Wednesday, January 31, 2018

New Year 2018

Kids with grandparents.We did not deviate from the regular routine this year and celebrated New Year with family at Daniеl’s parents place. There were four of us, Danya’s parents and Lina.

Authentic Erdinger beer glasses. I did not cook anything for the holiday table this year. First of all, after a week of stomach virus traveling from one family member to another, I felt exhausted. Secondly, I was worried that if I cook something, I might inadvertently make my in-laws sick. I was the only one from the four of us who did not throw up by the way, but I’m pretty sure that I had the virus in some milder form.

Us.Anyhow, back to the pleasant stuff. We gathered close to 7 o’clock. Took family photos as usual. Had a nice dinner, with most of the holiday favorites including olivie, holodets, funchoza, “french” meat, fried eggplants, roasted potatoes. Drank some champagne, remembered the good things about 2017.

Arosha with his Instax camera.We let the children open some of their presents ahead of time, because it was really hard for them to wait for midnight. On the topic of gifts. They were plenty!

Anюta with her pink markers.Arosha got a Parrot minidrone, an Instax instant pictures camera with additional film and a photo album, toys, jigsaw puzzles, art supplies, bubble bath, candies and clothes. Anюta got toys, clothes, candies and art supplies, which included pink sparkly glue, beads, markers, paint sets, coloring pad, stamps. One of the things that she asked for was the whole set of pink markers. Amazingly, you can order a pack of such things on Amazon. Too bad that they were all the same shade, but she liked them nonetheless.

Family.Danya got clothes, socks, a set of Erdinger beer glasses and Allen Edmonds boots and gloves, both of which we returned since they did not fit all that well. I got clothes, a new electric kettle by Cuisinart and a meat grinder, which I thought about getting for the longest time.

Some of the Instax photos that Arosha took.Daniеl’s dad got clothes and an electric shaver by Braun. Lina got clothes and a bluetooth keyboard by Logitech. Daniеl’s mom got a Svarowski figurine, fancy facial cream set and an iPhone 8 Plus.

Siblings.Everyone was happy with their gifts, although I was a little disappointed that Danya’s boots did not fit well. Oh, and we did order the Instagram calendars as we do each year for both us and parents.

Some of the Instax photos that Arosha took.We went home at around 1:30. Anюta has fallen asleep at around 11:30 and did not wake up to greet the New Year and to participate in gift giving. We tried to wake her up, but she was too tired and did not want to get up. Arosha, on the other hand, had no problems staying awake so late this year. He was very excited about the gifts and volunteered to be a “New Year Elf”, a helper of “Father Frost”. In his enthusiasm he was a bit of a hasty helper, so we had to ask him a few times to slow down a bit, so that everybody can see what the others are getting.

Generations.Also, I am not sure if Arosha believes in Santa Claus or Father Frost anymore. He figured out the Tooth Fairy business recently. I guess, I could have kept the illusion longer, but I just did not have the heart to do it. He kept asking me if I was his tooth fairy for over a year already, and I kept saying that even if I am, I will not tell him because tooth faeries are secretive.

Parrot Swing minidrone.And then after his most recent tooth loss he said that if I am the tooth fairy that he’ll exchange the tooth for the money since he knows that I will save his baby teeth, but if it is someone else, then he would prefer to keep his tooth and not get the money. So after he was agonizing about the best course of action for a while, I gave in and told him the truth. I think he was mostly happy with this information, which confirmed his suspicions.

Generations.As for Father Frost, one of his theories is that it is a dressed up building’s superintendent. I guess, he is close enough. He also said that an elderly man flying all over sky with the help of his deer makes no sense whatsoever and is quite ridiculous.

Silly 2018 glasses.Unfortunately, I started to develop a bad headache after midnight and it was intensifying rapidly. I ended up suffering the whole next day as well, but luckily I could just rest. We spent half of January 1st at home, and the other half at Daniеl’s parents.

New Year elf. Eyes seemed appropriate, so we left them unfixed.By they way, credit for Arosha’s main gift ideas belongs totally and completely to Daniеl. Arosha got very excited about both drone and the camera, and he still uses both, a month later.


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Sunday, November 12, 2017

iPhone X

iPhone X. My home screen.I’ve only had iPhone X for 5 days and I already have a number of thoughts with regards to it that I want to jot down. But the short summary is that I love it. Such a big leap forward for me personally going to iPhone X from iPhone 6S.


First — a couple of words on my pre-order ordeal. Things did not go as I have envisioned them. I woke up at 2:55am to get ready for 3am pre-order process. I was planning to go with Apple’s upgrade program that has no additional costs and allows for an upgrade to the next phone by trading in your old one. I don’t think I would need to upgrade in a year, but it was nice to have an option since it doesn’t cost anything extra.

Back side.I tried using Apple Store app which worked very well in previous years. The store came up soon enough after 3am, I saw a phone that I wanted available to be delivered by November 3rd — first day — and the first couple of steps worked fine. I even didn’t get stuck on AT&T verification. However in order to get approved for Apple upgrade program one has to fill out a good deal of financial information to get credit verified.

