Beginner Digital Photography: Kit lenses

The past two weeks we have been focussing on beginner cameras that will get you into the photography scene. When you purchase the camera, you may be asked to buy it with a kit lens or it comes bundled with the camera. Today I will take you through why I feel that Kit lenses are an important foundation for your photography journey and why they mustn’t be overlooked.

It is a major misconception of the kit lens being trash and a waste of money, kit lenses have improved so much over time. They were once plastic gimmicks that took below par shot, nowadays these kit lenses have evolved into lens that will last throughout your time as a beginner. These lenses now have silent autofocus, sharp image and impressive glass for its price. To put this into perspective, most kit lenses come with inbuilt vibration reduction making it easier for the user to shoot sharp images down at 1/20 and even 1/10. This brings out the camera’s potential in low light situation.

Most common kit lenses are 14-42mm for mirrorless cameras and 18-55mm for DSLRs. These are fantastic ranges as they are wide enough for landscape photography and zoom in enough for portraits and everything inbetween. What the kit lens does not do well is distance photography such as sports, animals and avian photography where you are at large distances away from the subjects. If you need, you can also get extension tubes to shoot macro photography. (I will cover this in the coming weeks) Often manufacturers offer a zoom kit lens that go from 55 – 200 or even 300mm. My first lens was a Tamron 18-200mm lens and it was perfect as a beginner lens where I could shoot landscapes, portraits and even macros. These lens are very underrated and extremely handy when travelling.

Another aspect where Kit lenses excel at is the weight, which again makes it ideal for travelling. Most are well under 200 grams due to their plastic build, which is okay as these lenses aren’t made to last for a very long time. Having a very light lens makes it easier to carry the camera around and helps when taking photos. I currently use a Sigma 17-50mm and it is very very heavy compared to the kit lenses. I miss having a light lens as when i’m walking from location to location, the camera would be a pain dangling around with all the momentum of the lens. The Kit lens is versatile in that regards, however does lack in durability. Since kit lenses are made out of cheaper materials, they do tend to not last a long time and can break in falls. Fortunately, they are very cheap to buy new and are dirt cheap to buy used.

The downfall (spec wise) of the kit lens is the sharpness, autofocus and aperture. The sharpness is decent enough for most photography, however it isn’t as sharp as prime lenses (which I will cover next week). The Autofocus is a bit slow and noisy, however has gotten better which each new generation and I know the new Nikon kit lenses have a very decent focus speed. The maximum aperture is f/3.5-5.6 (it increases as the lens zooms), meaning it is not a fixed aperture lens. This would be more than adequate for portrait photography but don’t expect to get very creamy bokeh from this lens. However this is perfect for landscape photography and just everyday photography.

Now that the specs are out of the way, I want to emphasise the important the kit lens has on your photography development. When you use the kit lens, you tend to get similar shots and the distance may not be adequate. The kit lens will start to make you think about how you are shooting your subject, how you could change your positioning. Remember, you can zoom with your legs, thus leaving you with a lower maximum aperture. Not only this, you soon start to learn about the limitations of the lens and you being to adapt. This creates creativity in your shots and thus you begin to find your style of photography. Currently I am still deciding on what to shoot, seen from my instagram @bokehgon. It doesn’t matter if the photo isn’t the sharpest, it is your photo and you tell the story through your lens. Be creative with how you use your kit lens, how you angle your shots, whether it be from low or high and be creative on how you use your lighting to help you take that perfect shot. There is nothing special about the kit lens, it is something that is very generic and it is up to you to create something special out of nothing. Once you master the kit lens, read my next article that will talk about your first lens (after the kit lens).

The only way to improve is to keep practising, photograph anything and try to see where the improvements can come from. Could this be your framing? Could this be your angle from which you are shooting your subject at? Could it be the lighting? Dimly light shorts create a darker mood whereas shots with plenty of light create a happy and vibrant mood. I would recommend photography anything at the start, don’t be afraid to walk around the neighbourhood with your camera and take photos of plants, people, cars and houses, (as long as you are not doing this in a creepy stalker type way). Happy shooting for this coming week and I will be back next week to talk all about your next lens you should invest in for your photography. Make sure to comment your instagram photography account below and we as a community will follow you and help see your photography grow!

