.

This lead me to one of my exhaustive searches for a great pair of portable lightweight headphones. I started with Sennheiser as I usually do when looking at headphones and made my way through every headphone manufaturer I could find looking for a good mix of portability and sound quality which narrows down your options quite a bit. Within this range most headphones were clearly designed for more common, casual listeners. This lead to most products having a higher focus on easily sellable bullet points such as big bass or noise canceling, things that I don’t really care about at all.

After reading a number of reviews and finding a couple of nice overview articles on headphones in this category I narrowed it down to two pairs and the set that won ended up being another pair of AiAiAi headphones, the Tracks. When they had first released them I remember pasing them off as all style, no substance. When they reintroduced them with new, more subtle color choices I decided to look closer.

Finding reviews was not too easy because boutique companies with a focus on good design such as AiAiAi don’t often find their way to the usual headphone, audiophile type review sites. The majority of articles about such products are more of the same old re-links and copy/paste press release info. Among the sites I did find them on, I noticed a trend of their nearly univeral praise among even picky listeners. Reactions were usualy that of surprise at the great experience. In the end I took a chance on them and they ended up being my go to headphones for all casual use.

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Now, onto the details. They are lightweight, easy to manage, well constucted despite their simplistic appearance, and sound pretty amazing for such a humble, compact pair of headphones.

At first glance you can see that the design is clearly influenced by the early days of the walkman and some of those early filmsy foam padded, metal banded headphones that ruled the portable listening world. I will admit this made me nervous when buying them because with my always being on the move I am pretty rough on things. They turned out to be a robust pair of headphones and while I do use the provided nylon bag to carry them around in, I have had no trouble at all durability wise. The simplified approach to the design is refreshing and actually leaves less components to break as I have had happen with more ellaborate designed headphones. If they happen to get crammed a little too tight inside my bag the earphones just pop off of the snap on points of the headband rather than cracking or breaking.

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Then there is the sound, the life force of any good pair of headphones. While these use a closed back design, the foam pads are very much open so these are not going to block off a lot of sound around you, this was actually a selling point for me. Its nice not always having to take off my headphones when someone nearby starts talking to me or if I need to hear whats happening around me. It manages to have this openness to it yet still hold a nice, well rounded, punchy sound that is fully present in your ears dispite the lack of ambient noise redction.

In some headphones and speakers the lower mids are boosted in attempt to add depth to the sound and you get muggy audio that drowns out the clarity of the rest of the spectrum. The Tracks manage to have a nice punchy low end without causing any of that woofy mess. Bass is well pronounced and thumping without overwhelming the music or distorting which I really love. Mids are clear and strong and highs are crisp without being exhausting to your ears during extended listening times. The best way to describe the sound overall is refreshing and fun. Its a fantastic pair to have around with me throught the day and I find myself using them often because they are such a joy to use.

With a price coming in at around $85(USD) or less it’s hard not to reccomend you check them out if you are ever in the market for a new set of lightweight headphones.

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Just as a heads up, I recently bought an additional pair on sale through fab.com and plan on using the new pair as part of a giveaway I will be having during the launch of the new design here on 50ft in September so check back here for the chance to win a pair in the coming month!

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Film Transport

While it is often convenient just tossing an extra roll of film into your bag while out and about there are times when having a few rolls around is not a bad idea. For me, I tend to over prepare when it comes to my day to day supplies for photography. You will often find me with no less than two of my cameras on me not including my iPhone which to me is more like half a camera, cute and fun but nothing that I would want to use for any honest captures. As many of you know I am a bit of a film nut and so along with these cameras I am keen on carrying a few rolls around with me because I move around a lot and really never quite know where I may end up or for how long so I like to be prepared.

This is where having a good place to carry and store film on the go is nice, keeps things tidy and organized. I spent a long time digging around online for products that were designed to transport film but it would seem due to the increasing niche like nature of such a product it is increasingly hard to get your hands on something nice without a fair amount of digging.

The first case that I tried was a Pelican, it was handy and they did have one size that worked for my needs after cutting out the rubber interior but for a small case it added way to much bulk to what I needed around and I wasn’t planning on needing something water tight enough to survive a natural disaster so I continued to look for something more simplified.

