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 Gear Review: Nikon 1 J2 Digital Camera

The Nikon 1 J2 Compact Interchangeable Lens SystemOver the past couple of years, one of the fastest growing segments of the digital camera market has been the compact interchangeable lens systems. These cameras feature the small bodies of a traditional point-and-shoot with the ability to swap lenses like a DSLR, giving them plenty of versatility without adding undue size or weight. Options from Sony, Panasonic and Samsung have been extremely popular, but it was Nikon’s first entry, the 1 J1, that really caught the attention of the mainstream market. Now, a year later, the company has updated the diminutive shooter, making some minor but welcome changes to an already impressive and fun camera.

The Nikon 1 J2 retains its predecessor’s small body and classic good looks, while upgrading the built-in screen with a much higher resolution display. Considering the camera doesn’t have a viewfinder of any kind, this revamped screen is definitely a nice addition. Featuring richer colors and a higher level of illumination, the new display gives a better indication of what your photos will look like, while also performing better in bright, outdoor conditions. Other improvements include a new metallic body available in several colors, and updates to the 1 system’s internal software that gives photographers more creative control over their images.

When the J1, and its big brother the V1, were released last year, they were soundly criticized for Nikon’s choice of sensor. While most of its competitors used sensors with sizes ranging from 12 to 16 megapixels, Nikon elected to employ a smaller 10.1 MP option. That hasn’t changed at all in the J2, even as competitors have continued to improve their sensors. But the smaller CX-format that Nikon uses still takes excellent photos with great color reproduction, even if the resulting images aren’t as large as those captured by other ILS cameras. The smaller sensor allows for the more compact body found on the 1 system and any photographer will tell you that the number of megapixels is a bit overrated anyway. Smaller sensors do suffer poorer performance in low light conditions, however, so keep that in mind when deciding which camera best fits your needs.If there is one area that all of the Nikon 1 cameras excel, it is in their speed. They are amazingly fast at focusing on subjects and they are capable of shooting in bursts of 5 fps on their quickest settings. That performance isn’t matched by the competition just yet and comes in handy when shooting travel photos, particularly when you want to quickly capture those oh so fleeting moments. While using the J2, I was continually impressed with how fast it performed, never failing to capture the image I was hoping for. It even does a fantastic job at shooting photos of wildlife and fast moving sporting events, two subjects that can put demands on even the best cameras.

The Nikon 1 J2 Camera in a variety of colorsMuch like the camera body itself, the lenses designed for the Nikon 1 system are compact, lightweight and perform well. Nikon has long been known for making excellent lenses and that heritage shines through here. I tested both the 10-30mm kit lens and the 30-110mm telephoto zoom. Both take great photos, focus exceedingly quickly and have built-in vibration reduction, which helps in keeping images sharp even when at full zoom. Both lenses cleverly incorporate a small button on the focus ring that allows you to turn the camera on simply by twisting them into position. This comes in very handy when trying to quickly capture shots without fumbling for the tiny power button on the top of the camera.

Nikon has designed the 1 system to be incredibly easy to use and as such, those advancing from a point-and-shoot camera are likely to feel right at home. But if you’re a DSLR user who enjoys the full control that those cameras offer, you may feel a bit frustrated with the options for controlling shutter speeds or aperture priority offered here. Those controls are available of course, but they aren’t on a mode dial as you might expect. You’ll find them instead buried on menus and you’ll have to use the screen to access them. It can be a bit ponderous to change those settings at times, particularly if you’re doing it often or have to do it quickly. It seems clear that Nikon saw this camera as an upgrade for those who are use to shooting in automatic mode rather than fiddling with the settings. But those of us who have been using a DSLR for awhile, and simply want a good option that can shave weight from our packs without sacrificing control, will find these limitations a bit challenging at first.

I’d be remiss in writing a review of the J2 if I didn’t mention that it is an excellent option for shooting video as well. The camera is capable of capturing 1080p HD video at 30 fps or 1080i at 60 fps. Quality is excellent and when used with the variety of lenses available for the 1 system, the camera provides performance that exceeds that of a dedicated video camera, allowing us to save further room in our bags. Just make sure you have extra memory cards along on your trip, as HD video can eat up storage space very quickly.

As someone who likes to travel light, and is always looking for ways to save weight in my bags, the thought of a small and lightweight camera system with interchangeable lenses has always been intriguing. The Nikon 1 V2 definitely lives up to my hopes for the category, making it one of the best travel cameras I have ever used. I love that it is fast, takes beautiful photos and is actually fun to use. The fact that it tips the scale at about a half-pound, with the battery and kit lens installed, doesn’t hurt either. While that is obviously considerably more than your average point-and-shoot, it is also a lot less than a DSLR.