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Explain it: ISO

You may have seen this term, ISO, on your camera before, but what exactly does it do? Essentially ISO is the level of sensitivity of the sensor in your camera to the available surrounding light. A lower ISO number means that it is less sensitive to light whilst a higher ISO number increases the sensitivity of your sensor.

How may you use this to your advantage?

Well when shooting in low light conditions, raise the ISO to compensate for the lower light, meaning that the sensor captures more light. Your camera sensor can see more light than your eyes, which is incredible when taking milky way photos. The trade off at higher ISO is that it adds noise to the photo, which is just grain and makes the image look less sharp and crisp. Like those old vintage cameras. Normally you would want to shoot at the lowest possible ISO to reduce this grain and noise, one way to bypass this is to use a flash. Most Cameras have a base ISO of 100 and top out at around 6400. However newer and more expensive cameras can go way higher and lower, which make them really good for low light photography.

What do the ISO numbers mean?

Well the numbers are actually a progression of the power of two. The progressions are 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200 and 6400. Each step is twice as more sensitive as the previous number, so the sensor sensitivity grows exponentially. This also means that we can shoot at a faster shutter speed which is good for lower light indoor sports photography. ISO is very handy for many different reasons, such as keeping your aperture high to keep more things in focus and having a faster shutter speed.

What ISO to use?

It is optimal to use the lowest ISO as possible, this way you will get a sharp, crisp and clear image every time. I would play around with the camera in manual to see how everything affects the photo and remember, practise makes perfect!

Leave a comment below for suggestions on what I should cover next!

Solution to Stolen Game Codes

Have you ever bought a hard copy of a game at your local electronics retailer, gotten home and tried to use the authentication code in the casing and have been greeted to an error saying “this game code has already been redeemed”? Well, you’re not the only one, it happens far too often.

Over the weekend, I bought my mate a brand new copy of Overwatch from ebgames after the new character, Doomfist was released. Upon activation of the code, we were greeted with an error that the code has already been used. We literally were like WTF, a brand new game and the code doesn’t work. The packaging wasn’t opened and everything looked new. Having faith in ebgames, we have ruled out that a customer has returned their disc after activating it and resold the game as brand new. We quickly jumped onto Blizzards live chat, which runs fairly often and we had a response time of 1 minute, which is pretty decent compared to other companies these days. After talking with the representative, we learned that our code had been redeemed back in 2016! I repeat, 2016! The game was bought on the 29th of July and someone had a lucky day inputting random codes back in 2016. We were shell shocked and was linked to the account of Melanie. So if there is a Melanie out there who used our code in 2016, you have stolen from us. (well now ebgames after we return the game).

This has been the case for many different people with their overwatch codes and also other games who sell hard copies of games. I personally have experience this on the PS4 with a few Helldiver expansion packs, which makes me wonder, why aren’t companies using different methods to resolve these issue. This clearly is a major issue online with many different key-gens available to download and the large amounts of forum posts of people complaining ( and literally crying!!) over their games. It is pretty devastating for the end consumer and especially the business as they essentially have their stock stolen from them. This renders an 80 AUD game useless, meaning that is essentially isn’t worth anything.

I propose a solution to end this madness, but a stop to online keygens and people bootlegging game codes, it’s time introduce two factor authentication. This refers to using two methods or two different codes to activate the game, meaning that there is a decreased chance in people stealing game codes.

Here’s how it could theoretically work:

The user purchases the game from in store, the store owners do not leave the keys inside empty cases and mustn’t allow employees to use the keys, and the buyer receives the game unopened and untouched. After installing the game, instead of redeeming through one code, use two codes that need to be entered. These two codes would have the same complexity as the original, but must be redeemed in a certain order. So we would have code 1 and code 2, this is like paypal authenticating your bank account. Once these two codes are successfully activated, the user can start playing their game, easy fix! This method would make it so much harder for hackers to find correct keygens, making sure that electronic retailers do not loose stock and the user is happy rather than complaining on different forums about a certain game. It is a terrible situation and it shouldn’t happen to anyone who has actively gone out and paid for the game. There are many other ways to do the second code verification, such as sending text to a mobile device with a code to type in, or answering a phone call with a code or typing in a smaller strong of code instead of using the same. These are all different ways game companies should be looking at to avoid having codes being used. Perhaps even creating a system that once the game has been scanned, the code instead the box goes live, which means there is less of a chance the key gens will re-create that code as it cycles through its loops. This could be a possible solution and it would also help catch out companies who are reselling used games to the consumer. 