This lead me to discover a simple carrying case that was intended to carry six rolls of 35mm film without the film’s original plastic tube container and they were super cheap so I ordered four of them to test out. While they did the job I was left unsatisfied because the only way they held the film securely was if the case was totally full of six rolls of film. Take one out and the rest just slide about freely inside the case. I actually ended up using these for my 120 Medium Format films and they are able to hold four rolls of 120 each which ended up being just right for my needs. While not perfect it does the job just fine for 120 transport.

So then I came across the case pictured above and below, a perfect fit. With its ice cube tray like design it allows the film to sit in the case securely and makes for easy organization. While I may not go scuba diving with this in tow, the plastic shell seems to provide a fair amount of protection from the elements which is nice to have at times. Its hard plastic feels durable and when its all closed up its a solid brick of protection. I could easily recommend this to anyone else who travels with 35mm film often. Sure wish they still made a version of this for 120 film but apparently that has been out of production far to long for me to track down any for sale.

In all of my searching these appear to only be available in Japan as they are manufactured by FujiFilm and lucky for us there is one tiny photography web shop based in Japan that carries these wonderful cases. From what I gather they either get them straight from FujiFilm when you order them or from a shop somewhere locally as the shipping will take a while but for me it was well worth the wait. You can find the shop here, which also sells a number of other great things including cameras and film.

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Stationery

I’m sure I am not the only one out there with more blank books than ideas to fill them and I thought it would be fun to share a few acquired while I was in Seoul about a year ago now. If you are not familiar with Korean stationery you are missing out. It is among the most creative I have seen available anywhere else in the world, aside from Japan perhaps which also has its fare share of wonderful blanks and the best pens around. I see design blogs post images of clever blank books sometimes and I can not help but but wonder if the rest of the world will ever really catch up to the brilliant offerings I have seen from South Korea. Only problem I suppose is that its near impossible to find these wonderful items for sale anywhere else. A couple of the books pictured below I have not used simply because it seems like a crime to defile such lovely books with my tiny handwriting but I’m sure with time these pages will find their way under my pen.

Although not pictured here in this post my favorite Korean stationery is easily that made by a company called MMMG (Millimeter Milligram) which makes a never ending evolution of creative stationary using simple geometric shapes and figures with just a hint of simplified english statements and ideas thrown in which are dripping with cleverness and charm. They have an amazing Café in Seoul (Don’t even get me started on the amazing coffee shop culture in Seoul heh) that doubles as their offices and shop but currently do not ship overseas but it seems they could one day expand to include international orders. I can only hope. You can see their products on their site at mmmg.net.

Anyways, I figured I would pull out a few of my favorite blank books and casually snap a few images to share with everyone. I would offer up a couple as desktops if I had the time but I figured I would gauge the interest first, otherwise click through the read more link to see the lovely books.

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holga

Holga

First off, I never thought I would find much of any desire to shoot with a plastic camera. A few years ago I brushed the Lomography movement off as a trend and criticized it as dumbing down photography. I have no problems admitting that I was being short sighted in this way of thinking. In this day of iPhone applications pretending to look as though they were taken with various film cameras it’s clear what kind of influence this style of photography has been left on the world of casual photography. In the same way the DSLR left traditional SLR cameras to question their purpose in life, gimmicky iPhone applications have left countless Holgas and LC-A’s wondering what to do with themselves.

While it’s easy to think that the digital revolution in photography has left film cameras obsolete I feel as though, in many ways, quite the opposite effect is happening. A mass of new photographers have entered the field because of these digital tools yet as time goes on I see more and more of these new photographers wanting to experience the joys of shooting with film. It only makes sense really because as much as we try to emulate the grain, saturation, and detail of a great film exposure nothing quite comes close to the real thing. While digital photography certainly has its place in the world, film photography still has a growing amount of affection lavished upon it and I for one am excited to see this happening. Not only has this left more people trying cameras like the Holga, but has also pushed the popularity of vintage SLR’s and rangefinders up as demand has been growing for these amazing old cameras. It’s not just fun it’s rewarding. I will leave that discussion for another day.

In light of this I realized why not embrace the fun being had among photographers shooting with “toy” cameras? You know the type, plastic bodies, plastic lenses, cleap construction occasionally leaving you with now iconic look of light leaks across your film. It’s a strange thing putting a roll of film into such a cheap shell of a camera but the results can be surprisingly rewarding. So hopefully without rambling too much I thought it would be good to talk about the way the Holga functions and my expereinces in shooting with the camera so far, for those of you who have not had the opportunity to shoot with one. While some of this may be obvious or already known to many of my readers I feel I should cover everything from the lens to developing the film.