And that’s where all the problems started. I had to fill in all this stuff numerous times and it kept failing to get to the next step. Eventually the delivery time slipped to 1-2 weeks and then to 2-3 weeks. In the end it said that all the information was accepted, but I would have to wait for an email with-in 8 hours that would provide me with further information. I tried going trough the process a couple of times more, but was not able to reach the final step at all.

When I saw the delivery time-frame slipping I decided to check what was happening at AT&T. Instead of being to do a pre-order there I was placed into some virtual queue which said that I had 30-40 minutes wait time — never seen anything like that. Anyhow, I apparently left this page open and when all my attempts over at Apple have failed I looked at this page and I had 3 minutes of queue left. So I ended up placing an order after 4am through AT&T which claimed that I would get my phone on November 3rd. In exactly the configuration that I wanted.

Lock screen.It seemed really iffy to me since the delivery time-frame on Apple’s site has gone to 5-6 weeks by then. But what do you know — I did get my phone on November 3rd, as promised. I guess everyone had to go through a similar AT&T queue and as a result the stock wasn’t sold out as quickly. First time I ordered an Apple product through AT&T and it worked out just fine.

And in the morning I did get an email from Apple saying that they couldn’t verify my information after all and I should try placing an order again. Glad I ordered via AT&T as a backup.

The Phone

I have purchased an iPhone X in silver with 256GB of storage. Initially I was going to go with 64GB as my current phone is, but then I thought that I actually like not having to remove photographs from my phone. And it didn’t make a big difference on monthly basis over the course of 2 year loan.

iPhone X. HealthView app.The phone is gorgeous. Silver back, completely black front, and shiny stainless steel sides. There is no visible separation between thin bezels and the screen on the front. It’s all 100% black. Same as on Apple Watch with OLED screen the display itself is indistinguishable from the rest of the glass. The only time when the screen actually shows is when it’s in a very bright sun.

The phone is too good looking to put into a case of any kind and I haven’t used cases since the very first phone I had because of the added bulk. But this phone being as expensive as it is I’ve bought into Apple Care Plus program for the first time for some insurance, just in case — but that’s yet another $200.

Some Specifics

The first most obvious thing is the lack of home button and Touch-ID along with it. The phone can be woken up by pressing sleep-wake side button or by simply tapping on the screen — à la Apple Watch. The swipe up gesture that replaces the click of a home button feels great. I somehow didn’t even notice any kind of re-learning process. It just felt right from the start. And it actually feels like a much more natural alternative to a physical and somewhat wobbly button of my 6S.

Ilya. Stage Light mode when it works looks great.Beside the regular swipe-up to go to home screen the bar can be swiped from side to side to switch between recently used apps. They stay in the queue in the same order that they have been opened in. So I can open Overcast, then open Waze and the swipe from left to right will bring me back to Overcast. And the next swipe from right to left will bring me back to Waze. Very convenient. The Control Center however has been moved to the very top right corner of the screen. I wasn’t using it often, but the new location it’s not ideal.

The notch turned out to be a non-issue. When you look at screenshots of the phone the notch seems to be the only thing that your eyes run to. When I use the phone — I don’t notice it at all — I’m looking at a gorgeous screen and the content displayed on it. Notch is just sitting up there, not being annoying. And even the bottom aligning of status bar elements doesn’t seem to bother me as it id on the screenshots.

The size of the screen is very pleasant. The actual phone is slightly bigger then the regular model of 6, 6S, 7 and 8. The screen itself is the size of those phones. It fits comfortably enough in my pockets and has a screen that is bigger than one on the Plus phones. And it’s an OLED screen which looks good enough — not that LCDs looked bad either. The best thing is the deep blacks that match the rest of the glass — when an app hasn’t been updated to fit on iPhone X it just looks like your holding an older black 6S-like phone. The only give-away is the lit up icons on the top and home indicator on the bottom.


So much fuss was made of Face-ID and fears of losing Touch-ID and it was all for nothing. Face-ID really just works. It actually makes the phone feel like there is no lock of any kind of it. You just use it as you normally would and Face-ID just does it’s thing. So it should be treated as if just didn’t exist at all.

Arosha. Portrait mode.The place where I can actually observe its speed is on locked apps such as 1Password. It authenticates you via Face-ID and it takes a fraction of a second — 2nd generation Touch-ID was probably faster, but here you don’t have to place a finger over a button or do anything at all. Totally acceptable.

In addition to all that there are several interesting things that Apple is dong with it. I had my previews of notifications disabled on all my phones for security reasons — you don’t want somebody to see a confirmation code that might come to you via an SMS message for example. So notifications of certain things were just not very useful. Now all the notification previews are off by default, but once the phone sees YOU — the owner — looking at the screen they just unroll and show the preview — great.

I also noticed that if the phone call comes through and you happen to be looking at the phone the ring comes through with a very low volume — if you’re not looking at it, it’s very loud. And another thing is that the phone no longer dims its screen if you looking at it.

Artur. My barber, portrait mode.Face-ID seems to a little less reliable in very bright sun light. It seems to take a little bit longer to work it’s magic in this specific case. But on the other hand even when the phone is mounted on the dash of my car and I’m off center it works just fine. And it does work through my sunglasses and my beard doesn’t scare it either.

Restore Process

I’ve been using iCloud backups to move over to new phones since the time it was possible. This time I did the same thing. And after everything was restored and all the passwords have been entered I was dismayed to find out that none of my Activity Achievements that I’ve been collecting over the past two and a half years have been unlocked, even though all the health data and filled in rings have been ported just fine.

Aleksey. Portrait mode.Luckily I haven’t dismantled my 6S yet. So I hooked it up to iTunes and made an encrypted backup from it. Then I restarted the whole setup process and restored from this iTunes backup. Luckily everything came back up correctly. Phew. And I didn’t have to re-enter all the passwords either. I’m probably going to stick to this process, although it’s a scary prospect if iCloud backup doesn’t get some things right, since that really is the process that I rely on in case something happens to the phone itself.

The Cameras

Now this is the crowning jewel of iPhone X. This is THE MAIN reason why I wanted to get my hands on this phone as soon as possible — a camera system that can measure depth and fit into my pocket at the same time. Like the saying goes — the best camera is the one that you have with you — and I always have my phone with me. And having as advanced of a camera system as this one on a phone is amazing for somebody who takes as many pictures with the phone as I do.

I love what Apple is doing on the software side to overcome the limitation of physics and tiny lenses. The portrait process with blurred background works really well. I do notice that it makes small mistakes here and there, but in most cases it does great. What separates iPhone X from iPhone 8 Plus is also the fact that you can take selfies in portrait mode as well thanks to the array of sensors in the notch. It has same issues though as Face-ID does with a bright sun light.

Home screen.Blog. New phone call indicator.Have a double optical zoom on a phone is also incredibly useful. I never use digital zoom that was available for a while on iOS since it just ruins the photo quality, so it might as well just not be there. But optical 2x zoom — perfect.

The different lightning modes that Apple is doing by using the depth information is also pretty great. I really like Studio Light and Contour Light modes. Stage Light — all black background — though doesn’t work as well yet. In certain conditions it does wonders, but most of the time it just ruins the photograph. Luckily all these things can be adjust in the post-processing on the phone since all the depth information is stored along with the photo.

Yesterday we went over to Coney Island with the family and I took a good number of photographs. So there is a good collection of samples. I did put them through my normal post-processing steps in Photoshop, but this is the first set of phone photographs that are actually good enough initially to go through that.


I’ve ran into a weird issue where my Automatic Pro OBD scanner in the car seems to cause Bluetooth interference which affects the call quality when it goes through the car audio system. I’m going to create a ticket on Autmatic’s site to see if they have any suggestions, but for now I had to unplug it from the car — annoying. Worked just fine with iPhone 6S.

Another thing I already mentioned — bright sunlight degrades the performance of the front sensors. It hasn’t been annoying yet, but we’ll if it becomes that as the time goes by.

Waze. Dark theme.Weather Line. Hasn't yet been updated for iPhone X app.While OLED screens do have their benefits burn-in is a thing. I keep Waze running for long periods of time — 3+ hours per day on my commute and I don’t know how it will affect the screen. I switch Waze into dark theme, which I like less, but now I have to be thinking about preserving the screen. The time will show how it holds up.

And the last issue that I think will go away — I have a little bit of pain between my thumb and the rest of my fingers that seems to be caused by the fact that I have to reach to the bottom of the screen and swipe up to use home indicator in place of a button. Again, hope my hand will just get used to it and the pain will go away.


Overall I’m very happy with this upgrade. Older phones somehow look very dated very quickly after using this new phone. The new one is just so much better in so many respects. As I said at the start — so far I’m loving it.
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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

iPhone 6

iPhone 6.It’s been more than a month now since I’ve gotten a new iPhone and I wanted to jot down my views and impressions to this point. This is not really a review, but a story about my personal usage of hardware and software that is available on iOS. I’ll start with the fact that I’ve bought iPhone 6 (4.7″ version) with 64GB1 (16GB was getting tight) in white. I just like to alternate my colors and I think this one looks particularly great in white.

Form Factor

As we all know this is the first time that Apple has released two new iPhones at the same time2 — iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. Right from the start I knew that 5.5″ iPhone is not for me. I wasn’t quite sure how happy the fact that I had to go from 4″ to 4.7″ was. On one hand having a bigger screen was appealing. On another I really valued the portability of iPhone 5.

iPhone 6. Not possible for me to reach all places of the screen holding it this way.Now having the new phone for a while I can says that I wish it was a little bit smaller than it is. It just is big enough not to fit into my hand comfortably. I can’t grip it the way I want and as a result I end up resting the phone on my fingers when I use it with one hand and turns out I do use it with one hand quite often. The back side is quite slippery and I often feel that I might drop it. It makes it feel so insecure that I’m considering getting a leather case for it.

This is how I need to hold it to use with one hand. Unsafe.This brings me to the my next point — the actual design. It feels great. The rounded edges and tapered glass is so pleasant to the touch — a real contrast to the previous 4 hard edged phones. Sliding from the edge of the phone (back gesture for example) feels so natural. By putting a case on it this nice feel would go away. I’m not sure I want that trade off. The case would make it less slippery, a bit bulkier and would tuck the camera in. It would also hide a nice handy little mirror on the back of the phone in the form of Apple logo.

This is how I used to hold older iPhones. How tiny is this iPhone 4S though?Back to the screen size itself — it really is nice having a larger screen. Lately I have been doing quite a bit more reading on the phone since there is a lot of competition for iPad in our house between Arosha, Alёna and myself. And being able to read on this new screen I don’t even have a need for iPad anymore. Also it’s amazing how quickly we get used to good things. When I had to set something up on Alёna’s old 4S3 I was really shocked how tiny tiny that screen is. It really seemed astonishing to me.

iPhone 3G, iPhone 4, iPhone 5, iPhone 6.The phone fits just OK in my pockets and even here it could be a little bit smaller. I’m looking forward to the day when Apple makes the screen go from edge to edge and reduce the physical size of this device just a tad. iPhone 6 Plus is just way too enormous and would in no way work for me.

New Features

Since I’m going from iPhone 5 directly to iPhone 6 there is a slew of new features for me. I’ve covered the most obvious upgrade of the screen, but there is a number of less visible (no pun intended) features. I’m really enjoying Touch ID. I’ve always had my phone locked with a pass code and having an ability to replace that with a longer password and not having to type it in is great. Touch ID works very well — it’s precise and quick.

Touch ID.The processor is much faster, but I don’t really notice it as the old phone was plenty fast. However this phone has a new motion chip (5S had it too) that tracks your steps and now stairs you climb. I found it really motivational and prefer to take the steps every time I have a chance instead of riding an elevator.

I’m also looking forward to using a new Apple Pay system with an NFC chip that is present in the new phone. Hopefully it becomes a real thing and becomes widely supported. It just got rolled out this past Monday. Adding cards was a breeze, and it seems to work in more places than I originally believed. I had a chance to try it at a no-name gas station that had an NFC enabled pay machine and it worked. And judging from the Internet buzz that will be the case — any place that has NFC machines will take Apple Pay.

But one of the biggest and most enjoyable upgrades is the camera. That one deserves its own section.


I’ll start with the fact that this phone comes with a little bit of a “non-Apple” quirk with the regards to the camera — it sticks out of the phone. It’s clear that Apple was faced with a decision of either making it flush with this thin phone and thus degrading its quality or make a sacrifice in “design perfection” to preserve and improve the functionality of the camera. I’m very very happy with the choice they made.

iPhone 6 camera and flash.My iPhone is by far my most used camera. Alёna and I take tons and tons of family photographs with it. By making it focus faster and improving night time photography it gives us even more value. I’m also quite impressed with the True Tone flash Apple has introduced in 5S and carried over to this new phone. Before I would always have the camera on off and would never bother with it as it would just ruin the mood of any photograph with its cold blue light. After a few tests of the new flash I have it set to auto.

Taken with iPhone 6.The auto HDR mode also works well. It’s easier to capture a high dynamic range photograph with an iPhone than my SLR. SLR would need to be set on a tripod, and then it would take some amount of work in post to get the desired image. iPhone just takes one button press. Of course that works if the light range is a tad more than a single SLR shot can capture, but if the light range is high enough — well, SLR is your weapon.

iPhone mounted on tripod via Glif by Studio Neat.The new camera also has very cool video capabilities — slow-motion video at 240FPS is quite impressive. Actually the fact that the phone can capture video at such speed is not just impressive — it’s amazing. Fast focusing during video also works very well. I also enjoy making timelapse4 and hyperlapse videos. iPhone being our only video camera sure gets it a lot of use. And there is zero need for anything else.

Taken with iPhone 6.During our latest trip to Pocono Mountains I also have discovered the fact that it can take great macro photos. I’m using Camera+ (3rd party app) for it — check it out if you like the samples.

iPhone 6.Overall I’m very very happy with what Apple has been doing with regards to the camera. Even though it’s no SLR, I have it with me everywhere and all the time, while that is far from the case with my SLR which I still love dearly.

Taken with iPhone 6, post-processed.A side note is that I use two camera apps the most — swipe from the bottom for stock camera and Instagram. Also on some occasions I use Camera+ as I mentioned above.


iOS 8 brought a lot of nice behind the scenes changes — extensions being the biggest one. I already have a lot of great apps that have instantly became much more useful once they have been updated to utilize the new extensions. 1Password is one obvious example — automatically inputs your credentials into login forms not inside an internal browser, but in Safari itself.

Before update for iPhone 6 screen.After update to support iPhone 6 screen.A lot of developers are taking their sweet time to get their apps updated for the bigger screen. Most apps run in zoom mode, which essentially rends apps in 4″ screen mode and then scales them up. I don’t really notice any blur, but the ones that have been updated do take full advantage of the bigger screen. The biggest tell if the app has been updated or not is the status bar on top. It gets blown up when any non-updated app starts.

My Homescreen

The most important thing of any platform is software. Software is what makes the phone. Now here is a list of software on my phone that I find the most useful. It’s organized in a quite simple manner — dock has my most used apps, home screen has apps that I use on daily basis, second screen has software that I use almost daily, third screen has a bunch of games my fourth screen has a collection of folders that I don’t use as often, but still like having on my phone.

Homescreen.Second screen.

I won’t go over every single one, but I will make a short list of the most interesting stuff on my phone:
  • Instagram — I personally don’t use it for its social aspects, but for its integration with Twitter. This is the fastest way for me to take a photograph and post it to our blog thanks to that Twitter integration and my blog to Twitter integration.

    I also love the fact that we can order posters and calendars from our Instagram collections with services like Printstagram. I like the map that it builds with its geolocation feature.

    Having said all that I have to point out that I use the stock camera app a lot as well by sliding to it from the lock screen.

  • Google Maps — I have given Apple Maps a go when it came out. I gave it another chance when iOS 8 came out. It still doesn’t cut it. Google Maps along with its search capability is unbeatable.

  • Fantastical — the best calendar replacement out there. With a lot of meetings and appointments spread out between different calendars stock calendar app doesn’t cut it at all. Fantastical presents you with a great visual view as to how your day looks. It also supports natural language to create and manage events among many other great features.
  • Continue Reading

  1. All my previous phones have been 16GB, but the current version is a rip-off. []
  2. 5C doesn’t really fall into this category as it was iPhone 5 “recased”. []
  3. Alёna got my iPhone 5 after we got it back from Apple with a warranty repaired sleep button. []
  4. Using old mini-tripod with Glif mount from Studio Neat works really well. []
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Friday, September 13, 2013

Polaroid Project

Polaroid Sun 600 camera.For the longest time I had an urge to try taking pictures with a real Polaroid camera — another, now vintage, type of photography that I have never experienced. The project was hard for two reasons — I didn’t have a Polaroid camera and what’s even worse was the fact that Polaroid stopped producing the film back in 2008.

Barber shop. Impossible film.Some time ago I asked my dad to keep an eye open for an old Polaroid camera when he visits garage sales and flea markets. It took him quite a while, but one day he found one of 600 type cameras and was able to obtain it for all of $5. The camera had an old spent cartridge in it and was showing faint signs of life. Cartridge is the thing that powers the camera — batteries are inside of it.

Vika and Ignat. Polaroid film.I figured it was worth a try and ordered a pack of film by Impossible Project. They are an indy shop that tries to keep Polaroid hobby going for a lot of people with some mixed success. The pack ran me $24 for 8 shots — not cheap by any standards. I was happy to find out that my camera came to live as soon as I plugged a new cartridge in. I was not happy to find out that there is nothing “instant” about Impossible Project film — it takes 30-40 minutes for a photo to appear.

Some Polaroid photographs.After using up all of this cartridge we ended up with only a pair of decent shots. A lot of them just came out very blurry or overexposed no matter the time of day I tried to take the shots. I figured that to fully experience this camera I needed to find myself a pack of real Polaroid film. Of course that involved a gamble, since by now all the film that can be bought on eBay is expired film. And even though film could be OK, the batteries could be bad.

Impossible Project and Polaroid film packs.Either way I started following some auctions and ended up winning one. The auction was for a pair of 10 shot cartridges that expired at the end of 2009. I paid $40 with shipping included for both of them and eagerly awaited their arrival. And what do you know — they ended up being in working order and original Polaroid film is indeed instant. Half the fun is actually watching a picture appear right in front of your eyes.

Random Polaroid shots.All in all I’m quite happy with the whole experience. I still have an unopened cartridge with 10 more shots left, but out of the pictures that I already did take I like some of them a lot. Too bad Polaroid wasn’t able to keep this business profitable enough to keep it going.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Film Photography

Soviet made Zenit-E SLR camera.As I have mentioned in some other posts I decide to try some film photography. I don’t think that it’s anything more than an experiment. I just want to try. All this vintage feel to it attracts me for some reason. The days before everything got consumed by plastic.

Ilford HP5 Plus 35mm black & white film.The camera that I’m going to try first is soviet made Zenit-E. It belongs to my dad and I remember it very well from my childhood. Not only the lens focusing is manual, so is the metering. This one has a guide of a kind. It measures light with a built in light sensor on top of the lens and a small wire moves around in a window. You use that to manually calculate the right exposure.

Soviet made Zenit-E SLR camera.I bought 2 rolls of Ilford HP5+ black & white 35mm film. I loaded up one of them into the camera and I’m ready to shoot. There is a pretty big chance that I’m going to end up with 36 blurry photographs that were not exposed right, but that’s what the experiments are for.

