Dropbox | Free (or paid) Online Storage and File Sharing

UPDATE 1/12/2011: I have a much more detailed and newer Dropbox review on The Bui Brothers site. Although pretty much all of my recent clients know about Dropbox (because I pretty much force them to use it so they can get their deliverables) I feel as though there are still tons of people I know who do not... and this post is for them. Or perhaps I should say it is for you, reader, if that suits you better.

Dropbox is a file sharing service that's also an online backup service that's also an online gallery/proofing service that's also... well it's pretty much whatever you want it to be.

It works on Mac and Windows (which is perfect since I run Windows 7 on my netbook and Snow Leopard on my MacBook Pro and Leopard on my G5) and has a web interface as well as a desktop component... and they recently just released their extremely useful iPhone app. All of these elements are important in their own way and I use them all. I'll try to sum up how in a short-ish post.

How I Abandoned Mobile Me

Mobile Me is awesome. Mobile Me sucks. As a place to safely store files online, available anywhere... it's great. Upload/download speeds are always great, I have access to files anywhere... and I can even upload files and send out links that will expire in a certain amount of time.

The thing I used most is the gallery feature... their galleries are the BEST for delivering client proofs where you're not trying to get print sales from the photos. They look good, are easy to navigate, and allow people to easily look at large numbers of photos in a variety of ways.

There is also the Find My iPhone feature... cool and sometimes really useful, especially if your phone is stolen.

The rest of the service isn't so great for me. I don't use the email... the syncing is replaced by the free (and so far more reliable and open) Google Sync (computer to computer to iPhone)... the web interface is ALWAYS ridiculously slow... and it costs $99/year for all that greatness.

Enter DropBox

Dropbox logo

DropBox offers 2GB of storage on your account for free. It shows up as a folder in Finder (or Explorer) and you can create subfolders just as any other folder.

Store and Sync

The main feature of Dropbox is the automatic sync of all the files and folders in your dropbox with any other computers which you have dropbox installed. Drop a file in dropbox and in the amount of time it takes to upload to the server then back down to your other computers... it's there. (ok that sentence actually made it sound like a long time, but it's not)

What I use it for, however, is mostly for collaboration and for delivering client files. Every folder in your dropbox has sharing rights... and you can right click (ctrl+click) the folder and choose to share... it will open the web interface and allow you to send invites to whoever you want to share it with. This means when you drop files into the shared folder they will automatically download to the folders of everyone that folder is shared with, and they receive a notification on their screen.

Keep in mind, everything you are currently sharing in your folders AND your clients or colleagues count towards your total usage. You get 2GB for free and can get additional 3GB by referring other users (hint hint, yes that was part of my motivation for this post, 250MB additional for each person you sign up). Or if you need lots of storage you can pay $9.99/mo for 50GB or $19.99/mo for 100GB.

Versions

Another great feature of Dropbox is that it saves each version of each file you upload. So if you are collaborating on a file with someone and editing straight out of the folder... if you make any mistakes you can just go back into history and pull the version you want. These versions are stored for a month! Which means you also have...

Backup

Not only are you able to back up important files (2GB worth or more, depending) but even once you've deleted them from Dropbox, they remain in backup for 30 days. It's like an online Time Machine (the Apple kind, not the HG Wells kind).

iPhone app

The iPhone app for Dropbox was recently released, and is pretty darn awesome. Multiple times I've dropped a huge file in Dropbox but needed to leave right away... and wanted to be able to send a link to the file once it was uploaded. When on the road I was able to check the status and then send a sharing link once it was up. Nice.

You can also view content and mark files as favorites for frequent reference (pricing lists, contracts, etc...), and there's an upload button that allows you to upload photos and videos directly from the iPhone.

Viewing photos is also made super simple from the app... just open a photo and you can easily navigate from photo to photo using the navigation at the bottom of the screen... or by the standard swipe gesture.

Dropbox Review Photo

Send a link to any item via email... and Dropbox automatically creates the link and sets it to expire in a month.

Galleries

If you create folders in your photos folder that comes pre-created in Dropbox and fill them with photos... you get instant galleries that you can share. They galleries aren't quite as cool as Mobile Me galleries... but they are fast and easy to navigate. They work great for proofing and easy image sharing.

Dropbox gallery view

Gallery photo view

Download Dropbox

So... like I said... download Dropbox... and get your friends to join... and your clients... and your mom. Share files with ease.

These are the ways I use Dropbox, do you have any to add?

TiltShift iPhone App First Look | Mini Review

Click to download TiltShift in iTunes

(see update at bottom of post, 11/24/2010)

I heard about this iPhone app called TiltShift this morning (though it's been out for some time now)... and had to try it out for myself. From what I've seen there are a few of them out there... but this one looked to me to be the most interesting one. It's $1.99 on the Apple app store... so you can see my first impressions here before taking the plunge. ;)

Tilt shift movements in photography were originally provided on large-format view cameras... then Nikon introduced a lens for 35mm cameras in the 60's and Canon in the 70's. It was originally used to correct perspective shifts in photography such as in architecture... but most recently tilt shift used much more often for creative effect. When used properly you can make real-life scenes look like miniatures or toys... which is fun.

Unfortunately tilt-shift lenses aren't cheap. Canon's tilt shift lenses are both over $1k and I'm sure Nikon's are around the same. So... people usually resort to Photoshop. You usually can't get the same effect out of your images... but if they are shot perfectly and Photoshopped perfectly... you can get the tilt shift look without having to actually buy the lens (and learn to use it properly).

Enter the iPhone and the billion apps for it. Now you can do tilt shift photography right on your phone... and it actually looks pretty neat. