Category: Reviews

Scam Alert: Google Free Listings

SCAM ALERT! Does anyone else get calls where the automated recording always says this same thing when you pick up? “Our records show that you have not updated your free Google listing. Press 1 to verify or press 9 to be removed from this list.” I’ve automatically hung up so many times on this auto-dialer robo-call service that I hardly hear what they say after the first phrase. The first time I received the call years ago, I listened with some interest, since I was just starting my photography and computer repair business. However, something about the call sounded like a scam, so instead of following their instructions, I went ahead and just got my “free Google listing” on my own. You can view it at https://www.google.com/+Kennethphotography and if you’re interested in creating one for your business, you can visit Google Places for Business. You should never have to pay anything to update this listing!

Anyway, now that I know for sure that my free Google listing is up, it’s all the more suspicious that this other company keeps calling me, especially when it doesn’t appear to be even affiliated with Google. I’ve tried blocking them, but the worst part is that it’s ineffective because they seem to have a huge pool of phone numbers to call from. Here is a partial list of all of the numbers from which they have called me over the years to try to get me to sign up for my “free Google listing” through them:

425-320-5138 (Bellevue, Everett, Renton, WA)
206-397-1159 (Seattle, WA)
417-800-2538 (Springfield, MO)
360-633-9322 (Bellingham, Vancouver, WA)
631-904-6109 (Babylon, Brentwood, Brookhaven, NY)
310-299-0131 (Los Angeles, CA)
323-844-8184 (Los Angeles, CA)
951-221-6113 (Corona, Hemet, Riverside, CA)
541-257-1328 (Bend, Eugene, Pendleton, OR)
323-844-8185 (Los Angeles, CA)
213-603-9078 (Los Angeles, CA)
360-322-6166 (Bellingham, Vancouver, WA)
458-201-1318 (Eugene, OR)

Since “pressing 9” only seems to confirm that you are a human on the phone, and blocking a number only gets you so far, I’ve changed my strategy, and decided to keep adding these new numbers to the address book on my phone as yet another number belonging to the “Google Creeps”, and setting the ring tone to Silent. That way I can still get a sense of how often they’re calling (at least once a month).

Have this robo-dialer called you? Do you have additional numbers to report? Please leave a comment!

Don't forget to check out the Recommendations page for the latest products that I'm showing to friends and blog readers based on their requests. I love talking about this stuff, and every time you click on a referral link from this website to a featured retailer like Amazon.com and B&H Photo and Video, I get a small commission that helps keep this site running, at no additional cost to you. Thanks for your support, and please contact me if you need any recommendations!

Basic TTL Flash Strobes: Super Quick Review

Should I buy an external flash? What’s a flash with good features and price?

If you’re in a big hurry to get an external flash, go ahead and just get the YongNuo YN-468 II for Canon or the YongNuo YN-468 II for Nikon cameras. Otherwise, keep reading to better understand why you should even care about getting this accessory.

There are lots of reasons to have at least one external flash in your camera bag. The primary reason to get something better than the built-in flash on most cameras is that built-in flashes produce in-your-face lighting that is considered unflattering, uncreative, and sometimes downright ugly. Direct flash is responsible for most cases of red eye, hard shadows on the wall behind your subject, and distracting reflections from shiny surfaces in your scene, among other problems that diminish the quality of a photo. Using an external flash gives the photographer added versatility by allowing the light to be “bounce” into the scene from a nearby wall or ceiling instead of directly from the camera’s point of view. This can result in more pleasant, softer lighting and natural-looking portraits.

With that in mind, most budding photographers probably should get an external flash that supports TTL metering, which is a kind of “auto” mode for flashes. When the external flash with TTL is mounted on the camera’s hotshoe, the camera’s computer helps calculate how much light to output through the flash at the moment that you take the photo. In TTL mode, the main control a photographer has over the flash power is to increase or decrease the flash compensation level, usually with the + or – buttons on the flash unit. For example, if you took a photo of a kid at a birthday party and the background of your photo looks good but your subject in the front is lit too brightly by the flash, you can press the – button to decrease the flash power for the scene before shooting again.

The external flash I have tried that has the best price-to-features ratio is the YongNuo YN-468 II TTL Speedlite. There is a YongNuo YN-468 II for Canon as well as a YongNuo YN-468 II for Nikon cameras. It sports a basic TTL mode as well as a Manual mode for when you want exacting control over the flash power. If I knew nothing else except that you wanted to try an external flash for your Canon or Nikon DSLR, this would be my recommendation.

If you want to save some money and you are comfortable using the Manual mode of your camera, then you may also want to investigate the YongNuo YN-468 II, which works for both Canon and Nikon. Keep in mind that it truly does not offer any “auto” mode, so you must dial in the exact flash power that you want. That’s the level of control that I want, so I appreciate the simplicity and price of this unit. I often use up to four YongNuo YN-468 II units in my professional work, but it took years of training, experimentation, and practice to consistently achieve the results that I want in my flash photography.

For a further discussion about flash photography gear, please see the “Gear for a New Strobist” article.

Don't forget to check out the Recommendations page for the latest products that I'm showing to friends and blog readers based on their requests. I love talking about this stuff, and every time you click on a referral link from this website to a featured retailer like Amazon.com and B&H Photo and Video, I get a small commission that helps keep this site running, at no additional cost to you. Thanks for your support, and please contact me if you need any recommendations!

Hilarious Reviews: Sigma 200-500mm f/2.8 lens

The Sigma 200-500mm f/2.8 lens is a 35 lbs. telephoto zoom lens that is repeatedly mis-reviewed as a rocket launcher, portal gun, space telescope, doomsday device, etc. Last I checked, there were no more than 3 serious reviews in the whole batch. The $26,000 price tag probably prevents it from getting into too many people’s hands. Sadly, most of the hilarious customer-submitted photos (with a heavy dose of Photoshop) have been removed already. Click the link or photo to check out the Amazon reviews yourself!

Sigma 200-500mm f/2.8 lens rocket

Portable Inkjet vs. Dye-Sublimation Printers

I photograph a lot of party events and dances, and wanted something specifically for the purpose of printing out 4″x6″ prints on-location, so it had to be as small as possible while producing images of acceptable quality for sale to party guests.

The two models I tried out for this purpose were the Epson PictureMate Charm (PM225) inkjet printer and the Canon Selphy CP900 dye-sublimation printer. I wanted to see what significant real-world differences I could find between the two models, which both specialize in printing 4″x6″ prints. I brought them to actual dance events and printed guest photos on them throughout the evening using Adobe Lightroom 4 (which was also tethered to my camera).

The Epson PictureMate Charm inkjet printer immediately impressed me with its sharp contrast and colors using images straight out of camera. I have generally been very pleased with the quality of Epson photo printers, and this was no exception. The availability of a matte / lustre paper option was very appealing, as it has a very professional quality to it, and also reduces fingerprints from marring the photo surface. The print drivers also easily supported borderless and white-bordered options without any difficulty. All in all, I found the Epson PictureMate Charm to be a pleasure to use. However, my concerns with it revolve around the cost per print, and long term usability of the unit. As an initial cost, the printer itself is at least $50 more than the Canon Selphy CP900. The ink and paper are generally purchased together as a package, but a basic search for reviews online show that many people seem to run out of ink in the cartridge long before the paper is used up. It seems to me Epson should’ve erred on the side of the paper running out before the ink to avoid customer complaints. Long-term, there are also the typical reports that the ink cartridge and print head can dry up if you go too long without using it, which is a problem if I want to store the printer in between party events. It would be a nightmare if the photos started coming out streaky or missing bands of color due to clogged print heads. One final concern is that Epson appears to have discontinued this printer (and possibly the PictureMate series), so you may be stuck if you grow to rely on this printer and then can’t get replacement units or parts.

