gadgets

Moment by Simon Abrams

I got a nice little surprise when I got home today - the new Moment Wide lens and Photo Case that I backed on Kickstarter arrived in the mail today, rather than on Saturday, as i was expecting.

 Moment Photo Case, Moment Wide Lens (V2) and Moment Tele (V1 with adapter) 

Moment Photo Case, Moment Wide Lens (V2) and Moment Tele (V1 with adapter) 

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I've only just gotten this kit, so I don't have much of to say in terms of performance yet. I do like the new case - it's slim, and textured on the back, which gives it a bit of grippiness. Once the lens is attached, though, the added weight tweaks the balance of the phone a little, and could make it a somewhat spill-prone. The case does have a spot to attach a wrist or neck strap—several styles of which are available for purchase on Moment's online store—which is something I might consider getting. 

 The V1 Tele lens with the adapter

The V1 Tele lens with the adapter

One other thing: my first-gen Tele lens never fit well on the Moment case I got for my iPhone 6. It always seemed like it was on the verge of falling off, since it never locked into place, but rather kept spinning, as though the bayonet mount was stripped. Luckily, the new adapter that came with my Kickstarter reward (also available at the Moment store, for $5), was easy to attach and provides a nice, firm connection to the case. 

 

 Shot with Moment Wide, V2 on iPhone 7

Shot with Moment Wide, V2 on iPhone 7

I'm looking forward to spending some time with these two lenses, and will definitely post again with updates once I've had a chance to do that. 

MacSparky on Apple AirPods by Simon Abrams

A reasoned first take on Apple's AirPods from David Sparks, aka MacSparky. His take confirms my expectation that they won't work for me, as the current EarPods that Apple ships with every iPhone fall out of my ear with the slightest movement of my head, so I never use 'em. Plus, I like something that has a little noise reduction, if not noise cancellation, so I can block out the annoying chatter on the subway.

I'm still bullish on the tech, though, specifically Apple's W1 chip, which improves pairing and wireless sound quality. I have personally tried the new BeatsX wireless headphones, which also feature the W1 chip, and will probably get a pair of those when they're available.

Thoughts on 1Password and MacID by Simon Abrams

 MacID unlock's your Mac using your fingerprint via a connected iOS device

MacID unlock's your Mac using your fingerprint via a connected iOS device

Now that I have two TouchID-enabled devices, entering passwords by typing them feels like what I imagine it would be like having to write prose with a chisel and tablet after getting used to using a pen - especially now that iOS 8 allows for 1Password integration throughout your i-device. Quick recap: 1Password is a password manager that securely stores all your passwords to everything, obviating the need for you to remember - or even come up with - any passwords except for the one that protects its database. It's cross-platform and works with all your favorite browsers. Amazing.

Anyway, before extensions allowed for 1Password's iOS integration, if you're like me, and don't know any of your passwords to anything, logging in to a website or app on an iPhone or iPad went something like this:

  1. Open site/app that asks for a password
  2. Grit teeth and sigh resignedly
  3. Go back to Home screen and tap 1Password
  4. Enter your long and secure 1Password Master Password
  5. Find password to app in question (or create a new entry in 1Password for said app, and let it generate a suitably secure password for you)
  6. Copy password
  7. Hop back over to the app in question (yay, multitasking!)
  8. Type in your username, paste the password, and try to remember that despite your current state of annoyance, we're still living in an age of technological miracles and wonders. Everything is amazing.

Now that iOS 8 Extensions are a thing, the process goes something like this:

  1. Open site/app that asks for a password
  2. Tap Share button and swipe right to 1Password extension
  3. Tap the icon, then use your finger to unlock 1Password
  4. Oh look - 1Password knows your credentials for the site/app you're trying to access. Tap to fill in your credentials, and be on your merry way.
 Treehouse's app has 1Password support built-in. Amazing. More like this, please.

Treehouse's app has 1Password support built-in. Amazing. More like this, please.

