Archive | Miscellaneous bits RSS for this section

Toshiba FlashAir W-04 vs Eyefi Mobi Pro

sdcards

Life has many existential questions and then some simple annoyances: why is the built-in WiFi in so many cameras so terrible? My Sony a6300 requires QR codes, wireless connections, and clunky built-in applications (as well has having the even more kludgy Sony PlayMemories application on the receiving device). Sometimes the simplest solution is not proprietary, and that is where we come to wireless SD (actually SDXC) cards.

Eyefi

Eyefi was a Finnish company that pioneered the idea of the wifi-enabled SD card. The idea was to make a small card that had a short-range 802.11 connection that could interface to a computer. Before long, the focus became transmitting to handheld devices.

In theory, all wireless cards count on the tolerance of a camera for staying powered up until disk operations are finished. In practical terms, this means that the wifi component in the card is activated by reading or writing a certain amount of data to the card, and the camera does not go to sleep until the transmission is complete (or some number of minutes passes, and the camera says “enough is enough!”).

Eyefi was not a tremendously easy system to set up on a handheld because it installs a WiFi profile (ID and password). This required you to enter a code on the back of the box into the handheld application, have your phone install the profile, go to WiFi settings, connect to the Eyefi card (assuming it is powered on) and then activate the Eyefi Mobi application.

From there, and assuming you were out in the wild, and your handheld could not see any other networks to which it could auto-connect, it would automatically connect to the Eyefi card. You would have to launch the Eyefi app to get transfers to start.

In general, the Eyefi setup worked (and works), except for a few caveats:

  • It is difficult to reconfigure the cards for a new device if you lose the activation code, and it is not straightforward to recover them (you used to have to email Eyefi customer service).
  • The configuration on the pro cards (transmit raw files and video or neither) required work with the hellishly ungainly Eyefi desktop application, which was a solution looking for a problem (if you are at your computer, why would you need to wirelessly transmit data to it?)
  • Eyefi cards were (and are) pretty hard on camera batteries.
  • Eyefi cards never got fast enough for intolerant cameras like Leica Digital Ms, especially the Typ 240 and its siblings, which really don’t like cards that can’t do at least 60mb/sec write speed (which generally means a 90mb/sec read speed – what they show on the box as the “speed”).

The Eyefi Mobi and Mobi Pro cards were a bit easier. The orange Mobi only transmits JPGs (you need to plug it into an SD reader to get RAW), and the black Mobi Pro would transmit both. But the speed still maxed out at Class 10, still not fast enough for a Leica, where sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, and when they don’t, they lock up the camera until you remove the battery.

Eyefi’s reorg, Toshiba, and Keenai

The Eyefi situation, oddly, changed for the better with the reorganization of the company. The technology end (the patents) went to Toshiba. Keenai took over the software end and designed a (free) mobile application that far more reliably connected to the card and downloaded pictures far faster. While on paper, the deal between the companies was cross-licensing, the reality is that Eyefi cards are out of print.

Toshiba

Toshiba took over with its FlashAir series where Eyefi left off. True to Japanese corporate form, it put out its own clunky (and frankly indecipherable) handheld application. FlashAir. To its credit, the application allows you to see thumbnails (JPG and pink boxes for RAW) that allow you to selectively pull (as opposed to having the card push) files. This avoids the usual wait for the good shots while the card pushes all of your bloopers to your handheld.

The FlashAir W-04 (the current model, for some reason only available in Asia – in the U.S., you get the W-03 – but you can buy the W-04 all day on Ebay…) is in many ways better than the Eyefi Mobi Pro.

First, it skips the activation codes and profiles and lets you just punch in an 8-digit password (which you can change via the handheld app) when you connect to its wireless signal. I would not recommend changing this password because the risk of someone in your immediate proximity stealing your images is far smaller than the risk of forgetting the password and bricking the card.

Second, on Keenai, it is zero-configuration. It sees the phone is connected to a FlashAir card, and then it goes to town downloading everything (JPG and RAW). I think the assumption is that your phone will only be connected to one card at a time.

