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.

Strolling Through Venice Without A Camera

Venice
Wikimedia Commons

I’ve wanted to visit Venice all my life. Who wouldn’t? It has the reputation of being the most beautiful city in the world, and with my love of architecture my first glimpse of it was going to be a lifelong memory.

After a rainy week in Slovenia, I arrived in Venice on a gloriously cloudless afternoon. I had less than 24 hours in the city before family obligations would take me home. After checking into the Hotel Alex, a basic but wonderfully central one-star hotel, I left my camera in my room and headed out.

Wait, I left my camera in my room? Yep. I wanted to savor Venice without the distraction of trying to create abstract memories. Living in the moment is one of the five reasons to leave your camera at home.

(Of course I did take photos on my second day, otherwise my editor would have had an aneurysm. Those are coming up tomorrow.)

With so little time I was free to enjoy Venice without a must-see list. My time was too short to visit even a tenth of the places I knew I wanted to see, let alone all those I didn’t. So I saw nothing, or more precisely I saw whatever the city gave me. I decided to take a suggestion from Stephen Graham’s classic travel book The Gentle Art of Tramping and go on a zigzag walk. A zigzag walk is a simple travel plan. You start by taking a left. Then at the first opportunity take a right. Then left. Repeat. You will soon be happily lost and seeing things you never thought you would.

Taking a left out of the hotel brought me to a strange little bookshop with a “Going out of Business” sign in its window and a display of odd books with titles like Il Libro dei Vampiri. I’d come across Venice’s only occult bookshop, which was about to close after 24 years because the owner was retiring. I had a pleasant chat with one of the employees, helping him plan his first trip to London, and bought a worry stone for a friend. These are little jasper stones with a groove worn in one side. You rub the groove to reduce stress. My friend is a government employee in a European country and is inextricably linked to her nation’s slow slide into the Dark Ages. If anyone needs a worry stone, she does.The bookshop had sucked me in so quickly I hadn’t even seen anything of Venice yet, so I determined not to go into another shop for a while and wound my way through the city’s narrow lanes, my gaze lifting above the shopfronts to admire carved balustrades and Renaissance coats of arms set into a background of faded, flaked paint from which the rich Italian sunlight was able to coax a hint of its former brilliance.

Luckily I looked down as well as up, because another left took me down a dank little alley that ended abruptly at a narrow canal. There was no railing or sign. The pavement simply ended.

A gondola glided by so close I could have touched it, its wake slapping against the mossy stone foundations of the buildings to either side of me. Water dripped from a carved cornice above to fall into the canal with a loud ploink.

It was quiet here. I was alone and the sounds of the city sounded muffled and distant. Leaning against the wall, I looked out and saw a white marble bridge arching over the canal a few feet away. The map could have told me its name but I didn’t bother to check. People filed past while a gondolier wearing the trademark straw hat and black-and-white striped shirt sat on the railing calling out, “Gondola ride. . .gondola ride. . .”

On a zigzag walk if you come to a dead end you retrace your steps until you can make a another turn. That took me from the cool seclusion of the alley to the warm, crowded sunlit bridge. I sat down near the gondolier and looked down the canal flanked by tall, narrow houses decaying in that graceful Mediterranean manner. Burgundy and peach paint flaked off to reveal islands of plaster or brick, or clung onto their backing long enough to fade to near whiteness. On windowsills and rooftop terraces were sprays of greens and reds and yellows from carefully tended houseplants.

I sat there maybe five minutes and that gondolier must have had his picture taken a dozen times. Nobody took my picture. In fact I think they all framed me out of the shot. What, a dreamy eyed travel blogger doesn’t symbolize the essence of Venice?

Another zig and a zag brought me to San Paolo Apostolo with its unassuming 15th century exterior hiding a rich collection of art. But first I was drawn to the Romanesque bell tower, which for some reason was situated across the street from the church. Tufts of grass grew from between its crumbling bricks. A low door of thick, ancient oak barred entry. Above it was a Latin inscription. As the radio from the trinket shop across the street played Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds I ran my fingers over the faint letters, worn nearly smooth by centuries of weather and curious tourists. I made out the date 1459 and nothing more.

A pair of lions flanked the doorway. One was fighting a serpent, the other held in its forepaws a decapitated head that looked at me with a serene expression. I headed inside the church to admire the art, including a Last Supper by Tintoretto and Piazza’s St. Silvestri Baptizing the Emperor Constantine (an important moment in the death of paganism). Every church in Venice is an art gallery. Then I continued my jagged course across the city.

