24 December, 2012

Canon 5D mark III camera protectors

As I've recently said, camera protection is quite an important factor in nature photography and faith made it that I came across three variants of a camera protector cover for Canon 5D mark III.

At first I was only confronted with two models: EasyCover and Delkin Snug-It . Did the comparison directly in the store and chose Delkin as it showed a touch more refinance with the finishing touches of the moulted cover. I was quite intrigued that my store had two models equally priced for the exact same thing as there are no other differences besides the already mentioned finishing touches.

Then came the third model which is a Walimex pro. Again, no differences with the other two. Strange though was the fact that this also had the EasyCover logo, but the first didn't have the Walimex trademark.

In the pictures bellow is the Delkin variant.

Delkin Snug-it for Canon 5D mark III, back view Delkin Snug-it for Canon 5D mark III, front view

Delkin Snug-it for Canon 5D mark III, bottom view Delkin Snug-it for Canon 5D mark III, hollow

Impressions about it? Well, it's a little bit different from what I had on my old 7D as they don't seem to come from the same manufacturer. The rubber material is quite the same, difference is that time put it's mark on the 7D cover and it appears the material is not homogeneous but rather has a subtle coating that rubs off in time. Other than that, the grip area for the fingers is differently shaped, the buttons have a different shape but can't say one design has an edge over the other.

Bottom line, no matter what you choose for a Canon 5D mark III, there are big chances that you will end up with the same product. All that matters would be to search for the best price.

11 December, 2012

Multifunction Electronic Hanging Scale review

Every house should have one around because you never know when the question comes and you desperately need to know how much that thing weighs :) But enough joking around, let's get to more serious stuff.

Thought I made a bargain when I got this out from hobbyking.com for almost 13$ but it turns out you can always find cheaper, amazon has it for 9.44$.

Multifunction Electronic Hanging Scale box1
Multifunction Electronic Hanging Scale box2

Even so it's pretty OK for the money spent. Came in a nice cardboard box filled with infos on it and marketing all kinds of features which turn this product into a super-duper hanging scale. Ain't gonna duplicate those stuff here cause you can read them on any other site or even in my pictures. It even has a leaflet inside with instructions, not to mention the statement of a patent number for this product which is quite something if true.

Multifunction Electronic Hanging Scale leaflet1
Multifunction Electronic Hanging Scale leaflet2

Moving on, inside the box there is the storage pouch, nothing out of the ordinary but very practical for safe keeping of the scale and accessories. And when I say accessories I'm talking about a bundled strap used to help hang the weights, and maybe the batteries as the unit has no On/Off switch and I don't fancy the stand-by function for a device used very-very rarely.

Multifunction Electronic Hanging Scale in storage pouch
Multifunction Electronic Hanging Scale detailed

So, what about the actual scale? Well, as I've said, not bad if you ask me. The built quality is so-so as expected but it has no problems reaching it's specifications in terms of accuracy and top scale. For casual use, it's only good for the weight scale, the ruler, temperature and included calculator. If you are a frequent user in sales maybe you could also appreciate the back lit display and the integrated watch.

Multifunction Electronic Hanging Scale hour/temperature view
Multifunction Electronic Hanging Scale backlit display

Multifunction Electronic Hanging Scale back retracted
Multifunction Electronic Hanging Scale back extended

Multifunction Electronic Hanging Scale ruller
Multifunction Electronic Hanging Scale temperature accuracy

06 December, 2012

Nikon hot-shoe protection caps on Canon cameras

Most of my photography so far was done outdoors and most of the times in far from ideal conditions, whether it's -40 degrees Celsius in Siberia or +40 in Dubai, whether it's pouring rain, blistering snow or just plain old dust.

Canon EOS 40D DSLR covered in snow

As you can see I'm not the over protective type with my gear and pretty often I put those whether sealing capabilities to the test. Achile's heel is that from my experience the hot shoe is the most vulnerable exposed part that can very easily get hurt. It includes electrical contacts, fine machined mechanics and even an electrical contact that senses the presence of a external flash.

Just when I had the external flash detector contact jammed did I seriously think of the problem and I was quite amazed to see that there aren't a lot of solutions to protect these kind of incidents. I couldn't find anything from Canon that's for sure but I did notice Nikon had their BS-1 and BS-2 hot-shoe protection caps just as I needed. Nikon and Canon body's are quite different when it comes to hot-shoe area design and functioning so I searched for hours an answer to whether Nikon caps will work on Canon bodies.

Given the low investment price I took the leap of faith and tried a BS-1 on my 7D. It's a less than ideal match as the shape of the cap prevents it from sliding completely on the hot shoe. That doesn't mean the problem can't be fixed, all you need are some skills with a sharp blade to remove the extra material and it will work great on any Canon body I think (only tested on the "small" body ranges of 40D, 60D, 7D, 5D mkII, 5D mkIII).

