If you have not noticed it yet, I really like Kickstarter. One can find so many new and interesting stuff there. Always. And when one actually understands that it’s not an online store, it can be a lot of enjoyment seeing on how projects unfold.

But why I mention it today? It’s because I received a reward from one of my recently backed projects, Blilps.

What are Blips?

Blips are small microscopic lenses that you stick on the back of you smartphone, to radically change the magnification level you are getting. There are three lenses, a macro, micro and ultra, each one with different magnification. I got only the first two, as ultra was added later, and I did not change my pledge.

How to use them?

The lenses come in a tiny package, with few instructions. Not that you need anything more. To use the lens, you just unstick it from the package and stick it onto the phone camera. Hard to say how many times you can stick and unstick them, but the maybe 20 times I tried it worked fine. They held fine when directly on the phone, but on phone with a skin applied they tended to get loose.

There is a special camera app from the manufacturer, but you don’t really need it. The one thing that it does is to allow to lock focus, but you can get the exact same thing by just using manual focus in any other photo app.

So the best way to focus is not to use autofocus, but to lock the focus at one distance and then just move closer or further with the phone, until you get the focus you want. I personally had quite problems with this, as my hands just shake too much, and with such shallow DOF it’s easy to just move the phone by a tiny bit and loose the focus. Doing this from a holder or a small tripod would result in much better results. Also using a burst mode can help, as the phone takes many photos quickly, so you get shots with different planes of focus.

Macro & Micro

The focus distance for the macro lens is 10-12mm and micro is 6mm. That really is close. Depending on the camera position on your phone, it can result that you are shading your own subject.

Here are some of my results. All show a normal photo (around 10cm from the subject), a photo with the macro lens attached, and a photo with the micro lens attached.

I need to experiment more with them, trying to get better results (and I usually don’t shoot macro :)), and if I get some good ones, you will see them on this blog.

Overall

Blips are an interesting product. I don’t think the goal here is to get a pro level macro shots, but more about having fun with a new stile of photography, without having to buy a very pricey macro lens. You can find out more about blips on the Smartmicrooptics website.

Few months ago, I posted here a review of the LENSKIRT. For those unfamiliar, LENSKIRT is a shade one uses to take photos through glass (examples in the review).

In the review, I explain that while LENSKIRT works well, I felt disappointed with the quality and the way it was put together. And it seem I was not the only one. Few weeks ago, I was contacted by the makers of LENSKIRT and they offered to send me a new, updated version, which addressed these issues. And since it arrived last week, today I will take a look and how they succeed with it.

Update

On first look there is not much change. The way the LENSKIRT works stayed the same, and it also looks the same. It’s hard to say if the materials changed, but the front material feels a tiny bit thinner, while the back material feels thicker. Where I before complained about the materials feeling cheap, now they are much better, and I have more confidence in them lasting longer.

LENSKIRT
LENSKIRT

The biggest difference is in the way the pieces of the LENSKIRT are put together. This updated one, was properly aligned, the logo was stitched in properly and also all the connections are now very clean and you don’t see the inside of the material. It’s a total 180 in quality compared to the previous one. Here you have comparison photos of the old and the new one. You can easily see the change. The suction cups are also a tiny bit different, but I have not noticed any change in usage.

LENSKIRTNew version, nicely stitched
LENSKIRTOld version, horribly stitched
LENSKIRTNew version, straight logo
LENSKIRTOld version, crooked logo

Conclusion Update

It’s really nice to see that LENSKIRT corrected all the problems I had with the previous version. Now it works as it should and also has the build quality one would expect. It now makes it so much easier to recommend. So as I stated before, if you know you will take photos through glass, you should get one.

Last week Topaz released and update to one of the plug-ins from their popular collection, the Topaz Impession, and today, I will take a look at it.

What is it for?

Topaz Impression changes your photos into paintings, by simulating brush strokes. It provides many (over 150) presets for different styles and also gives you access to huge amounts of settings, so you can further tweak the look you are going for.

How does it look?

