Gadling Gear Review: Two Camera Bags From Lowepro

Lowepro Transit Backpack camera bag
Lowepro

When you invest a considerable amount of money into a good camera and a set of lenses for travel, it is important to also spend a little extra cash to get a quality camera bag as well. A good bag is not only comfortable to wear but also provides plenty of protection from accidental damage while also managing to keep all of your gear well organized and easy to access. That can play a big difference in whether or not you get the chance to capture that perfect shot or miss it altogether.

Lowepro is a company that has been designing excellent camera bags for travel and outdoor activities for years. Their bags are popular amongst professional photographers and amateurs alike because they always offer great quality and incorporate certain elements that indicate the designers know their customers’ needs very well. Here are two new bags from Lowepro that are sure to be popular options with active travelers and outdoor enthusiasts.

Transit Backpack 350 AW ($119.99)
Photographers in the market for a versatile camera bag with plenty of room for all of their equipment need look no further than the new Transit Backpack. The bag features plenty of pockets, interior compartment space and mesh organizers to hold camera bodies, multiple lenses, memory cards and a variety of other gear. A small tripod can even be lashed to the side of the pack thanks to built-in straps designed for that very purpose. On top of that, the pack has a sleek, attractive design that not only looks good, but also puts everything you need right at your fingertips.As with most of Lowepro’s bags, the Transit features the company’s UltraFit system, which makes the interior highly customizable. Through the use of removable panels – not to mention plenty of Velcro – it is possible to configure the interior in numerous ways. This comes in handy when you’re carrying an extra longer lens for example and you need to change the configuration to accommodate that particular piece of gear. It also means that no matter which type of camera and lenses you carry, the bag can be adapted to fit your needs. This option gives the Transit a bit of future-proofing since you can modify it to fit your gear even as it evolves over time.

Despite the fact that the Transit is designed to carry a lot of heavy equipment it also extremely comfortable to wear, even when fully loaded. Lowepro has used thick, well-padded straps on this backpack and it certainly helps lessen the stress of lugging all of that gear around all day. They’ve even cleverly integrated a side access panel that allows you to easily get to the interior of the pack without having to take it off. That makes it a breeze to either quickly grab or stow your camera while on the go.

Other nice touches on this pack include a laptop sleeve large enough to hold a 15-inch computer and a built-in weather cover that can protect the bag, and its precious contents, from the elements. An interior pocket comes equipped with a handy key clip and is the perfect size for carrying a smartphone or a few accessories as well.

The Transit Backpack is a bit bulky (it tips the scales at 2.4 pounds) but that is mostly due to the thick, high quality padding used in its construction. Still, if you’re in the market for something a little more compact, you may want to check out Lowepro’s Transit Sling, which offers a similar design in a smaller package.

With a price tag of $119.99, the Transit Backpack is an excellent deal for travelers looking to carry all of their camera gear in a safe, organized and stylish manner. Whether you’re shooting photos around town or heading to the far side of the globe, this bag will make an excellent travel companion for many years to come.

Lowepro Dryzone Duffel camera bag
Lowepro

DryZone DF 20 L ($149.99)
While the Transit Backpack is designed to meet the needs of a wide variety of photographers, Lowepro’s other new bag is much more focused on a specific market. The new DryZone DF 20 duffel is aimed squarely at photographers who spend a lot of time in and around water. The bag is perfect for the outdoor action photographer for instance, or for those who find themselves in a kayak or on a scuba boat on a regular basis. While that may seem like a small segment of the overall market, it is a group of photographers who demand an extra level of protection for their gear and have their own specific needs that aren’t generally met in most standard camera bags.

Since this duffel has a special focus on keeping moisture out, it has been built with an exterior shell that incorporates the latest lightweight and technical waterproof fabrics. It also features a roll top enclosure that provides easy access to the interior of the bag but then seals up tight when it’s ready to take on the elements. As a result, the DryZone carries an IPX-6 waterproof rating, which means it should keep out most rain and heavy splashes, but is not capable of protecting its contents if it gets fully submerged.