Third, the Toshiba cards seem to eat batteries less, although the effective range seems shorter. I am still testing this, but that kind of tradeoff would not at all be surprising.

 

Finally, the W-04 transfers about twice as fast as the Eyefi over WiFi, and its card write speed (UHS-3, which I measure at 63.3Mb/sec write speed) is high enough even to be reliable with the finicky Leica Ms. This actually makes them useful even when you don’t need WiFi connectivity. Speeds (as tested by me through the iMac 5K’s built-in card reader)

  • Flashair W-04 (64mb/sec write, 88mb/sec read)
  • Eyefi Mobi Pro 32 (17mb/sec write, 19 mb/sec read)
  • Eyefi Mobi 32 (18mb/sec write, 19mb/sec read)
  • For reference, a Samsung Pro non wireless card (rated 80/90) runs at 64/88.

…so as you can see, “Class 10” covers a lot of territory (basically 10mb/sec and up)

Unsolved problems

There are two last annoyances.

One is that iOS devices are hostile to the idea of strict priority lists for wireless. At home or work – where your handheld would be connected to a permanent network, you would want EyeFi or FlashAir cards to trump the local Wifi when they are active (since they are only active for shooting or file transfer). This is not a problem inherent to the cards themselves, but it makes using them less fun.

Second, wireless host programs like to store downloaded images in their own purgatory rather than dumping them all directly into your iOS photos storage. This means that you end up storing two copies of some (or all) pictures, eating into onboard storage. This actually is within the province of Keenai to fix.

Conclusion

With the maturation of wirelsss SD card card technology and of editing programs like Lightroom CC mobile, you can now actually get more done in more places. And yes, they even work with Sony cameras.

 

 

Advertisements

No love for the Empire? Leica Multifunction Handgrip M 14495

M-EQUIPMENT-MULTIFUNCTIONAL-HANDRIP-POWERFUL-PLUS_teaser-960x640

The Multifunction Handgrip M (14495), $895, is a depressing piece of hardware. It’s not the price or the alleged GPS slowness. It’s the depressing feeling that like a lot of things, the M camera reached its highest point of elaboration and now is on the path of decontenting that hit a lot of other types of consumer electronics.

Hello and goodbye. The story of this product is wrapped up with the M typ 240 (and its cousins the M-E 262 and Monochrom 246). The 240 was a watershed moment for Leica – the first time the M had actually become functional like other people’s cameras. It signaled a few firsts:

  • Video. Not the best HD video ever, but with the new EVF(!) it was passable.
  • Audio input. Plus it actually had a way to get audio into the camera! But no EVF and mic adapter at the same time. In every life, some rain must fall.
  • A digital horizon that operated in 3 dimensions (so it could detect pitch and roll).
  • A high capacity battery.
  • A function button on the front that could trigger exposure compensation adjustments or viewfinder magnification.

How many of these features made it to the M10? The front button. Now let’s see where the Multifunction Handgrip takes you:

  • GPS. Every want to auto-tag your photos with the location?
  • SCA flash connector. Now you can connect to a flash via a metal plugged-cord or a standard PC outlet.
  • AC connector. Now you can run your camera on video for the allotted 29 minutes at a time (before the auto shut off).
  • USB port for tethered operation (likely why the AC connector is so important).

But then there came the M10, thin like a 90s shoulder pad. No more video. No more need-to-keep-it-level landscape photography (apparently…). Smaller batteries, as if the thrill of living had gone.

Weight? The 14495 adds surprisingly little weight to the M. That’s because everything but the baseplate part is plastic. Naturally, the light grip does not change the balance of the camera, so you need to use brute strength (and grip) to keep big lenses level.

Grip? The ergonomics of this are something that grow on you. At first, you feel like it could be a centimeter taller to accommodate your index finger. But wait – that’s the one you need to press the shutter. It doesn’t take long to adapt to this grip, and it greatly enhances the handling of the camera with huge lenses like the 75/1.4. Every little bit counts, and an M is pretty slippery, even with the little nub grip built into its case.