By the time I lost my BS-1 I was already with a 5D mark III so took another shot with the BS-2 which is a far superior cap and even fits perfectly without any modification. While BS-1 is clearly plastic, BS-2 is more like a plastic core with exterior rubber.

Canon EOS 5D mark III DSLR with Nikon BS-2 hot-shoe protection cap, top view
Canon EOS 5D mark III DSLR with Nikon BS-2 hot-shoe protection cap, side view

You can see above a Nikon BS-2 mounted on a Canon 5D mark III body. Works like a charm even though the "design lines" don't seamlessly blend together. Now the problem is to always be careful and remember where I put the cap when I take it off but even that won't protect from an accidental bump that will push off the cap into the sea of little things that vanish without a trace. Must I say that this is my third cap now.

Alternatives? Well, on my 7D I successfully used a Camera Armor that has an integrated hot-shoe cover. The bad part is that while camera armors are good for scratch and bumps protection they're filled with holes that let dust and particles accumulate between the camera body and the cover. Above all that, the integrated hot-shoe cover has a high tendency to get off it's place. Even so I'll order a camera armor for my current 5D mark III when they'll be available.

28 November, 2012

Bicycle Handlebar Mount Holder review

Taking the time to talk again a little bit about the cheap little things one can find over ebay. Got this gizmo for 5$ with free shipping from China all the way to Europe.

It states to be a clamp for bike handlebar mounting of a photo digital camera but I'd  think more at something like a lightweight GoPro, ContourROAM or these type of action camers. Anyway, my real interest for this thing was as a studio clamp for holding flashes or other accessories.

Bicycle Handlebar Mount Holder, closed view

Bicycle Handlebar Mount Holder, opened view

The clamp has a standard camera screw of 1/4-20 BSW so it can theoretically connect to anything that's light enough. The construction is not as bad as I expected it to be in this price range. Of course it's mostly plastic but good enough to get the job done.

The jaws are padded with rubber for extra grip and can open wide enough to clamp even on my Giottos MT8350 center column. You have a screw with which you set your opening and then a lever that grips the jaws on the support. Once fixed into position you now have 2 axes of control for your "payload". One is for tilting done with a screw while the other is for rotation through a rather ingenious spring loaded teethed coupling between the actual clamp and the mounting plate. The spring is quite strong and great for impressive static loads but can't deal with any bumps and vibrations given by any bike riding on anything but ideal tracks. The mounting plate has a metal screw with a nut that helps to further lock the payload. The nut is also doubled with a rubber washer for extra grip.

As I've said, I've done some testing on my Giottos MT8350 as a support and a Canon 580EX II as a payload. It's doable without much effort even horizontally with the flash extended but it's obvious the mounting plate junction is under excessive effort for it's capability.

Bicycle Handlebar Mount Holder fixed on a tripod holding a Canon 580EX II Flash in horizontal position

In the end, it's 5$ that weren't spent for nothing, I have a clamp that works if taken to appropriate use but it must not be mistaken with the whole different world of metal clamps like the ones from Manfrotto or even the way cheaper CoolLCD's Super Clamps.

26 November, 2012

Crankbrothers PowerPump alloy failure


I love things well done and I must say this pump was and still is a very well done thing, almost.. It's almost because like any thing human does it has it's flaws. But enough talking, lets get to the real stuff

We're talking here about the Crack Brothers Power Alloy Bicycle Pump, a metal alloy bicycle pump with two heads that fit shrader (auto) and presta valves, dual piston design for high volume or high pressure output and a pressure gauge that tops at 160psi/11bar end scale. It's also light at around 200g (case included) and small with about 24cm/9.5inches long.

Tried my own blow out view just to see how complex it really is and I must say I was impressed as it showed to be composed of quite of lot of bits and pieces. I must mention that it's not even blown all the way as there was more to be taken apart. The head assembly is the interesting part. Pressure comes through a center canal that is tapped by the pressure indicator. In the end there's another tap surrounded by a rubber gasket that slides between two red plastic adapters for the individual heads.

While most bike pumps do offer dual valve support by using a single output head with reversible end piece, the guys at Crank Brothers went their own path with this dual head design. Can't say I see any benefit from this as this adds volume, weight and complexity to what could have else been an even better product. To make it worse, this very own feature was the cause of the failure. You can also blame it on user error but when using presta valves it's no way telling how deep is deep enough when you connect the pump with the valve head. Since I used it quite a lot on presta valves, my smart little pump failed about a year after purchase. When opened it turned out that the end of the presta valve from the bike chew up a groove into the rubber gasket from the pump head chamber during twisting in and out the head to pressurize the connection between pump and valve. That gasket is what seals the transfer of pressure between then pump piston and the head assembly. As a quick fix and another year delay I mounted the gasket upside down. Then it failed again and it was time to search for another gasket and sadly the manufacturer doesn't provide any spare parts for this pump. After a lot of search I finally improvised something but the material was softer and it didn't last long till it failed again.