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

RS-Sport Camera Strap

RS-Sport camera strap.I walk around with my camera a lot and even though the stock strap that comes with a camera was never a huge issue for me I decide to find something a bit more comfortable and functional. I never used to wear a stock strap over my neck and most of the time wore the camera as a messenger bag. Here is my mini-report with pictures1 on what I ended up getting.

The strap doesn't move when shooting.My main issues with the stock strap:
  • Too short.
    It’s long enough when I’m wearing the camera over a t-shirt, but during colder months I just can’t fit into the stock strap forcing me to put it over my neck. Nikon D700 with Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 lens will make the neck hurt in no time.
  • Awkward angle.
    With a big lens attached the camera hangs in such a way that lens sticks out away from the body. When there are a lot of people around you start bumping into them with a lens. Or in small places you start bumping into objects with a lens. Not good.
  • Not comfortable.
    During long hikes the shoulder starts to get soar. Also by lifting the camera to take a shot and putting it back down the strap gets moved along with the camera. This causes the strap to start cutting into my neck with it’s sharp edge.
  • All over the place.
    There is nothing holding the camera in place. When doing something it swing around in random directions and when leaning forward it flies down forward as well.
  • Camera name.
    Now this is a minor quip, but I don’t always feel comfortable advertising, not so much the make, but the model of the camera — D700 in big, bold, yellow letters.

Camera hanging at the hip.These are the main problems that I had with it, although there are several more minor ones that are not worth listing.

After a bit of research I decided to go with one of the straps offered by Black Rapid. They offer a rather large selection of these straps which are the variations of the same basic theme. Here is the quick rundown:
  • RS-4 — basic straight strap.
  • RS-5 — bulky strap with a lot of storage space.
  • RS-7 — curved strap.
  • RS-Sport — curved strap with under-arm strap.

ConnectR-2 and FastenR-3 connected to tripod socket of the camera.Since I wanted to get something that was as comfortable as possible and do not need any storage room on my strap it left me with two most ergonomic choices — RS-7 and RS-Sport. RS-Sport was slightly more curved and from reports it was more comfortable. It comes with an additional under-arm strap2 (BRAD MOD) which holds the whole thing in place and just does not let it move. The under-arm strap can be bought as an accessory for RS-7 as well, but it comes out more expensive this way. Continue Reading

  1. All the photos for this post were taken with good old Nikon D70. []
  2. The under-arm strap can be completely removed if the owner so desires. []

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Photographing iPhone

iPhone 4 on pure white background.Over the last 10 year or so I’ve learned a lot about photography. There are two things that I keep doing to grow — experimenting a lot and reading the information that others have chosen to share. It would be good to contribute to this pool of knowledge that is available online.

Some of these ideas are probably very simple and there is no “secret souse” to any of this, but guides like these were helpful to me. Hopefully it will be helpful to somebody else.

For me the process of taking a photograph includes 2 phases — taking the shot itself and post-processing. So that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Post everything from start to finish.

Taking The Photograph

Light tent folded next to 50mm lens for size comparison.The setup itself is fairly simple. I used a light tent given to me by my wife for New Year — Interfit Pop Up Light Tent, 24″. You don’t have to buy anything and can build something simple yourself.

Light tent setup.I used a large sheet of white cardboard to server as the floor and the background for my image. This creates the seamless background, but in this type of photograph when a relatively flat object is involved it would be easy to fix in post-processing.

Nikon SB-600 and SB-800 speedlights.I placed flashes on each side of my light tent. I used Nikon SB-600 and SB-800 speedlights mounted in the stands that come with them in the box. I reversed one of them so both of their control “eyes” would be facing the camera. I aimed them at the center of each side of the light tent and set them to remote slaves. If you do not have 2 strobes you can either use regular bright lights (preferably tungsten not to get a yellow color cast as you would from regular incandescent bulbs) or put some reflector on one of the sides of the light tent.

Rocket Air. "Professional Cleaning System". Funny.I placed iPhone in the center and mounted my D700 camera on the tripod in front of the light tent. Before proceeding to take the shots I used a “device” that I have for blowing the dust off from the camera sensor to get rid of as much dust as possible. You should also use some fiber cloth to wipe all the finger prints from the phone before proceeding. The idea is to fix as much as possible before the photo is taken so you have less to do in post-processing.

Commander mode for pop-up flash on D700.Now we’re going to setup the camera. The pop-up flash is set to commander mode. It will trigger both of the flashes, but it will not contribute to the exposure itself — we don’t want any weird glares coming unfiltered directly from the flash. Both speedlights are set to TTL. We’ll leave it up to the camera to figure out how hard they should be fired.

The camera itself is set to manual mode. I used spot metering on the phone to guide my settings. The idea here is to try to blow out (overexpose) as much of the background as possible while not blowing out any of the detail on the item that you’re trying to photograph.

