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.

5 Ways To Preserve Your Travel Memories (That Don’t Involve Photos)

no cameras signage
LEOL30, Flickr

If you’re an avid traveler, chances are you’ve experienced some type of fantastical sight, to which no photograph can ever do justice. Talent and camera quality have no bearing whatsoever on the ability to capture this moment, and so you resign yourself to committing it to memory.

Although I love looking at travel photos, I’m not much of a photographer. But I’m also well-traveled enough to know that sometimes, when you try to shoot something stunning, you inadvertently end up depriving yourself of just enjoying the experience. I see this all the time on trips; the guy who’s so busy running around chasing the perfect shot, he misses the entire point of the destination.

I’ve finally learned when to put the camera down and just be in the moment – at a certain point, sunset photos become redundant. Remembering the other sensory details surrounding the actual event, however, may well be something you’ll cherish forever. I’m not saying you should leave your camera at home when you travel. Rather, I’m advocating incorporating other ways to create travel memories that don’t involve Instagram or tripods. Read on for creative ways to preserve “unforgettable” sights or locales.

girl writing in journal
Paul Stocker, Flickr

Write it
Even if writing isn’t something you’re particularly good at, that shouldn’t stop you from trying (not everything needs to be posted to a blog or social media). Whether you scribble in a journal or email the folks back home, the objective is to get your memories written down, without trying too hard.

I strongly recommend writing longhand, as it’s more expedient, practical and, for lack of a better word, organic. So no texting, iPad, netbook or other device. Just you, a pen and a notebook or sheaf of paper. Think about sights, smells, sounds, textures and colors. Whether or not your end result is a list, paragraph or story, you’ll have something that captures a memorable moment from your trip. Not only does this exercise improve your writing skills (which, after all, are crucial in daily life); it helps sharpen your memory and senses, as well.

Verbalize it
OK, I know I hinted at ditching the devices, but many people are articulate. If you’re known for being a great storyteller, record memorable experiences soon after they occur. Whether it’s a mishap, linguistic misunderstanding, touching cultural exchange or incredible meal, recount it in vivid detail, as you’d tell it to your best friend, spouse/significant other or kids.

shells on beach
B D, Flickr

Collect it
Although I’m a writer by occupation, my favorite way to create travel memories is by collecting small, meaningful souvenirs unique to a place. They may be found objects or regional handicrafts, but my interior decor is defined by these objects. They’re my most cherished possessions (next to, I confess, my photos).

Scrapbook it
I also love to collect vintage postcards from favorite destinations, as well as items like ticket stubs, peeled-off beer labels (really), black-and-white photos scrounged from street fairs and antique shops, and cultural or religious iconography. As long as it reminds me of a great travel experience and is flat, I keep it. Some of these talismans are tucked inside my passport; others are in a photo album or stuck to my refrigerator with magnets I’ve collected from restaurants all over the world.

aboriginal art

Barbara Dieu, Flickr

Hang it
Granted, this requires a bit more cash, effort and wall space than collecting shells. But even with a nearly non-existent budget, you can bring home a piece of art as a permanent reminder of a great trip. Here are some inexpensive things I’ve collected over the years:

  • A custom-made, silk-screened T-shirt depicting indigenous art, made at an Aboriginal-owned co-op in Australia.
  • A reproduction of an Aboriginal painting that I picked up for about $25USD at Sydney’s wonderful Australian Museum. I had it mounted for a fraction of the cost of framing.
  • A vintage card painted by a Vietnamese woman’s co-op, depicting war propaganda and purchased at a shop in Hanoi. I’m not actually a communist but the art is captivating.
  • A 4-by-5 piece of muslin printed with a photo transfer of an image taken at the port in Valparaiso, Chile. I purchased it for about $3USD in the artist’s studio, nearby.
  • A slender coffee table book on Italy’s Cinque Terra.

While travel itself may not come cheap, memories are often free (the above purchases notwithstanding). I encourage you, on your next trip, to put down your camera once in awhile, and rely instead on your senses. I guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results.

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]