Not that there isn’t room for improvement in the J2. The 10.1 MP sensor is very good, but a larger sensor would improve performance in a variety of key areas. The built-in flash is also rather flimsy and feels fragile as well and I would have preferred better overall battery life. The J2’s battery isn’t necessarily terrible, but when you’re used to using a DSLR, it was a bit disappointing. I’d also prefer an actual viewfinder of some type, but we’ll need to jump up to the larger and more expensive V1, or the newly announced V2, for that option.

Travelers looking for a great option for capturing their latest adventures are likely to love the Nikon 1 J2. Its combination of image quality, ease of use and compact size makes it a perfect choice for those trips in which you want to travel light without compromising your photography. The options for choosing different lenses gives this camera a level of versatility that can’t be found in a point-and-shoot, while its light weight is a huge plus over bulkier DSLRs. The camera even comes with a lightweight price tag. Nikon starts the J2 out at just $549.95 including the 10-30mm lens. That is a competitive price for a camera that will accompany you on many fantastic trips ahead.

[Photos credit: Nikon]

Gadling Gear Review: Eye-Fi Mobile X2 Wireless Memory Card

The Eye-Fi SD memory card adds wifi features to any cameraOne of the features that has been appearing on new camera models with increased frequency is built-in Wi-Fi functionality. Wireless capabilities on the camera allows users to sync with their computer and upload images to Flickr, Facebook or other photo sharing services without ever using a cable. It is incredibly convenient and fun, particularly for travelers who may want to share photos from their adventures while on the road. But did you know that you could add Wi-Fi capabilities to any camera? The Eye-Fi series of memory cards can actually turn even your old digital shooter into a high-tech, wireless wonder, giving you the same capabilities as newer cameras without forking out a lot of money for a new device.

We first took a look at the Eye-Fi two years ago when the cards were still relatively new. Much has changed since then as technology has continued to evolve, but a lot has also stayed the same. At the time we were impressed with how easy the Eye-Fi was to set up and use, and once configured it worked as advertised, automatically uploading photos, geotagging locations and sharing images on Facebook and other sites. I’m happy to say all of that has remained the same and the memory card is still a breeze to get working. The included Eye-Fi Center software takes all of the guesswork out of configuring the card and you’ll have Wi-Fi working on your camera in a matter of minutes. It’s so easy in fact that you’ll probably be surprised at how simple it is.

Since that initial review, the Eye-Fi memory card has learned a few new tricks that make it an even better travel companion. For example, new apps for both iOS and Android devices makes it possible for your camera to wirelessly transfer images to your iPhone, iPad or other tablet. This is great for photographers in the field as it allows them to back up their images to another device or clear space off the card by transferring the files. By utilizing the Eye-Fi in this way, a relatively small 4 or 8GB memory card can be used to take a lot more photos than its size would imply.Transferring the files is quick and easy, and it is great to review your shots from throughout the day on a much larger screen. The images are added to your device’s main photo app, which means they are available system wide. That makes it a breeze to share them on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or just about any other social network. It also means that if you use an app like iPhoto or Photoshop Express you’ll be able to edit your shots on the go. That is something professional photographers will absolutely love and amateur shutterbugs will appreciate too.

The Eye-Fi memory cardSyncing with other devices isn’t the only new feature for the Eye-Fi. Since we first took a look at the tiny device a few years back, it has also gained the ability to sync to the cloud. That means that when connected to a wireless network the images are also automatically backed up to the Eye-Fi website and can be accessed there for up to seven days. An Eye-Fi premium account, which costs $50 per year, gives users unlimited access beyond that initial week, but even if you simply use the free account, it’s good to know that you have a “just in case” backup, even if it is for a limited time.

The Eye-Fi card line-up has been simplified and made more affordable over the past two years as well. There are now just three options to choose from with the entry-level “Connect X2″ model offering 4GB of storage while the “Mobile X2″ has 8GB. Those cards cost $39.99 and $79.99 respectively. The “Pro X2″ model also has 8GB of memory but includes the ability to geotag images and upload professional level RAW files, a format that most amateur photographers don’t use. It carries a price tag of $99.99.

If you find you love your current camera but wish it had the ability to share images more easily, then the Eye-Fi is definitely a great option. Not only do each of the models provide plenty of storage, but they also add Wi-Fi capabilities to any device. Considering how much we enjoy sharing our photos these days, I think that is functionality that a lot of travelers will be interested in. The Eye-Fi was already simple to configure and worked great; Android and iOS compatibility is simply icing on the cake – icing that gadget-loving travelers will certainly benefit from.