I set the aperture to f/10 to widen the depth of field to get the object as sharp as possible. I also set my ISO to a low value — no reason to add noise when the camera is tripod mounted and the exposure will not be very long anyhow. The value that you play with is shutter-speed. Using a dSRL makes it easy to take experimental shots and look at the end result to check for overexposure. Again, overexposure around the object is good, while on the object itself is not so much. If you can’t get all of the background to overexpose we’ll fix it in the post-processing.


Before post-processing.Our photo straight out of the camera doesn’t look so hot. The background is grayish, there is still visible dust on the phone and the whole thing is crooked.

I usually start by putting the photo through Lens Correction filter. I will fix geometric distortion, straighten it out and slightly adjust the perspective. After that is done we will crop it and remove the visible dust with Spot Healing Brush.

Step 2.At this point I grabbed a Brush and roughly painted with white color the areas around the phone not to deal with different specks of dust.

Levels adjustment layer.Now we’re going to add a Levels Adjustment Layer and overexpose all the highlights by dragging the white pointer to the left. Hold down Alt button while doing it and you will see all the areas that are getting overexposed. Now we got our pure-white background and we’re getting closer to what the final result should look like.

Curves adjustment layer.Add a Curves Adjustment Layer. We’re going to bring the shadows down slightly to make the black areas “blacker” and bump up the contrast slightly by doing so.

Saturation.At this point I pulled the highlights to the cold side slightly and bumped up the Saturation. Don’t overdo the Saturation though.

Clearing the color cast.I wasn’t happy with the yellow cast that was still visible on the bezels of the phone. I used Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer to pull the color down close to black & white photo. Then I put a mask over the screen to bring the color back.

Sharpening.At this point you can hit Ctrl + Alt + Shift + E to end up with a single layer by summing up all the previous ones and apply some sharpening to the final image. I prefer to use Smart Sharpen filter. You should also try to stick to Lab mode for your sharpening step and apply sharpening on the Lightness channel.


iPhone 4. Finished photograph.There you have it. A finished product. Now the above steps are not law of the land and nothing is set in stone. That’s what I do personally. There might be better ways to reach certain objectives and you should always experiment yourself. But maybe these pointers will give you some ideas when you’re working on your own projects of one or another kind.

Let me know if I can clear something up or if you found any of this helpful. Your feedback is always appreciated.

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Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year 2011

Everyone, but Aroshka. Big family.I was planning to do a yearly summary before the year ended, but never got around to it, so I’ll just leave a couple of words about our celebration and the last year itself.

Christmas tree and gifts.Obviosly the most important and life changing thing that happened to us last year was a birth of our son Arosha. When we were greeting 2010 a year ago we already knew how important this year is going to be. Now we can safely say that the pregnancy went well, the birth went well and now Arosha is growing fast and we can see how he is changing and developing new skills on a regular basis. Hopefully in 2011 things will go as well as they did last year.

Papa and mama with their grandson.With respect to our travel — we had 2 great vacations. Even though both of them will stay in our memories for a long time the road trip through California was amazing. We wanted to visit that beautiful state for quite a while now and I can honestly say that I’m in love with its National Parks and San Francisco area. Alёna has been almost 5 months pregnant then, but she did as much hiking as walking as the rest of us.

Alёna, Arosha and I.Another big thing for us is Alёna’s citizenship. It’s been a long journey and it’s nice to finally put all that behind us. Now we’re a full family of citizens with ability to travel the world. It’s also great that Alёna’s mom is currently staying with us until March. They haven’t seen each other in a long time and it’s great to finally have her see how our life is, not to mention all the help we’re getting from her.

Aunt Lilya and Arosha.The celebration itself was our biggest in a good number of years. Last year there were only 5 of us, this time there were 9 of us. Papa, mama, Alёna’s mama, Alёna, Arosha, Lina, aunt Lilya, Lenny and I. It made the New Year celebration better.

Papa and I.We had a huge dinner — there is no way without it in my mom’s house and this year we had 2 moms. I probably gained 10 pounds at least during these days. We remembered last year — mostly good things, and we all wished the next one will be good to us as well. Family, health and a little bit of stability is all that matters.

After New Year itself my dad took up his traditional role of Ded Moroz. Everone has gotten tons of gifts as always. Ded Moroz was good to me with my wishes.

Dinner table. Part 1 of many.You see, in the beginnning of the evening I had an elaborate setup going for family portraits. Photography has become even a bigger passion for me this year than before. This year I made a wise descision to get Nikon D700 and it’s been a great one at that. The timing was perfect and the camera itself is amazing. Ded Moroz though added a second flash to my arsenal — Nikon SB-600 (a good companion for my SB-800), MC-36 remote control for the camera and a light-tent.

In conclustion I will just repeate again that all one needs for happiness is family, health and some stability. I wish it for all of us and all of you. Happy New Year!

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Friday, October 8, 2010

Days of The Present

Alёna and Aroshka.I haven’t really posted anything in a while now — it’s an interesting time — there is really nothing going on yet there is so much going on.