Inside the waterproof shell is a second bag that is built to carry camera gear. It has a fully customizable interior that can be adjusted to fit the needs of what ever equipment you happen to be carrying at any given time. This extra pack is actually convenient for moving all of your gear from one carrying case to another in a quick and easy fashion, making it possible to go from your luggage directly into the waterproof bag for instance. This secondary bag works in conjunction with the outer shell and provides yet another level of protection for our expensive gear.

I like the “grab and go” feel of this duffel, although since it is so squarely aimed at a specific market it obviously isn’t built for the average traveler. This isn’t the kind of bag you just throw over your shoulder and hit the road as it was never built with that purpose in mind. But if you do happen to fall into the niche that Lowepro is aiming at with the DryZone, you’re likely to be very happy. This duffel provides plenty of protection from water while also allowing you to easily carry your equipment with you on your next aquatic outing. My only complaint about the bag is that it has a single exterior pocket that could be very useful, except it is so small that you can’t put much of anything in it at all. I’d like to see that pocket expanded for more capacity in future iterations of the DryZone in order to give it a bit more usefulness.

The Dryzone carries a price tag of $149.99, which may seem a bit high at first glance. After all, this is a bag that has a very specific focus and it won’t be all that useful when you’re carrying your camera gear around in an urban environment or on a trail. But if you do need a camera bag for use around the water, you won’t be disappointed here. Lowepro has designed a product that will keep your camera and lenses dry and give you a level of versatility that isn’t found in similar products from the competition. Besides, if you’re going to be using your expensive photography equipment around the water, $150 is a small price to pay to ensure that it stays safe.

Gadling Gear Review: Samsung WB250F Smart Camera

Samsung WB250F Smart Camera
Samsung

Over the past couple of years, smartphones have managed to supplant dedicated cameras for many aspiring photographers thanks to their ability to take good, clean images and quickly share them across a variety of social media outlets. While they don’t come equipped with true zoom lenses or overly large sensors, in many cases they capture images that are good enough to meet most people’s needs and as a result, camera sales have suffered. But Samsung is a company that knows a thing or two about smartphones and cameras, and they’ve leveraged that expertise to create devices that can serve a wide variety of consumers. Nowhere is that more evident than in their new WB250F Smart Camera, which offers all of the features you’d expect out of a dedicated point-and-shoot, plus a host of features that you’ve come to love on your smartphone.

In terms of features and specs, the WB250F comes with everything you would expect out of a modern digital camera. It features a 14.2-megapixel CMOS sensor, an excellent 18x zoom lens and a high quality touchscreen that is crisp, clear and responsive. It is capable of capturing video in full 1080p HD and has a convenient pop-up flash that is surprisingly bright and powerful. Perhaps more importantly, however, the Smart Camera includes built-in Wi-Fi, which greatly extends its functionality when connected to wireless network or tethered to a smartphone, tablet or other device.On their own, those hardware features aren’t all that much to brag about these days. Other cameras have bigger lenses, higher megapixel counts and come with wireless capabilities as well. But what sets the WB250F apart from the crowd is its simple to use interface and sharing capabilities that are on par with what you find on the latest smartphones. In fact, when connected to a Wi-Fi network, the camera is capable of posting photos directly to Facebook or sending them to friends via email, which is kind of fun but is also a little clunky. Fortunately, Samsung has given WB250F users a companion app for their smartphones that allows the camera to instantly send photos directly to the device. I found this to be a much better method for actually sharing the images, as you can not only upload the photo to Facebook, Twitter or email, but also easily type out a message as well. The app, which is available for iOS and Android, also allows you to use your phone as a remote screen, snapping photos on the camera completely hands-free and from a distance. This was an incredibly fun feature that also has the capability of using your phone’s GPS chip to geotag any images shot.

In terms of photo quality, I feel the camera performs very well, particularly for its price point. Images come out clear and vibrant with good color saturation. The camera even performs well in low-light conditions, which is not something you can say about a lot of point-and-shoot models. The 14.2-megapixel sensor has a lot to do with that, especially since it is a backside illuminated chip that is specifically designed to capture decent images even in less than ideal lighting conditions.