GPS? It works. Just put your camera in standby, and within a few minutes, it will get a fix. Once it’s running, it seems to be pretty accurate.  A lot of people seem to complain that when it loses a signal, it continues to log its last known location. That’s actually beneficial when you go indoors (since you don’t want it to revert to a location in the center of the earth, for example).

“Near-field” communication. You always wanted this on a digital camera, but you didn’t want Android. Well, here you go. To get a wifi signal out of a card (like the Toshiba Flashair, which will be treated in a future installment), you basically need to have your handheld touching the top plate of the camera (which apparently is the most porous surface for radio waves.

Flash. Flash. Flash. So you want to know how well the 14498 SCA setup (another bazillion dollars) works? It consists of a bracket and an extension shoe. The idea of this product is to allow you to move the flash off camera both to enhance balance and to free up the hot shoe for an optical or electronic viewfinder.

 

M-EQUIPMENT-SCA_ADAPTER_SET_teaser-960x640

The disappointing thing is that there is no vertical grip piece, meaning that your flash head is much closer to the lens axis in landscape mode than you might like. So this works better out of the box with taller flashes like the SF 58 or 64.

The weird thing is the SCA plug, which is both unusual and insanely well built. It probably requires 200 different machining operations. But like the EVF connector, it’s proprietary, meaning that you have exactly one choice for off-camera work. The exit of the cord near the body of the camera body seems weird at first, but after you use it a bit, you wonder why Nikon screwed up so badly with the SC hot-shoe adapters, which have huge cords that on an M camera either end up blocking the viewfinder or getting in your face, literally.

But the good thing with the 14498 is that you can get and use your favorite old Vivitar handgrip – because the extension shoe detaches from the bracket. And can be used without the bracket.

Flash operation is unremarkable (as it should be). You do not get a flash-ready indication in the EVF if you have it attached, and shot to shot lag time is not affected.

Conclusion. The Multifunction Grip M, if you can score one used for under $400, is a pretty good item. At that price, it’s not quite as outrageously expensive as list, and it helps tremendously with heavy lenses. As to the SCA set, it’s a tougher call, unless you can get one for under $200. Where the grip gives you a standard PC connector, you can use any handle-mount auto flash you want (such as a Metz 45 series). Flash may or may not be in your personal program, but I would remind you that the higher-end Leica flashes do high-speed synch very well.

About that Ari Marcopoulos Camera Bag

0f8d5e0837532a8877b878f285565fc2-3.jpgQ: What do Ari Marcopoulos and Iron Maiden have in common?
A: They are more famous for apparel than media.

Ok, that’s probably not true, at least with regard to Ari, but most buyers of camera bags never will have heard of him — or at best will have confused the super-adventurous-street-photographer with Costa Manos of Magnum. Ari’s work is great (as I would expect after 40 years of shooting), and it pushes a lot of boundaries that frankly need to be pushed, but one real work of his genius is designing a camera bag.

First, let’s dispense with the cutesy Incase video. Not all of that stuff fits in one of these bags, unless you just randomly toss things in and try to zip it up. Also, watching Ari wander into a pond in knee-length shorts might give you this icky voyeuristic feeling. Or watching a golf swing with a messenger bag tightly strapped on might make you experience psychosomatic feelings of suffocation.

Features/Benefits

Let’s go point by point on the major features/benefits and detriments. If you like Nava Design briefcases, backpacks, and other things, you will love this bag —because the aesthetics are a dead ringer for the Dot Com 2.0 line (or maybe vice versa).

dot-com-2-0-nava-design.jpg

Also, contrary to what one reviewer said, the Ari bag does look like a diaper bag, at least the type they design to make men less reluctant to carry diaper bags. In fact, all camera bags now look like diaper bags. Compare your favorite bag to the Skip-Hop one on the left or the Fisher-Price in the center. Or the Diaper Dude one on the right. “Diaper Dude.” Nuke the site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

A139MU3bRLL._SX522_91DyGmroZgL._SX522_2400_02

But enough diversions. On to the countdown of benefits!

1. Reasonable cargo capacity. You can drop a Fuji 6×9 in no problem – so long as it does not have an external viewfinder attached. Also takes a Rolleiflex with no problem. Obviously also fits a Leica or two.