Gadling Gear Review: Joby Gorillapod SLR-Zoom

The Gorillapod SLR-Zoom tripodThe advent of inexpensive point-and-shoot and SLR cameras had turned us all into travel photographers and has made documenting our journeys easier than ever. Capturing just the right shot still takes plenty of practice and skill, however, and occasionally it is nice to have a tripod in our packs to assist in that area. Unfortunately, traditional tripods can be heavy, bulky and inflexible, which doesn’t always make them the best travel companions. But the Gorillapod SLR-Zoom from Joby isn’t a traditional tripod and it eliminates those issues through its ingenious design.

Looking a bit like something out of a science fiction movie, the Gorillapod line of tripods uses a series of articulated legs that are unique in design. The individual segments on each leg can all be bent, twisted and reshaped as needed allowing a photographer to adjust them to stand securely on nearly any surface. Gorillapods can even be wrapped around objects, such as tree branches or rock ledges, to capture shots from vantage points that aren’t possible with other kinds of tripods. This level of versatility opens up a new host of options for photographers on the go.

Lightweight and yet rugged, the SLR-Zoom version of the Gorillapod is designed to hold a camera and lens weighing up to 6.6 pounds. Most consumer level cameras don’t weigh anywhere near that, even while outfitted with a large zoom lens. For example, my Nikon D90 weighs in at 1.5 pounds and adding a 70-300mm lens doubles that to about 3 pounds. Professional photographers will want to upgrade to the Gorillapod Focus, which is a bit larger but can support weights up to 11 pounds.

The SLR-Zoom features a universal 1/4″ screw as well as a 3/8″ adapter, which makes this tripod compatible with virtually any camera on the market. An included removable ball head adds the ability to tilt and hold the camera at just the right angle to catch the perfect shot, while a built-in level helps to ensure that your photos don’t come out completely cockeyed. That same level will be your best friend while first learning how to incorporate the Gorillapod into your photographic arsenal as it proves very useful when setting up shots.While this tripod is a great piece of equipment to have in your photography bag, it definitely does take some time to get use to. Adjusting the legs is a simple affair but getting them set just right takes practice. You’ll definitely want to play with the Gorillapod before you take it on a trip or out into the field, otherwise you run the risk of spending more time fidgeting with the tripod than actually taking photos. Using the SLR-Zoom isn’t rocket science by any means but gaining some experience prior to traveling will serve you well, particularly when setting up timed self-shots in unique locations.

Overall, the Gorillapod SLR-Zoom is a very high quality product that any photographer will love. It is sturdy, compact, durable and breaks down to a reasonable size for inclusion in our packs. It also comes with an affordable price tag of just $49.95.

Joby has a full line of Gorillapods available at a variety of prices and sizes. The SLR-Zoom may be overkill for many travelers, but one of the other options may better fit your needs. If you’re in the market for a versatile, high quality tripod to carry on your travels, the Gorillapod may be the perfect solution.

Outside magazine’s inaugural ‘Travel Awards’ winners

travel awardsWith twenty-three categories and every continent up for consideration, the competition is fierce, but today Outside magazine released its picks for its new Outside Travel Awards. The winners include everything from travel companies and locales to cameras, suitcases, hotels, and apps, road-tested by those in the know (you know, those people).

Amongst the chosen is Seattle-based Mountain Madness, a mountain adventure guide service and mountaineering school, for its new Tsum Valley trek in Nepal, named “Best Trip in the Himalayas.” Known in sacred Buddhist texts as the “Hidden Valley of Happiness,” the Tsum Valley lies on the edge of the more visited Manaslu Conservation Area, which opened just three years ago to tourism.

Best travel company Geographic Expeditions (GeoEx) has “consistently taken travelers to the most remote regions of the world, from Everest’s north side to Patagonia’s glaciers to the far reaches of Papua New Guinea. This year its trailblazing new terrain with a 27-day trek to the north face of K2 ($11,450).” Bonus: “the price of every GeoEx trip includes medical assistance and evacuation coverage from Global Rescue and medical-expense insurance through Travel Guard.” Not too shabby.

Also making the list: Myanmar is the “Best New Frontier;” Canon Powershot G-12 makes the “Best Camera;” the “Best New Adventure Lodge” is the Singular, outside of Puerto Natales, Patagonia, Chile; and the “Best Eco-Lodge” is the architectural marvel, The Mashpi in Ecuador.

[Photo credit: Flickr user tarotastic]