Something needs to be implemented to stop this from happening to more and more customers, it’s purely up to the game companies in how they want to approach this, but this isn’t fair on the businesses that sell these games and the consumer. Perhaps you have not experience this before, but trust me, it’s a terrible feeling that sparks rage within you, knowing that someone out there, by chance, has taken your code.

Still Alive? Google Chromecast

The Google Chromecast was a revolutionary device that turned any TV or monitor into a smart device. However, with TVs now including better and smarter software, is there still a market for the Chromecast?

 

The first thing to consider is, what exactly is a Chromecast. Well, the Chromecast was designed to revolutionise in home streaming by allowing the ability to wirelessly stream from your phone, desktop or laptop. The $35 dongle turned your TV into a media center with direct streaming from Youtube, Hulu, Netflix and many more region specific services. Four years since the initial release, 3 iterations have emerged, being the Chromecast 2, Chromecast Ultra and Chromecast Audio. Essentially, you would plug your Chromecast into your TV and connect it to power through the micro USB port. Many TVs have extra USB ports for external hard drives and they all provide enough power for this device. Once it’s turned on, it is very straightforward to connect to your phone and your home wifi.

 

The original Chromecast supported up to 1080p streaming and handled it reasonably well, however, streaming from a tab often ended up in audio lag with video sync issues. The newer versions have better wifi connectivity meaning lower lag spikes and a better all round experience of the device. However, many new smart TVs have greater software which has surpassed the capabilities of the Chromecast. Samsung TVs allow casting from Samsung devices and can even stream what’s on TV to the device, which you may find really handy when moving around the house. LG and other brands have incorporated similar technologies to allow users to have a better overall experience. Not only this, devices such as your PS4, XBOX ONE, Roku (Telstra TV) and now DVD players have included streaming capabilities to access Spotify, YouTube, Netflix and other video streaming services.

 

If all these devices can do what the Chromecast can, and do it BETTER, then why are they still around? Well, these devices were initially intended to bridge the gap between ordinary TVs and smart TVs, but now that most TVs have received upgrades in software in internal hardware, the Chromecast has branched off, expanding its capabilities to make it one of the most useful devices for its price.

 

With the Chromecast, you are able to stream from a VR headset to the TV, allowing other users to see what the VR user is viewing and doing. This can be problematic for those who enjoy a different kind of VR experience. The Chromecast can also support presentations, eliminating the need for any cables between the laptop or phone to the presentation device. Just plug in the Chromecast and start presenting! Not only this, the newer Chromecasts allow users to play certain games on the big screen, which is good for the family. Just don’t expect to play high graphic games on the device. Furthermore, though not available for every TV, the Chromecast allows your phone to function as a TV remote.

 

The Chromecast is a very capable device, but the rest of the competition are catching up. Google has been fighting hard to keep up the sales and usage of Chromecast with huge incentives and offers. These offers have been free subscriptions to their services, free movie streaming and Google credit to use on the Play Store. Thus, the Chromecast is very much alive despite being out of sight. For only around 30-40 bucks for the newer versions, it’s a good investment for its functionality. Though I must say, it may only be a matter of time before there is even better competition in the wireless casting market.

Head to Head: HDD vs SSD

Consumers today are met with a range of storage solutions for their technological device. However you may be wondering what they all mean? What are the advantages and the disadvantages of using different types of memory? Let’s find out.