2. Not ballistic nylon. Grey canvas. Incase has figured out — unlike Domke — that canvas is best put on the outside and that something less abrasive is better on the inside.

3. Plenty of padding. The other thing that is infuriating about Domke is the banging around of equipment. Unless of course you use a padded insert – which pretty mich defeats the whole purpose of a Domke in the first place. The Ari at least has some soft stuff inside.

4. Light colored interior. Not hard to see things. Nowhere for small parts to hide.

5. No decoration. Well, save for a cute step-wedge on the back. The color of the bag might qualify as a good neutral grey for color-balancing purposes.

6. Virtually no labeling on the bag. You can’t read Ari’s signature, and the word Ari (on a small fabric tag) looks like a manufacturer’s label.

7. Zips from the top. This is quieter and more convenient than the flap-over nightmares. Also naturally stays open when unzipped, which is helpful for inserting and removing equipment without scratching.

8. Strap that is adjustable for length while you are wearing it. Really easy – pull the plain metal buckle to tighten, pull the metal buckle with the fabric attachment to loosen. Note this; this bag does not come with directions explaining that.

9. Tripod strap on the bottom. If you bicycle, this can hold an air pump.

10. Slot for an iPad. The furry inner pocket of this does not hold a full-size tablet, but the slot itself does.

Not sure about these things:

1. Grab handle on the side. This is useful provided that your cameras are not going to jump the partitions inside the case if the case is turned 90 degrees. But better than nothing if you want to tie the bag down or pull it off a carry-on bin shelf.0ad374e4b336334727a865ad692dbf54.jpg2. Rain cover. Not sure because it is something no one will admit to using on account of its, ahem, unique design. Many report using it inside-out. By the way, when you buy the bag, the cover is hidden in a bottom zippered compartment that is very easy to miss.359de656f5c9e575002a734546a035e8.jpg3. Point-and-shoot pocket. If your p/s camera is a thin one that is somehow not going to lose its nice finish by being repeatedly dragged through a […] dentata, the point and shoot pocket serves its intended function. The zippered opening under the magnetic flat is too narrow for any but the thinnest cameras, let alone your hand. Some tests:

  • Olympus Stylus Epic (mju 1) (tiny p/s): reasonable fit if you shield the camera from the zipper with your hand
  • Yashica T4 Super (midsize p/s): same; a little more snug
  • Contax TVS (midsize p/s): gold finish will not be there long
  • Canon Sure Shot Multi Tele (fat f/s): no way
  • Canon Sure Shot 120 Caption (fat p/s): no way
  • Konica Hexar AF (full-size): for the love of God, man, think of what you are doing!

Yet it does have some advantages unrelated to its stated purpose: you could run headphone wires out of it easily, as well as pull your wallet out. But keeping your wallet in a piece of luggage might actually cross the thin line between a camera bag and a man-purse.c23c3eb53028e575ae11553a7d6821ec.jpg

Room for Improvement:

1. Set in its ways. It is no secret that Ari designed this bag for his own use – as the video states. It is designed around a Canon 5D, a Leica film rangefinder (as you can see from Incase’s product shot, a Contax G2 has to stand in), and a compact camera (from the looks of it in the video – in the stock photo below, the compact camera is replaced by two rolls of film, an iPhone, and a Moleskine). Other configurations work, but the two removable dividers and the point-and-shoot pocket can only be removed, not repositioned!

27688f8afd1ddefe51412743dd304488.jpg

The second picture is a real-world load of this bag, showing a chrome-plated Fuji G690BL (don’t ask…), 100/3.5AE lens, 50mm lens and an extra 72mm filter, and a Fuji X100 (looking like a fetal G690BL…). To the left you see a pro-pack of TMY 120. The “point and shoot” pocket holds Sekonic L-358 meter and a Tascam DR-40 audio recorder. The upper zipper pocket holds a spare X100 battery and a 50mm viewfinder.openbag.jpg