Aroshka is growing. He’s clearly gaining weight — our biggest worry from the first month. We have a scale which is not very precise, the with each day arrow keeps climbing further and further away from 0. For the most part I stopped worrying.

Alёna and Aroshka.These days I worry more for Alёna — the whole thing is really hard on her. I’m trying to help with what I can and hope that I’m at least slightly useful. I know that when I’m at work, at home or anywhere else — I don’t have to be nervous about anything. I just know that she’s been a mother for only 2 months, but she’s already really great at it. I know that as long as Arosha is with her all is and will be well. Continue Reading
In: Family, Life In General, Photography   Tags: , , , , , ,
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Sunday, June 27, 2010

iPhone 4

iPhone 4.Apple has decided to surprise us all with an early delivery of iPhone. A lot of people got their pre-orders delivered on the 22nd instead of 24th and I think the majority got their pre-orders delivered on 23rd. Maruk and I were among the latter group.

A box from FedEx.I was fearing from the start that even if I get mine on 24th the activation tools would be plagued by the huge lines in all the stores and I wouldn’t be able to get it going on the same day. And that was in addition to the fact that I would be in the office on Thursday (24th) and would probably miss FedEx. Wednesdays I work from home office.

iPhone 4 box.Last year I got FedEx delivery at 10am. Also FedEx tried to make a delivery to us a day before and that was at 3pm. So when by 4pm there was no sign of them and my tracking page started showing delivery exception saying that shipper requested to delay the delivery until a future date I was starting to get really upset. But luckily I was wrong and FedEx guy simply ignored the exception. I had my iPhone ten minutes to 5.

Back of the new iPhone.The activation went through in 3 or so minutes. I had the phone up and running, fully synced at 5:15. The screen is amazing. To really see how great it is one should put an older iPhone next to it. Then the difference become very dramatic. I was actually surprised how I never noticed all the blur on the old phone before.

iPhone getting activated.The phone feels good in hand although it is more of a finger print magnet than the older ones — maybe because I used to use white iPhones. I’m waiting for Vaja to come out with a case1 — I’ll get one as soon as they become available. FaceTime works great — you just make a call. No software to install, nothing to configure. Although this is a feature I don’t see myself using very often if at all.

iPhone 3GS vs iPhone 4.I’m very happy with camera upgrades. If before I was considering of maybe getting a point and shoot for the situation when I don’t want to lug my dSLR along now there is no need. And I do always have the phone with me. 5 mega-pixel photos, 720p video and a flash — what more could I need?

Overall I’m very happy with my purchase. Although it’s subjective, I strongly believe that iPhone is still the reigning king of smartphones.

  1. I can replicate the widely publicized antenna issues in certain situations as well. It doesn’t really seem to affect me much as I don’t generally hold the phone that way, but in case I happen to — the case will help. []
In: Gadgets & Gear   Tags: , , , ,
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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Lowepro Fastpack 250 Backpack

Lowepro Fastpack 250.When we travel I end up lugging around a lot of gear. Most of the bulk comes from the fact that I have 2 bags — one for laptop, one for camera and lenses. I wanted to merge them together and the arrival of D700 kind of forced me to. The older SlingShot1 bag that I used for camera gear couldn’t fit D700 with 24-70mm lens attached.

Here is a short list of things that were a must:
  • Notebook compartment for 15 inch MacBook Pro
  • Good sized camera and lens compartment
  • Additional compartment
  • Ability to take out the camera body out of the bag easily without a fear of anything else falling out
  • All of the above in the smallest possible package

Lowepro Fastpack 250 next to Lowepro SlingShot 100 AW.I had good experience with my current bag and I liked the idea of taking the camera out without taking the bag off. Naturally the first thing we looked at was Lowepro SlingShot 350. In my opinion that thing is just hideous and just too huge. After that I read up on a lot of different stuff and in the end we had two main contenders — Tamrac Aero Speed Pack 85 and Lowepro Fastpack 250. I actually realized that when you have so much weight it better be a full backpack as opposed to a sling shot type bag, to distribute the weight better.

Both of these bags meet all of my criteria including the fact that you can take out the camera without exposing any of the lenses. Judging purely by design I would probably give slightly higher marks to Tamrac bag, but everything else went for Fastpack.

Lowepro Fastpack 250 loaded with gear.Fastpack has a lot more pockets and it really comes in handy when you’re carrying trip plans, passports, filters, wires and so on. Another huge plus for me was the flap that goes over the lens compartment. While traveling you can put put all the zippers under it and thus prevent anyone from trying to pull a fast one on you. We tried both of them on at B&H and Fastpack just felt more comfortable and more secure to me. Overall they are both very good bags and it will probably come down to your own preference.

This past weekend I tried walking around with it having several heavy lenses and a camera inside. It felt very good. I was able to take the camera out without taking the bag off and I think I’m going to be pretty happy with it. The real test comes at the end of April, during our California road trip. I’ll have it fully loaded for the plane and will remove non-camera gear for hikes.

Lowepro Fastpack 250. Side view.

  1. Lowepro SlingShot 100 AW. []

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