Samsung WB250F Smart CameraLightweight and compact, the camera feels solid and very comfortable in your hands. Button placement was easy to adjust to and the touch screen interface is very intuitive and easy to understand. Within minutes of turning the camera on I found myself snapping photos and sharing them through email, as well as with an iPhone via the app. In fact, the only hiccup I came across was figuring out how to put the device into Wi-Fi mode, which is inexplicably done by turning the mode dial. Considering how much the camera can actually do, it was incredibly easy to learn.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks for many point-and-shoot cameras is battery life, particularly if they also have Wi-Fi capabilities. Samsung says that the Smart Camera is capable of capturing as many as 300 photos between charges, which is solid performance in most cases. But put to the test in the real world I found I had a hard time hitting that number. The use of Wi-Fi for sharing the images can have an impact on the battery life, which likely skewed my results. For day-to-day use the battery is more than adequate; although, you may want to pick up a second battery when traveling.

Samsung

As someone who owns numerous digital cameras I can honestly say that I was very impressed with the overall performance of Samsung’s WB250F. Not only is it fast and responsive, but even its more advanced features are easy to learn and use effectively. More than that, the Smart Camera is simply fun to play with, especially when paired with another device. I recently took my test unit with me on a trip to Australia and ran the companion app on a fifth generation iPod Touch. The two devices worked well with one another and it was fun to snap a photo and have it appear almost instantly on my iPod. Using the mp3 player as a remote control, complete with a large view screen, was a nice touch too.

Perhaps the best feature on the Smart Camera is its price. Samsung sells this impressive piece of technology for just $250, which seems like a bargain considering all of the things it is capable of. With its excellent image quality, big zoom lens and wireless sharing functionality, this just might be the camera that will get you to switch back from your smartphone. And when used in conjunction with that smartphone, it opens up even more possibilities.

Gadling Gear Review: Headphones For All Budgets

Polk Audio UltraFocus 8000 headphones
Polk Audio

A good pair of headphones seems to have become mandatory equipment when traveling these days. Smartphones, tablets and MP3 players have put a host of entertainment options at our fingertips and the headphones we carry with us have an impact on the overall experience. But choosing which models to spend your money on can be a challenge as there are now more options available than ever before. Here are three excellent choices, each in a different price category, that you’ll appreciate having in your carry-on the next time you hit the road.

Polk Audio UltraFocus 8000 ($299.95)
The UltraFocus 8000 headphones from Polk Audio sit squarely at the high end of the portable audio market. They carry a price tag of $300 but deliver numerous features and an incredibly high level of performance that will leave budding audiophiles very happy. These headphones feature active noise cancellation, built-in controls and a microphone for Apple devices, numerous audio adapters and much more.
While the price tag of the UltraFocus 8000’s are likely to give many buyers pause, those who are in the market for high-end headphones will likely be very pleased. Everything about these cans screams quality, starting with the packaging, which conveys the sense that you are buying a luxury item. Lightweight and very comfortable, Polk Audio has spent a lot of time getting the design of these headphones just right and once adjusted to fit, it is easy to forget you even have them on. The plush earpads do an excellent job of sealing out environmental noise and continue to feel good even during extended wear.

Audio performance from these headphones is beyond impressive. They deliver extremely clean, undistorted sound even at very high volume levels. In fact, your ears are likely to beg for mercy long before these headphones begin to show any signs of struggle. In the low-range, bass comes through with impressively solid thumps while the mid- and high-ranges blend nicely, providing an audio experience that is sure to delight music lovers, particularly when looking for respite from a busy airport.

I was also impressed with the active noise-canceling functionality that Polk Audio integrated into these headphones. Powered by two AAA batteries, when switched on this feature blocks out an exceptional amount of ambient background noise, making it easier to hear music, movies or anything else you want to listen to. Active noise canceling is great on an airplane for instance, as it will block out much of the sound generated from the jet engines, which can interfere with your enjoyment of audio. I would have preferred if these headphones were powered by a rechargeable power source rather than replaceable batteries, however, and I was disappointed to learn that they won’t function at all if those batteries go dead. That means if you run out of juice while on a long flight, you won’t be able to listen to anything until the batteries can be replaced. Other active noise-canceling headphones from competitors will allow you to listen even when not powered on and it’s a shame that this high-end model can’t do the same.