Here’s another, showing a 2.8GX Rolleiflex (sporting a 2.8F viewfinder/reflex hood…), Leica M typ 240, and SF 58 flash in the main part, a Leica battery and TMY120 in the side pockets, a Rollei E46 filter adapter in the top pocket, and a Tascam and 46mm filters in the point-and-shoot pocket. Now think, with an M10, you could fit an extra folded up piece of A4 paper in the extra 3mm you would have!

openbag2.jpg2. Uno strap senso unico. The strap only has one direction: worn on the left shoulder, crossing over the body. This is important to remember because there is no double shoulder pad to cover right-shoulder use (in the photo below, you can see that the second pad cannot be moved because it is sewnin place). The orientation also puts the grab handle on the wrong side of the bag. I tested the “wrong” orientation, and indeed it is unconfortable compared to the “correct” one. On a 10-mile pleasure bike ride, this bag with 8 pounds of equipment in it is actually pretty uncomfortable on the shoulder. Part of this comes from the seat-belt-style shoulder strap. It’s a great material, but where right-shoulder use does not have a pad that wraps over the shoulder, the web part of the strap ends up digging into your shoulder.

9f4d876a6c9197e4503c5217b765ecb7.jpg

3. Missing stabilizer. One place where Crumpler wipes the floor with other brands is in the use of a stabilizer strap that helps keep a fully loaded bag from swinging around and hitting the handlbars. Although you can mitigate some of this with the Ari by tightening up the straps, it is still capable of swinging around on you. It can also work its way to being at angles where it might lost stuff out the top if unzipped.

Conclusion

All joking aside, the Ari Marcopolous bag is fairly nice, especially at its closeout price of $120. It is a little quirky and is the kind of thing you would want to buy with a return privilege. Just in case you and Ari are not on the same page.

Metz 45CL-4 Digital + SCA3045 + SCA3502 M5 + Leica M typ 240

20140815_201007

„Beatific look” its Metz part no. SCA 999S

A long introduction

It’s a little bit difficult to understand why Leica and Metz have such a strange relationship. It is no secret that Metz makes Leica’s flashes, but it is surprising that when it comes to the SCA system and TTL operation, Metz is just as much a stranger to Leicas as it is to Nikons.

The Metz 45, like the Vivitar 283, is one of the most timeless flash designs that exists. Since the 45CT-1 of the late 1970s, Metz 45 series flashes have been the gold standard in light output. automatic flash exposure accuracy and light quality (meaning that the diffusers actually work, and the light has a nice warm tone to it). The massive 6 x AA battery pack and solid bracket add to the fun. These are flashes that mean business.

But since 1979, Metz has leaned heavily on modules rather than dedicated flashes. It actually did a remarkable job in adapting the 45 CL series to TTL cameras, and there was a module for every application, and for good measure also slave modules and even basic hot shoe modules. Digital, however, has presented its own challenges. Digital “TTL” systems actually do look through the lens, but they typically look at preflashes rather than cutting off the main flash. Because the architecture of the 45 series did not allow for multiple flashes in a cycle (also necessary for High Speed Synch), Metz introduced the 45CL-4 Digital, which has that capability.

The 45CL-4 Digital functions like a 45CL-4 in most ways. You need to add an SCA3000 connecting cord and your choice of SCA3000-series module to get TTL operation on a film camera. Automatic operation requires nothing but a PC cord. But to get E-TTL (Canon), i-TTL (Nikon), and GNC (Leica), you need an SCA3045 connecting cord and one of the latest generation modules (M10 for Nikon; M5 for Leica). If the title of this post seems complicated, that’s because connecting all of these things is.

The strange irony is that using older modules leads to additional (but erratic) functionality, all of which revolves aroud HSS (high-speed synch). A Nikon M8 module with a D700 will high-speed synch some of the time (but only, it appears, at 1/1000 sec and faster). A Leica M3 module with the M typ 240 gives you high-speed synch sometimes – but most of the time just shoots off a full-power flash blast. The newer versions don’t allow HSS. When I pressed Metz on this, I learned, at least for the Nikon, that the HSS synch protocol changed between the film and digital Ms, and that it’s just a coincidence that it works. Yikes.