While some of these toy cameras are built to higher standards than those like the Holga and sometimes include features like basic automatic exposure control, the Holga is about as basic as you can get. There is a simple spring loaded mechanical shutter release only capable of one speed of shooting which is believed to be around 1/100th of a second but this time varies slightly from camera to camera. It is simply a bent piece of metal wire that flips the shutter after all. The aperture size is a debated subject and while most believe the two settings, sunny or cloudy, to be f/11 and f/8 there are some users that have dicected the camera and meticulously measured and tested the few simple mechanics of it to find that there is only one aperture in use believed to be somewhere around f/13. Whatever you believe its only a stop or two of a differnce here and unless your shooting slide film, this should not present too much of a hindrance to your shooting.

The simple fact of the matter is that you need to experement with your Holga to get a feel for it. As simple of a camera as it is you still need to be aware of the conditions you are shooting in. Due to the basic options available on the camera the conditions you can shoot in and get well exposed negatives depends entirely on what the ISO of the film you load into the camera is. Shooting around 100 you will be set for bright sunny days, 400 and you can get away with shooting just out of direct sunlight, 800 and up and you can slip into the shadows more and more. Getting good results involves a good amount of experimenting and taking chances. In my experiences so far with the Holga your best bet is to use it as a sunny day camera. to get the iconic sauration, contrast and vignetting, you are better off shooting with a sower color film or even 400 in many cases will work and take the camera out with you on sunny afternoons and have fun with it.

So then there is the focusing, the trickiest part of shooting with the Holga. This is not a rangefinder, you have no visual cue to see if your shot will be in focus. All you can do is set the lens at the correct distance from your subject and hope for the best. If you are a good judge of distance then by all means, use the focus but if you are like me and don’t have a great sense of how far something is away from you then leave the focus set at infinity. You will end up with most of your images with a nice sharp center. When deciding on your composition there really is no question here. Always put your subject un the middle. Should you put it in the corner or to the side you will have a strange looking, distorted subject. The basic nature of the lens leaves only the center in true focus. An alternative to always at shooting infinity focus you could measure the length of your arm, leg, and average walking stride then use this knowledge to best guess your distance from the subject. Also something to take note of is not all lenses on Holgas are created equal. While most of them that you see being used are made with a plastic lens, there is the option of getting a glass lens version of the camera which can yield sharper images. You can tell which ones have the glass lens in the name of the Holga. The one pictured above of the one I am using is a glass version and is indicated by the letter ‘G’.

One more thing I wanted to mention here while on the subject of shooting with a Holga, film choice. This is laregely going to depend on your personal taste and desire in shooting with film. Not all color films are created equal. A couple of basic ideas for anyone trying a Holga out for the first time. If you would like a nice negative film that still holds a nice amount of saturation try Kodak Ektar. This will allow you to have the forgiving nature of negative film on your side as well. If you are looking for a more natural look to your photos try fuji Pro160S or 400H. These films are a couple of my personal favorites because of their neutral preservation of color. If you want to shoot with slide film to get saturated colors and rich, dark blacks try Fuji Provia but keep in mind that slide film is not so forgiving and you should have a pretty solid idea of how your Holga handles certain light so you can be sure to get as close to an accurate exposure as you can manage. Even with a lot of films leaving the market there are still a lot of wonderful variations to experement with to find just the right look for you. Another Holga shooters favorite is cross processing slide film in negative film chemicals. Not all labs do this, however, so ask ahead if your goal is to try X-Pro on for size.

On developing film. The Holga uses a medium format 120 film which can be tricky for those of you not living in larger cities where you are more likely to find a local photo lab to develop it but its not impossible, it will just cost you more to use because you will be mailing off your undeveloped negatives. There are a lot of shops that deveop film sent through the mail and a quick google search will give you plenty of options. It’s unfortunate that the initial decline in film usage killed off many labs that once developed 120 but seeing as a Holga is only around $30USD it still may be worth your time to have a little fun with film and shoot through a couple rolls with it when you have the time and a few dollars to spare. Alternativly, there is a 35mm flim adaptor available for Holgas that let you shoot 35mm film through the camera which can still be developed almost everywhere.