The UltraFocus 8000 headphones cleverly integrate audio controls into the outside of the right ear cup giving you the ability to adjust volume, and pause and advance tracks with the quick touch of a button. If you’re listening on an iPhone, you can even answer calls with the built-in microphone, which does an excellent job of picking up the wearer’s voice. After adjusting to the placement of these controls I found I preferred them to an inline remote and mic that most other headphones use.

Polk Audio ships these headphones with an excellent soft case and more adapters than you’ll ever know what to do with. All of those extras help to extend the feeling of purchasing a high-end product, which you would expect out of something in this price range. Make no mistake, the UltraFocus 8000 headphones are expensive but they deliver excellent audio performance, a comfortable fit and good active noise canceling in an attractive and high-quality package. For the audiophile on the go, these are an excellent choice.

Munitio SV earphones
Munitio

Munitio SV Earphones ($129.99)
If the high-end, luxury headphones are out of your price range there are plenty of other options available in the mid-range as well. Take for example the Munitio SV earbuds, which deliver very good performance at a price point that is much more friendly to the wallet. They also have the advantage of slipping into a carry-on bag without adding any extra weight or bulk.

Munitio put a lot of thought into the design of this product even though you wouldn’t necessarily think so at first glance. The flat, tangle-free cord is a nice touch for instance, particularly for travelers who may not always be so careful with storing their earphones when they are in a hurry. An in-line mic and remote allow owners of Apple devices to control their gadgets and make phone calls, while the buds themselves are made from aircraft-grade aluminum that adds durability without weight. They feeling of quality in a compact package is undeniable.

In terms of audio performance the Munitio SV earphones are quite good. They offer a surprising amount of bass for such a small product and mid-range sounds are solid as well. At the high end, however, I noticed that things weren’t quite as pure, although there was no noticeable distortion across the entire spectrum. Overall, most listeners will find these earbuds to offer very clean sound even at high volumes. This isn’t a product designed with the audiophile in mind but they do deliver excellent performance that will exceed the expectations of most consumers.

Since these earbuds are designed to fit snugly into your ear canal, Munitio ships them with three sizes of silicon tips. This helps to dial in a personal fit, although most competitors offer a wider array of choices. As a result, I had a hard time getting one of these earbuds to stay in my ear. If I had a few other size options I’m sure this wouldn’t have been an issue, but since one of my ears fell between sizes, it was tough to keep it securely in place. Without a proper seal, outside noise can trickle in as well, which interferes with audio performance. As a result, the Munitio SV’s didn’t do as good of a job as I would have liked isolating me from background noises. Your mileage will probably vary, however, depending on personal fit.

If you want a quality set of earphones with very good audio performance that won’t break the bank, the Munitio SV are a solid choice. They ship with a nice soft case that makes them easy to take with you wherever you go and the tangle-free cord and in-line remote are welcome touches.

RHA MA150 earphones
RHA

RHA MA150 Earphones ($19.95)
At the low-end of the earphone market, at least in terms of price, are the RHA MA150 earbuds. With a price tag of just $20 you wouldn’t expect much in terms of audio performance but we’ve reviewed several RHA products in the past and have been continually impressed with the quality of the sound they deliver while remaining very affordable. In terms of overall bargains, it is tough to beat their products and the new MA150’s are no exception to that legacy, delivering good sound in a no-frills product that is easy on the wallet.

For a set of inexpensive earphones the MA150’s still feel very solid in your hand. In fact, if someone didn’t tell you how much they cost it would be easy to estimate that their price is twice what it actually is. The cables, silicon tips and earbuds themselves are all very good for this price range and they feel like they’ll have a level of durability beyond what you would expect for $20.

In terms of audio output, these earphones are certainly over achievers. I was impressed with the low-end bass that came through very nicely for such a small and lightweight product. Mid- and high-ranges were also handled well, particularly for a product that is this affordable. Again, the MA150’s perform like a product that is two or three times the price, which is certainly hard to complain about. Set your expectations accordingly and I think you’ll be very pleasantly surprised.