Or at least I tried. Canals and dead ends kept forcing me retrace my steps, and after another half hour I found myself back in front of my hotel just when I was in urgent need of a bathroom.

Angels watch over the tourist who abandons his timetable. Soon I was back on the streets. My camera remained in the hotel room.

Route 66 Polaroid Project Aims To Capture The Mother Road The Old-Fashioned Way

Route 66, PolaroidThere have been a lot of cool Kickstarter Projects in recent months, but this one will warm the heart of anyone who likes a good old-fashioned road trip. The Route 66 Polaroid Project is just what it says on the tin: a plan to drive the length of the famous highway taking Polaroid snapshots all the way.

Eric and Sarah are getting married in June and they’re heading down The Mother Road for their honeymoon. They’re going to be bringing along several Polaroid cameras to document their journey.

As they explain on their Kickstarter page, “Over the past year, we’ve set aside our digital cameras in favor of vintage Polaroid cameras. These gadgets hearken back to a simpler time when you’d cock the camera, take the shot, yank the picture out of the camera, wait a couple of minutes, peel it, let it dry and then *presto* you’d have your photo! OK, maybe it wasn’t simpler, but there was a certain almost instant gratification to it.”

It turns out Fuji still makes film for the ColorPack Polaroid cameras, and Eric and Sarah want to share their photos with you. If you back them for $10, you get a unique Polaroid shot sent directly to you from a town along the road with a description of the place written on the back. Higher-level sponsors get more photos.

Eric also runs the Civil War Daily Gazette blog, an addictive site giving a day-by-day account of the war 150 years later. Route 66 passes by several Civil War battlefields and you can bet he’ll be taking snapshots of them.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Gadling Gear Review: Acme Made Camera Bags

Camera bags from Acme Made are stylish and functionalOne of my biggest concerns when traveling is making sure that my expensive camera gear is well protected from harm. In the hustle and bustle of packing, rushing to the airport and flying to our eventual destination, a lot can happen to our photography equipment, even when it remains in our possession. There is nothing worse than embarking on that trip of a lifetime only to find your camera isn’t working when you arrive.

A good camera bag not only helps prevent accidental damage to our gear but also keeps us well organized too. Carrying extra lenses, memory cards, external flashes and other photography equipment can be a bulky and cumbersome affair, but a good bag can lighten the load and make it easy to find all of those important items when you need them. A well-organized photographer is less likely to miss the important shots and do a better job of capturing the moment.

New camera bags from Acme Made offer travelers the protection and organization they need in stylish and distinctive packages. Their Montgomery Street line of packs have a retro look with modern sensibilities that allow them to stand out in the crowd without sacrificing function for form. Here’s a look at three of these bags that were designed with the traveling photographer in mind.

Montgomery Street Backpack ($99.99)
The largest entry into the Montgomery Street line-up is the Backpack, a versatile bag with plenty of room for just about everything you’ll want to take with you when traveling. Designed for carrying a DSLR or the increasingly popular compact system cameras (CSC), this pack offers well-padded compartments and pockets for camera bodies, lenses and more. A dedicated laptop sleeve is perfect for carrying a 13-inch MacBook, ultrabook or tablet, while organizational pockets hold travel essentials such as a smartphone, passport and other important items.

Putting this bag to the test in the field left me very impressed with its overall quality. It is built with fabrics designed to resist the wear and tear that comes along with travel, while still managing to provide ample protection for all of the important gear inside. Magnetic snaps and high-quality zippers seal up pockets and compartments nicely, while Acme’s FlexFold System allows users to adjust and expand the interior to their needs. When not in use, the Backpack also folds down to a compact size, making it easy to store and transport. The Backpack is capable of carrying a CSC camera and two extra lenses or one DSLR and a single additional lens. That makes it a perfect choice for most travelers but could be a bit too confining for those with more photography gear. This won’t be a problem for most, however, and when you add in the ability to carry a laptop or tablet – as well as all the cables, batteries and chargers you’ll need for the road – you end up with a pack that performs above and beyond expectations.

Those who like to travel light and are looking for a stylish, compact bag will absolutely love the Montgomery Street Backpack. It provides ample storage space for plenty of gear and its versatile nature ensures that it can accompany us on many different travel adventures.