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It is a downright joyous experience compared to the old way, and it's no exaggeration to say that simplifies my life a lot, especially since I am doing more and more with my iPhone and iPad. I tweeted the good folks at AgileBits a few months ago, wondering if something like this was possible on the Mac - ie. could I use my iPhone/iPad's TouchID to unlock an app on the desktop. It turns out, it is at least partially possible: MacID lets you designate an iOS device as a touch-enabled "key" for your desktop machine, and unlock a password-protected lock screen when you return to your computer. Sweet!

I've only just tried it a couple of times, but from my first impressions it seems really promising. I'm not quite paranoid enough to be able to thoroughly think through any negative security implications of this. MacID never connects to the internet, so the chances of your login password getting hijacked that way are zilch. I can't wait for this to grow into a fully-supported technology that becomes something baked into iOS 9/OS X Big Sur (or whatever the next OS X ends up being called).

The current state of computing and devices still forces us to choose between security and convenience, but apps like 1Password and MacID, and technologies like TouchID are at least getting us part of the way towards the convergence of those two ideals.

Shooting in the Dark by Simon Abrams

After reading all the effusive praise people have been lavishing upon the Fujifilm X100s -- particularly it's low-light performance -- I decided to put it to the test during a walk to Union Square last night (right as the temperatures were dropping, and the storm was gearing up).

  The ESB, as seen from 7th Ave. Straight out of the camera.

The ESB, as seen from 7th Ave. Straight out of the camera.

I'm still getting used to the camera's controls, and I have yet to decide whether I prefer shooting through the viewfinder or the LCD, but one thing is for sure: the thing is a rockstar at low-light. I'm accustomed to cameras like my G10, which barely likes to go above ISO 400, and even on my 7D groans a bit at 3200. But this thing took 3200 and shrugged it off like it was nothing. I even cranked it to 5000, and while it got a little soft, I didn't see the multi-colored confetti-like noise I would have seen on the 7D. As a bonus, it's svelte form-factor makes it comfy to hand-hold even at low shutter speeds like 1/10s.

I won't go on much more - I don't have that much to add to what's already been said about this camera. For my personal shooting style, it's going to be a bit of an adjustment working with the prime 35mm-equivalent lens, but I can already tell I'm really going to like this camera.

All of the following images are straight out of the camera, except for the second one, which was cropped slightly.

iPad Art - Morgan Freeman Finger Painting by Simon Abrams

I'm genuinely surprised that there are still people who bring out the "iPads are for consuming content" trope.

On another note, this got me remembering something from my old art school days. The abstract expressionists, if I remember right, were all about boiling down a medium to the essence of that medium. The things unique to painting that make it essentially painting are paint and a canvas (and maybe a brush). They weren't keen on one medium emulating another, and as such, weren't into photorealistic painting. But here's Kyle Lambert taking it a step further, using a virtual canvas on a digital thing to emulate photography. Interesting stuff.

Pencil | FiftyThree by Simon Abrams

I've been quite pleased with my iPad 2 over the last two-and-a-half years, not feeling the familiar twinge of gadget envy when newer devices like the iPad 3, 4, or Mini came out.

That's started changing lately, particularly as the Apple cogniscenti have been pushing out their reviews of the iPad Air (and Mini), but I've been coping - even though I'm noticing more and more lagging here and there during day-to-day use of my aging precioussssss.

But just today I was reading about Wacom's Intuos Creative Stylus, and I was shocked to see that it was incompatible with the iPad 2. It's expensive, but I won't lie - I was bummed.

And now this: the Pencil, by FiftyThree, makers of one of my very favorite apps, Paper. Again, it's incompatible with my iPad, and the culprit is low-energy Bluetooth, which only made its appearance on Apple's tablets post-iPad 2.

If I'm being realistic about it, I don't think I can exactly afford to upgrade my iPad at the moment. But it's official: I'm definitely lusting after a new one.