As mentioned, these are no-frills earbuds that don’t include a remote, a mic or any other features. They do come with three different sizes of silicon tips, however, and unlike the Munitio SV’s I was able to find a comfortable and solid fit for both ears. If there is one upgrade I’d like to see, it would be the addition of a tangle-free cord like the one found on the offering from Munitio. The cord on the MA150 seems prone to tangling for some reason, which can be frustrating at times.

Designed for the consumer who just wants an inexpensive, yet quality pair of headphones the RHA MA150 earbuds deliver on their promise of good audio performance at a rock-bottom price. You’ll have a difficult time finding earphones that perform at this level in this price range. Sure, they will be overpowered by competitors that cost more, but that’s not the point. For a cheap, dependable and surprisingly good performance you can’t go wrong here.

Gadling Gear Review: Justin Case Rechargeable iPad Battery Case

Justin Case iPad recharger
Innovative Technologies

A few weeks back we reviewed the Props Power case for the iPad, which features a built-in battery that can greatly extend the life of your tablet while on the road. At the time, I thought that it was a unique product that delivered on its promise with the trade-off of also adding a considerable amount of thickness and weight. It turns out that case wasn’t quite as unique as I had originally thought, as there is another option available that offers similar performance in a slightly less bulky package and at a considerable savings. Two things that are difficult to argue against.

The Justin Case Rechargeable Power Case from Innovative Technology is designed to fit the iPad 2 and the iPad with Retina Display. It holds the tablet snugly while providing very good protection from accidental drops or the usual wear and tear that comes along with travel. Made from soft faux leather, the case has a nice feel to it, although no one is likely to ever mistake it for real leather. As you would expect, when seated properly inside the case, the iPad’s various buttons and cameras are unobstructed, allowing full access to all of the tablet’s features. A durable flap covers the screen and is cleverly held in place by a pair of strategically placed magnets. This is a nice touch that provides a little extra protection to the fragile display. A fold out stand on the back of the case also allows you to prop up your device, which comes in very handy when watching videos or making a Facetime call.

One of my main knocks against the Props Power case was that it added a lot of thickness to the otherwise thin and sleek iPad. That is somewhat unavoidable for any case that has a bulky battery built into its form factor and this model is no different. I will say, however, that the Justin Case is thinner than the competition; this makes it a bit easier to compromise portability for extended battery life. This isn’t a product that would ever be described as thin and light, but considering the fact that its target audience is likely to know this ahead of time, I’d say it does a fine job of balancing expectations on all fronts.At the heart of this case is an 11,600-mAh battery, which is slightly smaller than the one found in the Props Power case, but still manages to perform on a similar level. The battery includes a micro-USB port for recharging and a standard USB port for passing that charge on to other devices. Innovative Technologies says that the battery is capable of providing a full recharge to a third generation iPad, the model that I was testing it on. I didn’t find that it was quite capable of putting out that much juice, however, delivering something closer to a 75-percent recharge level. Still, that’s not bad at all and should add an additional seven hours to the life of your tablet.

Justin Case rechargeable iPad case
Innovative Technology

Since the battery has a standard USB port it can be used to recharge just about any modern device. That means while you’re traveling you can use the case to juice up your smartphone, a camera, iPod or a variety of other gadgets. Most will charge about as quickly as they will when plugged into a wall outlet, but higher capacity devices such as the 3rd and 4th generation iPad or similar tablets charge at a much slower rate, which can be disappointing when you really want your iPad fully charged and ready to hit the road.

The Justin Case has its competition beat in a couple of other areas as well. For instance, the Props Power case comes with a charging cable but no power adapter. That means you have to provide your own AC adapter or charge directly from your computer. This case comes with a nice USB wall plug that looks strikingly like Apple’s own iPhone charger only in black. I appreciate the fact that Innovative Technologies saw fit to include it in the box, eliminating the hurdle of finding a way to keep their product charged at all times.