Montgomery Street Courier ($79.99)
Camera bags from Acme MadeAcme Made’s Montgomery Street Courier shares much in common with the larger Backpack. There is a distinct look about it that quickly identifies both bags as being part of the same line and their feature sets are very similar. The Courier is capable of carrying mostly the same load as its larger counterpart, offering room for a compact camera system body and two extra lenses or a DSLR and one additional lens. It also offers organizational pockets for travel documents, a smartphone and other items that you’ll want to keep close at hand. This bag even includes the FlexFold System, which makes it a breeze to expand the interior to hold more items when necessary.

But the Courier is designed to be a smaller camera bag than the Backpack and as such, some compromises had to be made. The biggest difference is that the Courier doesn’t have enough space for a laptop. It does include a quilted sleeve with enough room for a tablet such as an iPad, but travelers using this bag will need to leave their laptops at home.

The other main difference between the two bags is that the Courier is a sling pack designed to be worn over the shoulder. This adds a level of accessibility that isn’t found in a backpack, as it is easy to grab a camera, lens or new memory card without ever taking the bag off. This makes it a very convenient option for travelers, who often need to access their photography equipment and other gear on a moment’s notice.

The Courier is made from the same high-quality materials as the Backpack and features the same zippers and magnetic snaps as well. For all intents and purposes, it resembles the larger bag in every way, just in a scaled-down fashion and with a shoulder sling. This makes it a great, yet uncompromising, alternative.

Montgomery Street Kit Bag ($59.99)
Montgomery Street Kit bag from Acme MadeFor the ultimate in compact camera packs, the Montgomery Street Kit Bag is the way to go. While it doesn’t look exactly like the Backpack or Courier, the family resemblance is still undeniable. Like those other bags, the Kit Bag is made of tough, durable fabrics that are designed to weather the challenges of travel and stay attractive and stylish for years to come. The interior is lined with quilted fabrics to protect its contents and the twin zippers that run along the stop are smooth and easy to operate.

This small camera bag is especially useful for CSC cameras, providing space for a body and two lenses. It’ll also hold a DSLR body and a single lens as well, although larger zoom lenses may be a bit cramped. Exterior pockets can accommodate a smartphone and passport, although unsurprisingly there isn’t much room for anything else.

Although the Kit Bag does come with a shoulder strap, I found this pack worked best inside another bag. It is perfect for storing camera equipment when checking luggage or for safe storage inside a larger backpack. It is the perfect option for those who don’t carry a lot of camera gear with them when they travel, but still want a bag to keep things safe and organized.

All three of these camera bags are excellent choices for travelers looking to take their precious camera gear with them on the road. They are all affordable, extremely well made and provide plenty of versatility. Serious photographers will want one of each as part of their gear options but all three are individually outstanding as well. Each fits its own niche and you can’t go wrong with any of the bags in the Montgomery Street lineup.

[Photo Credit: Acme Made]
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Gadling Gift Guide: Tech For Travel

Samsung's Galaxy Camera makes the Gadling Tech gift guideFrom keeping us entertained on a long flight to helping us stay connected with friends and family while on the road, technology has had an undeniable impact on the way we travel. Whether we’re going across the state for an important business meeting or around the globe to experience a foreign culture, our favorite gadgets have become indispensable gear for modern adventures. If you have a traveler on your holiday shopping list, here are a few suggestions for tech toys that may make their next road trip a more enjoyable one.

Samsung Galaxy Camera ($499)
If you’re looking for the latest and greatest development in in the world of point-and-shoot photography, then you’ll certainly want to check out the brand new Samsung Galaxy Camera. It features a 16-megapixel sensor, 21x optical zoom, 8 GB of built-in storage and a bright 4.8-inch super clear LCD display. But what really sets it apart from the pack is that it runs an advanced version of the Android operating system (4.1 Jelly Bean), giving the camera access to thousands of apps that will help extend its functionality beyond just snapping pictures. Add in GPS functionality, the ability to give voice commands and on-board photo editing and you have yourself a powerful device. It even comes with the option for full 3G and LTE wireless connectivity, allowing photographers to share their images on social media or save their photos to cloud storage immediately after taking them.