 

Hard Disk Drives

 

HDD’s are the traditional format for storage, they offer large capacities at a relatively cheap price. Essentially it is an nonvolatile solution that contains a large magnetic coated spinning disk. There is a read/write arm that accesses the information stored on the disk while it spins.  The advantage of HDD’s are that they are the cheapest storage solution per GB. HDD’s are known to last a long time (brand dependent) and certain brands are pushing the limits of these Hard drives by filling them up with helium producing 10TB hard drives. Laptops and Desktops commonly come with 1tb hard drives as consumers need larger storage solutions in an increasingly digital world. Unfortunately hard drives are limited in size, the laptop drives being 2.5 inches whereas the desktop drives being 3.5 inches. With laptops slimming down, hard drives are left to go into external storage and hard drives do use up more power compares to flash memory. Manufacturers now place hard drives in their lower tier models and use SSD’s to help slim down the body of the laptops.

 

Solid State Drives

 

Solid state drives have been out for a while but never really for the consumer market. It was only a couple years ago when they started to become the normal for consumers. Like HDD’s, SSD’s are a non-volatile solution (meaning they retain your data even with no power) where there are series of interconnected flash memory chips. Think of a multiple USB’s being attached together but are faster and more reliable. There are many different types of SSD’s on the market and the most common size is the 256GB models. Fortunately, SSD’s are becoming cheaper every day with the increasing advances in this technology. Common SSD’s are in a 2.5 inch factor, however recently smaller SSD’s have been produced like the mSATA Mini PCIe SSD card, M.2 SSD in SATA and PCIe variants. Seagate recently released a SSD with a 60tb capacity, however consumer variants go up to 4tb. SSD’s are much faster than hard drives as they do not have any moving parts, which also means SSD’s are hell of a lot more durable compared to HDD’s. Couple years ago, my mate dropped a basketball on a HDD (that was on carpet) by accident and then the HDD just died. However, SSD’s have a lower length in life due to the constant read and writes, but each generation is getter better at preserving life in the memory chips.

 

Overall

I would recommend having both. HDD for all your documents, videos and other unnecessary stuff and keep your operating software on the SSD. This ensures that your computer will boot fast aswell with applications on the SSD. However if you are to decide between an SSD and HDD on a laptop, get the SSD and buy an external hard disk drive.

 

Honest Review: Samsung S8

Samsung was eager to release their S8 after the note 7 debacle and they did not disappoint. Released in April 2017, the Samsung S8 has become the phone of the future, the benchmark for smartphone technology. Let’s take an in depth look at Samsung’s latest flagship.

 

Build Quality

The very first thing you notice about the phone is the screen, it has a whopping 83.6% screen to body ratio, making the phone feel like what we dreamt the future would be like a couple years ago. The screen is an super AMOLED display with amazing colours and brightness, something the iphone 7 lacks. The form factor is very similar to the S7, however the S8 has the screen size of the S7 edge. The resolution is a little out of whack and unusual, however now third party apps have adjusted to this unusual screen resolution and video’s make use of the crop to fit functionality. The overall build quality of the S8 is class leading with its smooth curved screen, glass front and back that seamlessly integrate into the metal side panels. It feels natural to hold in the hand and is very comfortable to use, Samsung really knocked it out of the park with this build. The corning gorilla glass 5 gives the user a sense of ease when dropped, knowing each generation of smartphones become more and more durable. That being said, a case would be recommended to be worn to preserve the beauty of the phone. The phone is also ip68 rated, which is extremely useful in the wet weather as well as taking underwater videos or photos. When applied with force, the phone barely bends which is always a positive. One thing that Samsung didn’t get right with the build is the fingerprint button placement, it’s shocking. I’m not sure who told the engineers to place it on the far side, but the flashlight and scanner should definitely be swapped. The reason I say this is due to the awkward one hand use as the finger stretches over to the other side whilst smudging the back camera. This isn’t a deal breaker but it definitely is something that you need to take time to get use to it. However, it makes sense when you use the phone with two hands. A possible solution for this could be integrating the fingerprint scanner onto the screen in the future.