That is about all there is to know about the basics of shooting with the Holga. It’s easy to think that there is no skill at all involved in using a toy camera but the fact is that you need to be aware that not anything you shoot with the camera will automatically turn into something amazing. As with any camera it has strengths and weaknesses and by catering to it’s strengths as a camera I think anyone can have fun shooting with one of these. For further digging I suggest you have a look through www.squarefrog.co.uk which offers a lot more thoughts and details on shooting with these fun, unpredictable cameras.

So if you were ever interested in shooting with a Holga I encourage anyone with even a slight interest and access to a lab that develops 120 film to jump in and give it a try. I for one have had a lot of fun exploring them after so many years of dismissing them as a novelty and I very much look forward to continuing to explore what I can do with this camera. This will not be the only post of this nature here on 50ft. You can expect a number of closer looks into the film cameras I use in the future.

ALSO! I plan on giving away a Holga sometime in the nearish future so keep an eye out here on Fiftyfootshadows.net for the chance to get one of these great simple cameras free. I just need to get the details together and decide how I will go about it ;)

As a bonus to the write up here I have included a number of shots from my first two rolls with the Holga to give you an idea of the kind of results I have been getting with the camera so far. Also! The image above of the Holga I have made available as a desktop and you can find the link at the bottom of the post. Simply follow the Read more link to find them.

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Jambox

For years now I have been looking for a great, well rounded portable speaker system for my every day life. Something simple to use, constructed well enough to be tossed in my bag on any given day, and sounds bigger than it looks. I have had a number of speaker docks around over the years but none have ever really been outstanding enough of a product to make me truly happy with the performance. There has always been a compromise between big sound and size. The smaller docks I owned always sounded tiny which is to be expected, it’s the nature of small speaker systems to not have a robust sound. The larger docks often had decent sound but were never truly portable.

So years go by and I had all but given up on the idea of such a portable speaker ever existing that would fulfill my crazy standards and desires for such a product. That is until I saw a photo of a Jambox somewhere online one day. I think it was on my iPad flipping through Flipboard actually, haha. Funny that something as seemingly ordinary as seeing a photo of a new device would manage to stick in my mind as a valid memory to keep around but this managed to do just that. The simple, elegant little box just looked the part of something I would gravitate toward. Upon further research I discovered that not only was it a pretty object to look at but it had the performance to match this unfounded object lust I had acquired. It seemed to have sturdy construction and the audio performance to match the hype but then how do you go about trusting the internet these days. Most information I read about it was the same old uninformative reviews or product suggestions. But like the AiAiAi headphones I bought a few months back I just had a good feeling about this one so I put it on my list of things to pick up when possible.

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Along comes Christmas and low and behold a Jambox managed to make its way into my hands. I was certainly anxious to see if this little box would hold up to the grand expectations I had for it and sure enough the Jambox has met and exceeded my expectations. First thing out of the box you notice is the build quality. It’s like a little brick of a speaker, fits easily in the palm of your hand and it feels good to hold at that. The silicon rubber finnish is robust and sturdy and the wrap around grill with its slick, subtle pattern feels as though it would take a lot of prying to pull off. No screws, no un needed functionality or weird “tuning” switches, just a basic set of buttons for volume, bluetooth headset actions and an on off switch that doubles as your access to activate its pairing mode.

So lets talk about that for a second here, the bluetooth nature of the device. While there is a line input in the speaker it is primarily a stereo bluetooth unit and pairing could not be any more simple, quick and effortless. Simply press and hold the power switch in its upmost position for a second and the speaker will speak to you telling you it has put itself in pairing mode. (The same voice will also tell you the battery life or the number of an incoming call) On my iPhone, iPad, and even my Macbook the process of choosing the Jambox as its source is as simple as can be and takes no more than 30 seconds to a minute at the most before you have everything set and ready to go. If the device is paired already it is as simple as turning the Jambox on and it is good to go.

All charging is done via a micro USB cable so you could easily charge this off of your laptop or computer if you don’t feel like carrying around the small included usb wall charger. What else does it come packaged with you may wonder? A USB wall charger as well as two lengths of USB cord, one of which is quite short and very easy to always have handy in your bag. It also comes with a nice flat 1/8″ male to male audio cable for hooking the unit straight into any device with a headphone out, a nice option for quick use with a laptop while keeping the bluetooth function paired to your phone. And last but not least it has a great case to carry it around with you. The case folds elegantly down and is held in place with four small magnets. it’s a welcome thing that they did not take the Apple route with accessories. You have everything you could need right out of the box.