Mojo Battstation Tough Dual Pro ($29.90-$39.90)
The new Battstation Tough Dual Pro sets a new standard for portable battery chargers for power hungry devices. Not only is it tough and durable, it also features two USB ports for charging more than one device at a time. Available in two configurations, one with a 7200 mAh and the other with an 8400 mAh battery, this little box is capable of providing plenty of juice for your smartphone, camera, GPS device or just about anything else you can plug into it. It’ll even charge the new iPad, which is no small feat considering the amount of power it takes to fill its massive batteries. Best of all, the entire package weighs less than 7.5 ounces, which makes it the perfect travel companion for those trips when power outlets will be few and far between.Incase iPhone cases for the holidayIncase iPhone Cases ($29.95-$59.95)
If the gadget lover on your holiday list also happens to be an iPhone owner, then a stylish new case from Incase may be just what they’re hoping for this holiday season. The company’s offerings come in a variety of colors and styles that will give any phone a unique look all of its own. Better yet, these cases provide a fantastic level of protection without detracting in any way from Apple’s iconic design. That means the phone will remain light and thin but will still be well protected from accidental drops and other hazards. Considering how fragile – not to mention expensive – modern smartphones can be, one of these cases may be the best investment for the accident prone traveler too.

Google Nexus 7 Android Tablet ($249)
Android has dominated the smartphone market over the past couple of years and now it has a viable option in the tablet space as well. The Nexus 7 makes a great alternative to the iPad and comes packed with plenty of features that are sure to appeal to any gadget fan. The device includes 32GB of storage, a beautiful 7-inch display and a battery with enough power to keep it running for up to ten hours between charges. Thin and lightweight, the Nexus 7 also has access to a growing library of apps, movies, books, games and more via the Google Play Store. If you’re looking to save a few bucks, you can even get a model with 16GB of storage for just $199, although I recommend springing for the extra space. You’ll need it when you start filling up the device with travel photos.

Timbuk2 Power Commute messenger bagTimbuk2 Power Commute Messenger Bag ($199)
While on the road, there are two things that every techie traveler needs. The first is a great bag to securely carry their laptop, tablet, and other items and the second is a source of power to keep all of their devices fully juiced up. Fortunately Timbuk2’s Power Commute messenger bag has us covered in both areas, giving us a great over the shoulder sling pack for hauling our gear while also cleverly integrating an energy pack for recharging batteries. The Power Commute’s battery pack is capable of charging most smartphones and tablets through its USB port, providing quick and convenient energy when needed. Other nice touches include a TSA compliant laptop sleeve, plenty of organizational pockets and water resistant fabrics to help keep important gear safe from the elements.

Jawbone Jambox Portable Speaker ($199)
Over the past year I’ve been lucky enough to test a number of good Bluetooth portable speaker systems and out of all of them, the one that I continue to enjoy the most is the Jawbone Jambox. Compact and lightweight, the Jambox is small enough to slip into your bag on any trip and yet its speakers have the power to fill a room with booming audio. Sound quality is exceptional and the ten hour battery life keeps the music flowing far longer than expected. The Jambox’s built-in microphone even allows it to serve as a speakerphone, which can come in handy for those impromptu business meetings that sometimes arise while we’re on the road. Music lovers and podcast junkies will absolutely adore the Jambox whether they are traveling or at home. The device is available in a variety of colors, but the most fun comes from completely customizing the look yourself.

Belkin Wireless Travel Router ($80)
Sharing an Internet connection in a hotel room can be a major challenge, particularly when Wi-Fi access is limited or even non-existent. Belkin’s wireless Travel Router can save the day however, turning a single Ethernet jack into a wireless network for multiple devices. The router supports both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies, can be password protected and even has VPN functionality. Built with travelers in mind, the router is compact and even comes with a travel case to safely store the device, its power supply and an included network cable while in transit. This is the kind of gadget that many travelers don’t even know they need until they actually have one.

Lenovo Thinkpad Twist UltrabookLenovo Twist Ultrabook Laptop ($745)
Ultrabooks have been a godsend for frequent travelers over the past few years. These lightweight and super-thin laptops have shaved a considerable amount of weight from our packs, which is always a good thing as far as I’m concerned. Now Lenovo has taken the design one step further, creating an Ultrabook that converts into a fully-functional Windows 8 tablet. The Twist derives its name from the fact that the screen is capable of rotating a full 180 degrees, easily converting it from laptop to tablet mode. This gives it a level of versatility that few other notebooks have, making it incredibly useful in a variety of situations. The base model comes with 4GB of RAM and a 1.8 GHz i-3 processor. Performance in that configuration is snappy and fun, but there are options to expand the hardware for those that truly need it.

Be sure to check out Gadling’s other Gift Guides for more holiday shopping ideas.

[Photo Credits: Samsung, Incase, Timbuk2 and Lenovo]