4.7/5

 

Features

The Samsung S8 is filled with innovative features as well as some completely unnecessary features, I will touch on the ones I think are important. The curved edge for me is more for aesthetic however the edge panels are surprisingly helpful at time. You can customise the edge panels to display apps, people, reminders, weather, sport scores and finance. This can be helpful when you need to quickly check something. With the edge to edge display, Samsung had to introduce onscreen buttons. The buttons are remappable and now with the latest update, you can make the buttons disappear during applications which make the screen feel so much bigger. The S8 features Bluetooth version 5.0 which is leaps and bounds above version 4.0. The feature I personally enjoy the most is the ability to stream your music to two different Bluetooth speaker simultaneously to give a stereo experience. Click here to learn more about Bluetooth 5.0. Furthermore, the S8 has expandable memory and a headphone jack. Samsung has made the switch the USB type C ports, which is the current market trend and is really simple to plug in. A new feature Samsung has introduced is the Iris scanner which operates similar to windows hello where the infrared camera scans your eyes and surrounding face, if there is a match you unlock the phone. What is really useful is the ability to capture gifs, scroll captures screenshots and other clever bits with make the S8 more like what the note7 was meant to be. Also Bixby is shit.

4.5/5  

 

Performance

The S8 is decked out with the latest specifications with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 for USA and China and the remaining countries with the Exynos 8895 Octa. Both are top of the line processors and the GPUs, Adreno 540, handle all the current smartphone applications like a walk in the part. The phone runs extremely smooth thanks to the inbuilt 4GB of ram as well as the 64GB internal storage. The phone has the same amount of ram as the everyday laptop. The phone performs extremely well, however it does get hot after an hour of strenuous use. The camera is relatively unchanged with its 12MP shooter at f/1.7. It easily can shoot 4K and has optical image stabilization for 1080p shooting. The secondary camera is an 8MP shooter that can shoot 1440p video. The samsung S8 camera is a slight improvement over the S7, however the google pixel and the HTC u11 reign ahead.

4.8/5

 

Battery Life

I consider the battery life to be the most important feature when buying a smartphone. With the increased screen size and resolution, the battery remains the same size as the S7. What? Yes, it’s the same size, but do not fret. From my usage of the phone, the battery life is better than the S7 but not the best. I am able to get a full day use out of the phone and just reach the 15% warning. There are two power saving modes that allow you to extend the battery life, however your notifications do get delayed and sometimes your messages do not get sent straight away. One thing that is positive is the quick charging and wireless charging. This allows you to charge the phone quickly and newer power banks are supporting quick charging both ways. In order to increase the battery life of the phone, remember to close all applications that are not being used, such as Facebook or Messenger and ensure to take your phone off the charger once it’s fully charged, which means avoiding overnight charging.

4/5

 

Complaints

This is the section where I like to highlight everything that isn’t good with the phone, let’s begin with Bixby. There is a complete dedicated button towards something the world doesn’t need, another smart assistant. I personally like to avoid using smart assistants however this time I unfortunately cannot avoid accidentally pressing the button. It is in such a poor placement and I activate the button far too often. What needs to happen is Samsung should allow users to remap the button to something they would like to open, let’s say the camera or the phone application, something that is useful. If anything, I would rather use google now than to use Bixby. The speakers on the S8 need improvement, the down firing speaker is getting really old now with competitors introducing stereo speakers which make use of the earpiece like in the HTC 10 and 11. The screen resolution is also very annoying when watching videos in 1080p as there are thick black bars to the side. The crop to fit functionality does take away certain aspects and can be annoying with hardcoded subtitles. Another complaint has to be the pricing, well this goes towards the entire industry. I’ll save this for another article, also Bixby is shit. The fingerprint scanner really needs to be reevaluated and perhaps making the phone a little thicker to allow a larger battery. I’m sure many consumers would prefer a slightly thicker phone and have an amazing battery life!

 

Overall thoughts

Samsung really nailed this phone, they did nearly everything right and deserve to make huge profits from this phone to invest in future improvements. It takes time for the consumers to adapt to changes such as the loss of the headphone jack and Samsung has made the smart move to leave to port until the market is ready to move. There are many improvements that can be made with this phone, it isn’t perfect, but Samsung really are becoming the market leaders and giving us the phone of the future. I purchased my S8 on an $84 Optus plan using the family and friends 20% discount, bringing the monthly payment to around $67. Make sure to search around for a deal on this phone and you will not regret.

Overall score:  18/20 = 90%

Competitors:

  • Google Pixel
  • HTC U11
  • Iphone 7
  • LG G6