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I was incredibly surprised at the battery life of the Jambox. It has a built in battery that is capable of pushing the speaker at high volumes for HOURS, I have yet to fully run the battery down before I feel I could go ahead and top it off. The battery life the bluetooth connection drains from my iPhone is more the issue at hand as the speaker itself has no problem going for hours and hours on a single charge. As for that issue, the battery on your iPhone or iPad suffering because of the wireless connection is something I have come up against but for me personally I am more often than not around an outlet and have to charge up my phone through the day anyway so its not so much of a concern for me. An easy way around this is simply by using the included audio cable and plugging an iPhone straight into the speaker which of course breaks a bit of the cool factor but works wonders at keeping the iPhones battery going strong should I need to.

So wait, theres more! The speaker also has a microphone built into it so it can be used as a bluetooth speakerphone which I find is pretty effective and handy sometimes but not really much of a deal breaker for me.

Last but not least, the sound of the unit. First off, you can not expect it to put out as much audio as a large docking stereo, it is limited by its physical size BUT this thing sure does try its best to keep up with its bigger speaker siblings! I have never head a small speaker system hold up as well as the Jambox. It’s an incredible feat for such a small enclosure but the low end really does have a substantial kick to it. I won’t recite their marketing jargon here but I can say that I am amazed at what a well rounded sound this little speaker emits with little sacrifice to the higher or midrange frequencies.

Something to keep in mind is the amount of bass that you hear is entirely dependent on the surface you set it on. If I am in bed at night watching a tv show or movie on my ipad at a medium volume it astounds me how the mattress resonates the low frequencies and makes for a really satisfying sound. Casual use in the office or out and about on the job site provides an amazingly capable sound and often, with the electronic music I listen to rich in low end, the speaker will physically move around on the surface it is on. I have only heard the speaker distort when clearly pushing it beyond its abilities which is to be expected from any speaker really.

I could easily recommend this to anyone with a similar need for a great portable speaker to accompany your lifestyle on the go. It is a truly brilliant device that was clearly engineered with loving hands and an ambitious goal to bring a huge sound to a tiny enclosure and nailed it. The one thing that is a little hard to swallow is the $200 price tag but honestly this fine work of engineering is worth every penny and would make a wonderful addition to any day bag or picnic basket.

For mor information on the unit you can visit the manufacturers page here. They can be found for sale at any Apple retail store as well as many outlets online including the always wonderful Ghostly Store.

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Pixelmator

Pixelmator

After seeing so much attention being drawn to the new mac app store I saw an opportunity to put my review/suggestion hat on and focus on an application I have been using more and more lately. That wonderful piece of indie code is called Pixelmator. Before jumping in it’s good, I feel, to offer a bit of background, and share my opinions on editing photos digitally.

I have been using computers to edit images and design for as long as I can remember. I know there are more and more of todays youth able to say that these days but digital imaging and me really do go way back. I remember clearly using photoshop THREE (even version one a small bit on an older computer in the corner of a computer lab) to create design in my first design course way back in high school. This is just before version four came along and changed everything with the introduction of layers. Before then things were so much more convoluted. It’s a bit hazy in my mind but something as simple as a drop shadow or embossing used to require an elaborate mess of alpha layer editing, selection masks, and effect trickery. It was no pleasant feat.

Needless to say we have come a long, long way in the past ten years or so and design programs have grown increasingly powerful and make it easier and easier to do some really crazy things that once took a true mastery of the applications being used. To stay focused within this review I am zeroing in on the elephant in the room, Adobe Photoshop. My how it has grown, and my oh my has it had an ever increasing ability to cannibalize a niche in the marketplace.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of alternatives around for your average digital photo maker but not many as stuffed full and as bloated as Photoshop. I am really not too sure what else they could add to it. But then again, I have been saying that for a while now yet they still manage to cram in some new tech that pushes photography more and more into a corner, leaving it’s humble roots hiding in the dark as it mangles the definition of a photograph to include any manner of heavy digital grooming. I have said it before, and I will say it again.

Photography is not a preset.

It makes me fear for the creativity within the medium. While some of you may feel as though digital tools amplify creativity I somehow feel as though it is stunting many young photographers growth and understanding of the art form. It’s an often debated subject and I have no real answers outside of my own personal opinions but I can admit to strongly believing in a less is more approach to photography digital or otherwise.