The Canon Selphy CP900 dye-sub printer had its own share of strengths and weaknesses revealed during my testing. Right out the door, the printer itself cost $50 less than the Epson PictureMate Charm and was even more portable. The paper and ink cartridge packages were also quite a bit less expensive per print. One interesting property of dye-sub cartridges to note it that it will print exactly as many prints as it is rated for. A 50-print cartridge will generate exactly that many prints, no more and no less, regardless of the image content. I actually found myself appreciating this trait; even though it means you won’t be able to squeeze out a few more prints from a cartridge, it also allows you to very accurately predict how many more prints you have, which cannot be said for the inkjet printers. So what about the print quality? I’d have to say that even though the dye-sub printing process is known to produce continuous tones like that of film prints, I found the overall image quality to be a bit softer than I preferred, especially when held side-by-side against a high-quality inkjet print. Further, the dye-sub printing process is extremely sensitive to dust particles, which can easily get into the paper path and get baked into the photo, resulting in colored blobs in the final product. Dye-sub printing is a 4-color process, and the way the Canon Selphy CP900 works requires it to allow the paper to exit the printer 4 times to allow each plate of ink and glossy coating to be applied. Not only does this design allow for dust to slip into the print, but it is possible for over-enthusiastic guests to accidentally disturb the printing by pulling out the print prematurely during one of the passes. The Selphy series does not appear to offer a matte option, and the paper itself bears slightly unattractive tear-off edges that need to be manually removed after printing. Also note that the resulting sheets are every so slightly smaller than an actual 4″x6″ print. Finally, the Canon print drivers don’t seem to make it easy to print perfectly borderless nor bordered prints. I found the printing offsets to be a bit unpredictable, requiring some tweaking to actually get the images to be perfectly centered on the sheet. I suspect that most people would have been willing to guess and check with test sheets until they got the measurements just right. Being a dedicated 4×6 printer, I feel that this should have been built-in functionality in the print drivers.

All in all, here are my recommendations. If you want the best quality 4×6″ prints that exceed what I’d expect from your typical drugstore prints, and you don’t mind the added cost and possibility that you won’t be able to get replacement units/parts/media, go for the Epson PictureMate Charm. If you want an economical choice that makes some compromises on quality (that most people honestly might not even notice, except for those pesky dust blobs), and you like the idea that the ink will basically never go dry, then go with the Canon Selphy CP900. Either way, both printers make an impressive showing and highlight the promising options for portable photo printers.

Don't forget to check out the Recommendations page for the latest products that I'm showing to friends and blog readers based on their requests. I love talking about this stuff, and every time you click on a referral link from this website to a featured retailer like Amazon.com and B&H Photo and Video, I get a small commission that helps keep this site running, at no additional cost to you. Thanks for your support, and please contact me if you need any recommendations!

Canon 5D Mark III price drop!

I recently posted the following note on Facebook: 

Can’t believe the Canon 5D Mark III dropped to $3199 on Amazon already! Only means that they’re gonna go out of stock for weeks on end again after the rush of eager buyers. =] http://bit.ly/canon5d3

One of my readers who has not been following the Canon news then asked, “What makes this camera so good that $3200 is cheap?” Below was my response:

It’s a major upgrade of a professional full-frame camera (true 35mm sensor size, unlike most consumer digital cameras that have a lot smaller of a sensor, and therefore less ability to capture detail at high megapixels and to render a shallow depth of field) that supports ISO 25600 (to be able to shoot in extremely dark places) with one of the most advanced autofocus systems on the market (to help you nail focus in action shots), all wrapped up in serious magnesium alloy body that can take a beating and face the elements while continuing to perform its job. To highlight the cinematic quality of its video capabilities, the previous Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 7D have made its way into Hollywood, being used for episodes of House, the opening of Saturday Night Live, action scenes for The Avengers, and a bunch of other major productions, and I can only imagine the Mark III will continue the trend. All to say, if you’re serious about photography and videography, this camera is a serious contender, especially when coupled with a 9% price drop from MSRP merely 4 months after its release. If everything described here sounds like, “Blah blah blah, blah blah blah,” then you probably don’t need to worry about it and would be more than happy with the also-very-capable Canon T3i for $579! http://bit.ly/canot3i

Can you think of any other major points and counterpoints? Check out other user reviews for the Canon 5D Mark III at http://bit.ly/canon5d3

Don't forget to check out the Recommendations page for the latest products that I'm showing to friends and blog readers based on their requests. I love talking about this stuff, and every time you click on a referral link from this website to a featured retailer like Amazon.com and B&H Photo and Video, I get a small commission that helps keep this site running, at no additional cost to you. Thanks for your support, and please contact me if you need any recommendations!