It’s really hard not to be impressed by the results. If I did not know, you could easily fool mi with the results, claiming that they are paintings. I especially liked the impressionistic presets, that provide just wonderful one click results.

For each preset, you can also go into the settings and tweak many attributes. From the size and shape of the brushes, to color tones, textures, lights and more. It’s not always easy to tell what will result from a specific change, but exploring is part of the fun here.

Usability & Performance

Again, it’s hard to not be impressed by the speed of this software. Switching between presets takes a second (it get slower by huge photos, but one should expect that :)) and changes in settings take effect almost immediately. This really makes experimenting that much more enjoyable. The interface is very simple, similar to other plug-ins from topaz, with the presets being the center element here. You just select the one you like the most, and than just tweak the result a bit.

The quality of the result is really nice, with the brushes being high enough resolution, that it looks great even when zoomed in.

Conclusion

While the results are impressive, there is a question, where you would use something like this. For me, the usability is very limited, as I tend to go more toward realism. But if you want to put a more artistic touch to your photos, or you have a client that would be interested in something like this, you should really give it a try. For more info and a trial version, head over to the Topaz Impresion 2 webpage here. (btw. there is also currently a introductory price with a 40% discount available, the code is on the Topaz website)

I have been using the Canon 17mm F4 TSE a lot during the last weeks, and today I will share with you my thoughts about it. Even if it’s an older lens, it’s not so widely used, so not many articles about it around. So I’m adding this one to the pile :)

What is a tilt-shift lens used for?

A tilt shift lens can do two thing, as it’s already obvious from the name. The lens can tilt the front element either up or down or left to right, and it can also shift the front up and down or left to right. This is used for following:

1. change the focal plane using tilting to get a bigger DOF – if you have something close that you want to have sharp, you can use tilt to change the focal plane to include more in the DOF of you photos. Focal plane is the plane where you are focused, around which everything is in focus. And by tilting the lens, you are tilting this plane.

2. change the focal plane using tilting for selective DOF – you can use it also in opposite way, to get much smaller DOF or to get parts of the photo completely out of focus. This is the co called tilt-shift or miniature effect.

3. shift the lens to correct perspective distortion – perspective distortion appears when your camera is not perfectly leveled. But sometimes you need to capture something that is above or below your view, so you would need to tilt your camera, which will create perspective distortion. Instead, with this lens, you can shit up or down, while keeping the lens leveled, to capture what you need, without any distortion.

4. easy panorama or vertoramas – since shifting greatly extends what you can capture, you can easily create panorama and vertoramas from the shifted images.

I will do a bigger guide sometimes later, specific for each usage.

Picture quality

As it’s a manual focus prime lens, it create some crazy sharp results. On the other hand, it’s very easy to catch lens flares due to the bulbous front element, and also light leaks, due to the mechanism being not completely tight. Here are some examples of how it can look like:

Lens flare
Lens flare

The is no lens hood for this lens, but most of the time you can just shade it with your hand, or use something to cover the lens by longer exposures, to get rid them.

There is not much distortion when you shift along the shorter side, but there is bit more when shifted along the longer one (not really surprising). Especially when there is something far away in the distance, it will look a bit squashed at the extremes. I was a bit surprised that when you for instance shift down, it also shifts a tiny bit to the right (and opposite) so the photos don’t align perfectly. But the difference is very small, and one does not loose much .

Build

It’s a Canon L lens, so a great build quality is there. The shift and tilts are smooth and are easy to manipulate. The knobs could be a bit bigger, but maybe it’s better they are not. I already had to change how I attach the L-brackets to my camera and the tripod attachment, as both interfered with the rotation of the lens. But this is due to me using a Sony with a Metabones adapter, and since the tripod mount is on the adapter, it’s close to the lens as it would normally be.

Usage

This lens just gives you such a new view, and more freedom in composition. I had not much use for the tilt function, as with such a wide lens, the DOF is mostly big enough. But what got me the most is how easy is to make panoramas. No need for special tripod heads, no need to worry about distortion, you just shift, take the shots and you are done. It’s just so fast and easy.