That said, I encourage those of you using Photoshop heavily in your post photo work to heavily offset average imagery before sharing it with the world should think seriously about the approach. After being in the field for so many years it gets really easy to spot those who abuse these new technologies as an easy way create something that contains any breath of emotion. Heavy photo manipulation is often cause of a trend or a gimmick and I rarely see it lead to images having any more truth or fulfilling narrative within them. This is not to discourage exploring, simply to raise awareness of a growing laziness attacking creativity.

This goes not only for Photoshop but for other applications such as Lightroom or Aperture as well which can be just as easily used and abused to lay it on too thick. Before you jump on the offense train of thought I would also like to mention that I am not at all ANTI post editing. I have done my fair share of tweaks to images I would have otherwise lost in post but I would like to stress the value of understanding photography starting with the basics. Let’s just leave the new wave of cell phone photography out of this one for now, feels like an entirely separate beast really.

SO at any rate, setting all that work flow philosophy aside, I started to notice something over time. There was a  distinct decline in the amount of editing I would do within Photoshop. When I shoot digitally now I am using Aperture to manage and adjust images as they come into the computer. It simplified my whole workflow ten fold. The basic editing tools offered within Aperture (or Lightroom for that matter) have been more than enough since the introduction of such software. I realized the only thing I was doing within Photoshop was cropping images and tossing in that little pixel font wartermark for wallpaper images. On occasion I may go as far as to use the Smart Sharpen tool or add a couple subtle tweaks in the curves but for the most part, the tools and mess that I was surrounded by never ends up getting touched.

This made me think, surely there is an alternative. The simplification of my workflow has lead me to rely much less on something as elaborate as Photoshop and using a buggy, aging version of the program often lead to more frustration than it was worth. So I looked for another option out there that does not cost an arm and a leg, but also offers a substantial set of tools for image editing and takes the overall quality seriously. I was quickly reminded of Pixelmator. An application I shrugged off years ago with its earlier releases because I thought, rather smugly to be honest, there was no such thing as an alternative to Photoshop. It’s got to be in the dictionary by now right? It didn’t really even feel like a question worth asking, Photoshop wasn’t an option. It just WAS the option.

As I continued to think about it I came to imagine that only about 25 percent of Photoshop users actually even bought the app to begin with. Seems to me the high cost of the application has driven countless casual tinkerers and emerging professionals alike to accidentally find a copy of some pro Adobe software loaded on their computer.

After revisiting Pixelmator from an earlier purchase as part of one of those random bundles of apps I realized that it was more than enough for me. The basic toolset for any photographer, casual and often otherwise, can be found in Aperture or Lightroom, hell even iPhoto alone and for those with more specific needs like myself Pixelmator is more than enough.

The tools offered are right in line with the core Photoshop way of working with cloning, layers, a simple but effective set of filters, and more. Working in the app is simple, elegant and focused and many of you that may be used to a photoshop workflow will automatically have a fair idea of what is going on. The only thing that may take a little getting used to are a few shortcuts that are differ from what you may be used to. It’s truly a joy to use really. I feel lighter using an application without so much bloat clinging to every click and that simplification feels good.

The only real frustration I have come across thus far has been within the type tool, something which they have openly confessed to be lacking. This and a couple of tiny things about the workflow that I am adjusting to such as not being able to drag a layer form one file to another, which has not been much of a bother at all.

At risk of getting caught with my foot in my mouth in the future, I can admit that my trusty old copy of CS2 will not be deleted from my laptop just yet, Illustrator is still my go to app when starting a new design, but I have all but vowed to make a firm switch over to Pixelmator for my everyday photo and wallpaper creating needs. From what I have been reading it is still very much in active development and will continue to grow with time which I look forward to.

As an added bonus, Pixelmator is available on the new Mac App Store for the wonderful cost of $30 for a limited time (how limited has yet to be seen). If you are using a ghost copy of Photoshop or, like me, just feel frustrated with the bloat I would certainly suggest you have a gander over at what Pixelmator can offer you. At this price you don’t really have much to loose.

While I am at it, I could easily suggest you give Aperture a go. I know there are a lot of Lightroom users out there that went with Lightroom based on the assumption that its Adobe, surely thats the one to use without much consideration of what else was out there. I have used Aperture since version one, switched briefly to give Lightroom a go but missed the workflow of Aperture and am now a happy camper using Aperture 3. Now that it’s only $80 I can easily recommend it for anyone not already using something a bit more capable than iPhoto. Maybe, I will save this for another day ;)

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