But back to our story. The SCA 3045 M5 on the M typ 240 gives you GNC (Guide Number Control), which is a limited form of M-TTL. It shoots a pre flash, measures it, and then shoots the main flash. Although some deride it as not being “true TTL,” it is conceptually identical to how all M-TTL flashes work. The only catch is that it is slower between flashes and lacks exposure compensation capability. When the “GN” switch is set on the module, a green light on the module glows (odd – because the same module doesn’t do that on the 54MZ-3).

A short statement on performance

Let’s say this: it works. Automatic modes are generally accurate (if slightly underexposed – which is ok for digital), and GNC is right on the money.

The GNC system does not seem to be fooled by sun in the frame (likely because the Leica TTL sensor is too primitive to see things off x). The double flash should be fine for all adult subjects; children may react to the pop-pop and blink. Contrary to the instructions, the flash does work with GNC with bounce and/or the use of the secondary reflector (as seen in the shot above, which is even more remarkable considering that it was taken in a stainless steel box).

Using this flash in with the camera shutter set to A mode, once the shutter speed crosses the maximum synch speed, the camera does not fire the flash.

Versus the SF 58

The Leica SF 58, at least used, is about the same price as a fully configured 45CL-4 digital. The SF 58 is very well integrated, supporting fast TTL operation (preflash to flash), exposure comp for TTL, high-speed synch, and automatic zooming to match the focal length of whatever lens is on the camera (assuming 6-bit coding or manual selection). It should be a killer, right?

It’s not as much as you would think. The Metz is deficient in some ways, but it is considerably ahead of the SF 58 in terms of flexibility to use with other cameras, simple controls, putting the flash off the lens axis, and POWER, both in terms of the size of the battery pack and its output. The 45CL-4 is rated for 45m at at 35mm field of view; the SF 58 (like the Metz 58 it is derived from) only hits 58m at the 105mm reflector setting; it’s only GN 35 at 35mm.  It is also very difficult to beat the 45 series accessory infrastructure, which includes two of types diffusers (pebbled and opaque white), a telephoto extender, a bounce card, colored reflectors, slave units, and NiMH battery packs.

For social use, indoors, the SF 58 has an edge because it can be taken down and set up quickly. Its balance still is a little awkward, since it seems to be designed for the much larger S series cameras.

# # # # #

Pixi Dust

Image

Small camera supports represent the Kobayashi Maru scenario: an unwinnable conflict between competing considerations. For keeping a camera steady, particularly for video, a regular tripod starts large and gets larger – and the little “mini-pods” are useless (in many cases, the legs only spread to one position). In any event, the heads of most of these devices are not up to holding anything more than a flat point-and-shoot camera of the early 2000s.

The Manfrotto Pixi, which you can buy at Target as a $25 impulse (same price as Amazon before sales tax, so no need to showroom), is an interesting addition to the mix.  Constructed mostly of ABS plastic with a pushbutton ball head (push to move the ball, release to lock), it is probably the sturdiest baby tripod currently made and definitely the best one ever sold at a convenience store. The design is very organic (anatomic?), particularly in white (it also comes in black and some two-tone combinations like red/black and pink/black).

Opened, it raises your camera approximately 5 inches and puts it on an equilateral leg spread of about 6 inches on a side. For small tripods, the added height is always negligible. The real thing is being able to change the angle of inclination of the camera (consider that you can put the camera and tripod on top of any box-like object and use the ball head to fine-tune the aim). For this, the Pixi has a real ball 25mm ball head, machined with grooves to be clamped. The platform is rubberized (as are the feet) and features the ubiquitous 1/4 x 20 tripod thread. If you have gaffer-taped the bottom of your M, it will make a good contact. For a Rolleiflex, on the other hand, you might want to make sure your 3/8 to 1/4 bushing is flat on the bottom of the camera. Heavier cameras with off-center sockets (like Leica M film cameras) may give awkward balance.

The push button on the Pixi’s ball head has been the subject of some discussion; it is stiff, and it should be stiff – since it is the only thing that keeps your camera from going nose-down on the table.