The other area in which the Justin Case has a hands-down advantage is price. While it performs at a very similar level with its competition, it costs $50 less. Innovative Technology has priced their product at $70, which feels like a very fair price for a case that offers the ability to not only charge the tablet that it protects but just about any other device as well. That is a nice convenience to have when you own a smartphone whose battery doesn’t quite make it completely through the day when there isn’t a free outlet anywhere in sight.

While the Justin Case does come with a micro-USB cable that is capable of charging not only its batteries, but also other devices that use that format, if you’re an Apple-fan you’ll need to supply your own 30-pin or lightning cable. That is a small quibble for an otherwise solid product but one that buyers should be aware of before they plunk down their hard-earned cash.

If you’re a frequent traveler who spends a lot of time searching for a power outlet at the airport, the Justin Case may be the answer to your prayers. While it is just an average case on its own, the inclusion of the built-in battery gives it a unique quality that few other products can match. The fact that it does so at an affordable price truly sets it out from the crowd. An iPad equipped with this case could survive a full flight across the Pacific with power to spare, which is a pretty impressive feat really. This case will let you load up your device with all of the movies, music and games you’d like without worrying about running out of power at an inopportune time.

Gadling Gear Review: Eddie Bauer Expedition Flannel Shirt

Eddie Bauer Expedition Flannel
Eddie Bauer

In the world of outdoor and travel apparel there are few names as recognizable as Eddie Bauer. For more than 90 years the company has specialized in making clothing that is designed for travel and adventure, outfitting some famous explorers and mountaineers along the way. The iconic brand has earned itself a reputation for making clothing that is tough, comfortable and dependable, while still managing to perform well in some of the harshest environments on the planet. Whether you’re hanging out on your front porch or traveling to the far corners of the globe, chances are Eddie Bauer makes something you’ll want to take with you. After all, if they can equip teams for the summit of Everest, they can probably keep you happy on your next adventure too.

One of the more classic items in the Eddie Bauer catalog is their Expedition Flannel shirt. This is one of those pieces of gear that easily passes my criteria for the kind of item that I want in my bag when I set out on trip. Since I tend to travel light, everything that goes into my pack needs to be something that is going to be comfortable when I put it on, useful in a variety of situations and will still look as good at the end of the trip as it does at the beginning. The Expedition Flannel does all of that and then some.Built from extremely soft polyester fabrics, this shirt has a trim cut that is designed to fit closely to the body, allowing the wearer to move without restriction while on the go. Any active traveler will appreciate this approach, as there are few things worse than wearing a piece of clothing that feels too confining. The fabrics also resemble traditional flannel in most respects but they perform on a different level than the flannel that we’ve all come to know and love. For instance, the fabrics that Eddie Bauer uses are designed to wick moisture away from the body, helping you to stay dry when you start to work up a sweat. This comes in surprisingly handy in both warm and cool conditions.

In terms of versatility, the Expedition Flannel is a winner as well. It has rustic good looks that make it equally good for strolling the streets of Paris or trekking in the Himalaya. Its classic design doesn’t wader far from the traditional but its use of modern color combinations is both refreshing and bold. It doesn’t hurt that is also packs extremely well, going in and out of your bag without collecting too many wrinkles – something I think we can all appreciate.

Since this is a piece of clothing created by Eddie Bauer, you know it has the durability to hold up to the rigors of the road. The Expedition Flannel was built to accompany you on your travels, whether that is down the block or around the world, and still come back looking as good as new. The level of quality in this shirt allows it to stand up to whatever abuse you give it and come away with barely a scuff on it. I’ve worn mine numerous times, for numerous activities, and it always comes out of the washer looking brand new. Whether you use this shirt for work, play or something in between, it is likely to be in your closet for many years to come.

This kind of quality doesn’t come cheap and Eddie Bauer is without a doubt a premium brand. The Expedition Flannel retails for $80, which puts it on par with similar shirts from competitors, although few of them have the EB pedigree. We all know that good travel gear is worth the price, however, and I think that is most certainly true here. If you buy one of these shirts chances are you’ll be remind yourself about your good taste and wise decisions for a very long time to come.