One does have to be very careful with the lens, as there is nothing protecting the front. So no running with it :) Also the lens flares can create problems, but one can actually take a photo, shift the lens thereby avoiding the flare, take another photo, and then just blend it into the first shot. Especially in panoramas, you get quite a huge overlap when you use the whole range with three shots, so there is space for corrections.

This is really a wonderful lens. It maybe a bit more specialized, especially for architecture and landscapes, but it really a lot of fun to use. If you can try out a tilt-shift lens, you really should :)

Here are few photos from the lens, panorama and vertorama.


Few months ago I posted my first impressions of the Everyday Messenger Bag. Today, after quite a lot of use of it, I will give you more thoughts on it, how it’s in general use and what I like, don’t like and what’s missing.

Using it

I found the Everyday Messenger to be very comfortable in normal use. I prefer shoulder bags and the wide strap is great in use. As I mentioned before, I had to take it off, together with the waist straps, and turn them around, to be able to use the bag on the left shoulder. But doing this was very easy and took only few minutes. A small clip to keep the straps shape where it’s attached would be really welcomed, but one can get by also without it.

Everyday Messenger BagThe wide strap is great
Everyday Messenger BagA clip to keep the shape would be nice

Carrying a tripod

Carrying a tripod with the bag is easy, and my Gitzo fits perfectly. I ended up connecting the provided rubber band (which is used tho keep the tripod legs together) to the key strap, to avoid loosing it, and I also keep it in the place that is for the keys. I think it works better like this. I would probably loose the band by now if i didn’t do it like this.

Everyday Messenger BagTripod attached to the bag
Everyday Messenger BagAttached rubber band

Capacity

The capacity is great when you are using one camera with up to three lenses in it (I mean full frame DSLR lenses, as those I use). I tried to put in more, but than the top ones are right on the edge of the bag, and I believe they could fall out when I open the flap. Secondly, having the lenses on top of each other makes taking them out much harder. For my last trip I needed to take 4 lenses and 2 camera bodies with me, and there was the Everyday Messanger Bag, just too small for it.

There are a lot of places for small items, but none for medium sized items. For instance, I ended up keeping the Formatt Hitech filters in the tablet pouch, but I had no space for the filter holder. In the end I bought a small bag for that, and I just keep it in the main compartment, which is not that great. I could keep it in the field pouch, but I don’t want to carry it just for that. I had the same problem with my last bag, and I still wish the creators would add an inside square bag, that would take up the space of one lens and could be closed off. Something the size of the lens pouches Sigma provides, just attached by velcro to the inside. .

Everyday Messenger BagNot much room for second row
Everyday Messenger BagI miss something like this

I also don’t understand why there is no way to simply attach the Field pouch to the outside of the bag. There are two attachments on the back of the pouch, so adding the opposite attachments to the cover of the Everyday messenger bag would probably be quite a small change and it would add to the capacity and usability quite a lot.

Back side

I carried the Surface Pro 4 in the computer space, and while it fits nicely, the whole area bulges out a little when the the bag is full, which I don’t like so much when there is a tablet inside. The whole back could be a bit more sturdier, for the bag to keep the shape better. Here is actually also my biggest problem with the bag. Since the back is not sturdy enough, it bends in one area regardless of how I carry it. This makes it sometime harder to unzip, and I fear it could lead to damage in the area after longer use. There is none by now, and I just hope it stays that way.

Everyday Messenger BagThe back bulges out a bit
Everyday Messenger BagThe bag bends in this area

Durability

I noticed no damage or manufacturing problems on my bag. All is as it was the first day I got it.

Overall

Even if this review maybe sounds more negative, don’t be mistaken, this is a great bag. I just went through the good parts more in the first impressions article. This is more what I observed during my use, and how it think this great bag could be made even better.

It’s currently my favorite bag, and I have no problems recommending it, as I think you will also like it. You can find more about it on the Peak Design website.

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