The weight capacity is another issue. The capacity is nominally 1kg (2.2 pounds). People have put much larger loads on this tripod, and it indeed will hold the weight. Dynamic load capacity, however, is not the same as static – and as such, the steadiness will diminish as the load (and stress on that load) increases (consider also wind and vibration in the environment). Understand that operating the controls on a Leica M with a moderately sized lens (which can hit 3 lbs) will cause deflection in the legs when you press the M[ovie] button. So 1kg really means 1kg* unless you are willing to wait for a little “settling” at the beginning and end of the work (and with telephotos, you may need to use a remote release – the Pixi documentation specifcally mentions 85mm as the limit). So in summary:

  • Micro 4/3 or APS-C camera with small lens = Yes.
  • Fuji GA645 series (815g) = Yes, but use the self-timer.
  • DSLR = yes for small ones, hell no for pro and semi-pro models.
  • Leica M (min. 680g) = Yes, but only with a small lens.

*Unless you are talking about the body, which is limited to 650g.

The static/dynamic weight thing afflicts real tripods too; one of the best tripods going is (was) the Linhof 2- or 3-section (Profi-Port-Stativ series), but that 5kg weight capacity means that heavy cameras need to be treated gingerly. In fact, Linhof’s own Super-Technika cameras were almost too heavy for these tripods (you would use a cable release, though, under most circumstances).

Closed, the Pixi operates as a handle. It is possible that most true mini tripods could function the same way; however, the legs fit together such to create a handle for over-the-head work or for video work (one would suppose, if you like the “steadicam” look). For overhead work, it helps to have a camera with an articulated screen that can be pointed down. It is unclear in use whether it actually helps steadiness for handheld video; the benefit seems to come mainly from the extended grip.

Is it worth it? Anything that costs less than your monthly cellular usage is probably not worth agonizing about. The Pixi is highly functional and attractive – and likely merits the 7 oz in your bag if you think it would help your work. And the color? White. Definitely white. Not for that Space Odyssey thing but rather because light-colored objects are harder to lose in camera bags.

That $15 Kaiser job, or, a brief history of lens caps

Jar lids, my friends.

Jar lids, my friends.

As Vincent Vega once said, “That’s a pretty fucking good milkshake. I don’t know if it’s worth five dollars but it’s pretty f—ing good.”

There are only two reasons to buy a $15 lens cap (item plus shipping). One is that you are filthy rich. The other is that it’s a pretty f—ing good cap.

Over the thousands hundreds of years that optical manufacturers have been making lenses, caps have been an afterthought. In the beginning, they were leather and promoted mold. Through the late 20th century, they were beautifully finished metal (or infrequently hard plastic) and predominantly relied on a friction fit to stay in place – and became useless as soon as they were dented or their felt linings became loose, grit-filled, or otherwise nasty. The 1980s brought the pinch cap; a thin plastic plate with spring-loaded tabs that engaged maybe 2 cm total of the circumference of the lens. This was easily knocked off and did not even effectively keep dust out.  The 1990s version was the center-pinch variant, where the release mechanism could be operated even if a lens hood prevented the user from reaching the side-tabs. One almost has to wonder if the utter failure of lens cap design drove the UV-filter-as-protection craze, since it’s much easier to keep a filter screwed on than it is to keep a lens cap on.

To get back to the point, the Kaiser 206951 lens cap ($15 shipped at the usual places) is an excellent alternative. It is made of a semi-flexible plastic and basically stretches and suctions onto your lens. Size it 2mm larger than your filter size, and off you go. In testing so far on an X100, it fits snugly over a B+W F-Pro filter and creates an airtight seal that prevents pocket lint from getting in. Although it is not shown in the picture, many sizes of the 2069xx have lanyard loops so that they can be tied to strap rings or otherwise tethered so they don’t get away. This is a great example of a product that is well-designed, simple, and functional. Does it cost a little more than some Chinese pinch cap that you can buy for a buck, airmailed, because both the manufacture and shipping is heavily subsidized? Yes. But is it better? Absolutely.

Lens caps might seem like something simple and silly, but they fit into a category of product whose only value lies solely in its functionality. We would be lucky if every accessory were as well designed as that $15 Kaiser lens cap.