Broken by Simon Abrams

First time in four years of owning an iPhone that this has happened to me. I guess I was due? I still don't really plan on getting a case. I might, at most, get one of the anti-glare screen protectors that I had on my iPhone 4, but I think that's it. I'll just have to not drop the replacement phone they (eventually) give me.

8 days later...

RetinaBook Pro by Simon Abrams

I stopped by the West 14th Street Apple Store, and having seen it in person, I can join in the chorus: Apple’s new MacBook Pro with Retinal Display definitely looks amazing. Thin, light, fast as hell. I’m in the camp that thinks it’s pricey, but will get cheaper in a generation or so (like the MacBook Air did). It’s the direction the notebook industry as a whole will invariably go in.

Leap and T(ether): Our Minority Report Future Draws Ever Nearer by Simon Abrams

Interesting things are happening on the gestural/spatial computer interaction front. First up, Leap Motion garnered a lot of buzz a week or two ago. This little brick hangs out next to your computer and allows you to interact with it by tracking your gestures. It seems to be tracking movements at an incredibly high-resolution, too, as seen in this demo:

An SDK and app store are in the works, promising lots of fun stuff will be readily available when the Leap Motion ships at the end of the year.

T(ether), from the MIT Media Lab is an iPad-based 3D object manipulation and animation tool. Using motion capture and the built-in cameras on the iPad, it offers immersive interaction with the 3D data, and even allows multiple people to collaboratively edit the same virtual environment. The video explains it better than I ever could:

While you can pre-order the Leap Motion for the grand sum of $70, the T(ether) appears to be still in the concept phase. The future is here, man.

When an Upgrade is Actually a Downgrade by Simon Abrams

Canon 7D with Holga HL-C AdapterI just got myself a Digital Holga Starter kit for my 7D, turning my rather expensive DSLR into the equivalent of a plastic-lensed Russian Chinese toy camera. There’s no way of overstating this: this lens is really cheap. It feels cheap, it’s 60mm focal length is brutally unforgiving, the aperture just is what it is (roughly equivalent to f/8), and it demands that you crank your ISO way beyond what your good sense tells you you should be using. But it’s really fun, and definitely makes one appreciate the niceties of autofocus and the like, and getting a good result (whether by happy accident or otherwise) makes it all worth it.

Drawing kit, shot with HL-C Macro lens adapter

I got the close-up/macro lens kit. The “lenses” in the kit range in focal length from 500mm to 30mm, and are even tougher to focus with than the base lens by itself (particularly that 30mm), but again, the results can be quite beautiful. The restrictiveness of the lens definitely makes me slow down and think more about what I’m about to shoot. This is definitely a bit of an adjustment for me, given that I’ve been spoiled with the instant gratification of a purely digital background.

So, is it really a downgrade? Well, technically, I suppose it is, due to its inferior quality and what not. But all in all, it’s definitely a worthy investment at around $50.

Self-Portrait of the Artist as a Nerd by Simon Abrams

Self-Portrait
Was messing around with some new gear I got after being inspired by the wonderful and talented Syl Arena’s excellent Speedliter’s Intensive Workshop which I attended at Adorama a few weeks ago, and came up with this shot of me nerding out in my office. Aside from my super-shiny face (sorry, didn’t have a makeup artist or stylist available at the time), I really like this shot. The framing could stand to be a hair wider, but my 17-55mm lens is in the shop for repairs to the IS system.
Camera info: I’m using Canon’s EOS Utility to focus, change camera settings and shoot via Live View on my laptop (because even though Aperture 3 now finally supports tethered shooting with most modern Canon cameras, it only gives you a shutter button and no other control over the camera). You can sort of see my Live View display via Screen Sharing in the lower corner of the iMac in the background.
Aperture Hot Folder is feeding the images into Aperture on my laptop. Also visible on the iMac are some earlier tests I did in Aperture, while the camera was tethered to that computer.

 

Feel free to check out the photo in larger sizes and poke around in the metadata over on Flickr.