Looking back at all this trouble I guess I could have taken the time to do some trials with mounting the pump on a presta valve without touching the gasket but it's not that easy to apply when you're on the run in a trip or you lend the pump to a friend. Funny thing is that on the product cardboard it stated "warranty: lifetime" :) not that I can benefit of it here in Romania where the reseller only covers 1 year warranty long gone. I still love my pump and hope to find again somewhere another replacement for that darn gasket but in the meantime I had to buy a second pump.

I chose a POINT GM-61 that's quite long, heavy and cumbersome but promises to be more reliable, hope the hose won't be a failure cause ;))

10 November, 2012

Mini Dynamo Hand Crank USB Emergency Charger review

OK, I admit it, I was geek enough to order one of these gizmos from ebay. It was only 1$ so no harm done, right? Well.. rolled myself laughing when I saw the same thing for 20$ (twice reduced, from 49.99 and then 25) on amazon here. Luckily there's also another version here  for only 3.59$ :)) There are things about economy I just can't figure out.

But back to our little toy, if you haven't figure it out yet, let me explain it to you. It's a small crank driven dynamo that generates just enough juice to power an USB charging device like a cell phone, mp3 player or any other small type electronic, don't dream about tablets or other power hungry beasts. The key phrase there was "just enough" because it won't get to 100% but a charge or even a discharge to 10% and that's because the voltage out of this thing at "nominal" speed is lower than the standard 5V used on USB ports.

I knew from the start that it's a good for nothing toy but I couldn't help getting it and the first thing I did after unpacking was opening it up.

 It's pretty amazing what 1$ can bring you: intricate lubricated plastic gears, a DC motor, a small PCB with the voltage stabilizer, not to mention the plastic housing and the strap. Pity for all the work those asian manufacturers put in it. Seeing that PCB made me think that maybe some of you want to see the schematic also and with a little help from digikey's Scheme It here you have it in all it's glory:

Quite rudimentary but it's good enough for the budget involved.

- It has a red LED that lights up when you spin the crank
- It also has a strap that you can.. do whatever you want with it

- Gave me something to write about in this article

- It's a "junk out of the box" kind of thing

26 October, 2012

Unior 1643/4 (Chain checker for professional use) review

For those who didn't yet figure out, I'm quite a big bicycle addict. Even so, it took me about 3 years before I thought of a technical exam of my good old Univega Alpina SL-3. Things didn't look so good and I had to change the cassette and the chain due to excessive wear on both of them. 3 years for one chain and cassette is quite something considering the amount and type of riding I do.
All this was last summer. This year had some problems with the brakes which turned 4 years without any service so I thought going to a bike center to change the oil. To my surprise I found out that my "new" chain was all trash once more to the point that the cassette needed to be changed also.
Not happy news considering the costs. Conclusion: a chain checker device would have been nice to have to keep a close eye on chain wear and save my cassette at least.

After long searches on the net found there are actually three types of devices for this purpose:
#1 the simplest, cheapest things to get are go/no go gauges that indicate whether or not the chain needs replacement. At best these gizmos have a 2 level test for wear. Being the geek type that I am of course this wouldn't suffice.
BBB Chain Checker

#2 measuring tools that actually tell you something more about that wear and give more power to the user for monitoring how things progress in time.
Park Tool Chain Checker - CC-2

#3 the really geek stuff, measuring tools like #2 but electronic ones this time, with digital displays and all the rest. No need to mention these are the most expensive solution
KMC Digital Chain Checker

There's quite a lot of material to read on the subject and I won't duplicate it here. For those into the subject you should start with the good old wiki for the basic stuff: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicycle_chain, Mr. Sheldon for some more in-depth: sheldonbrown.com/chains.html, and google.com for any other questions. Another must read material is found here and talks about more subtle things like wear types and measurement errors.

Getting back to the tool in focus, here we have the Unior 1643/4 which is a chain checker of #2 type. The operating principle is quite straight forward: a metal piece with two vertical pins at both ends, one fixed, one mobile through an off center placement on a labeled rotating disk. The markings on the label are the actual estimated chain wear, between 0 to 1.2 mm or percentage. These markings should be taken with a grain of salt though as a new chain won't read 0 but more likely somewhere around 0.3mm so for accurate readings and decisions a measurement should be taken with every new chain installed. The theory states that a chain is considered worn out and in immediate need of replacement at 1mm stretch across it's whole length. Off course a good practice rule would be to change the chain a little earlier in order to avoid extra wear on the cassette and any unwanted accidents caused by chain slips or breaks.

The package in which it comes is made of cardboard, with not much interesting info on it.

Inside you find the tool wrapped nicely in protective foam. This foam is good to keep for storage keeping as it protects the pins from accidental bending but I found the box to be more conveniently replaced with a zip bag.

Can't think of what more there is to be said about such a simple and straight forward tool. All else I could think of was to actually test that claimed weight on the package which states 168g for the tool while I only got 165g for the tool, foam and package.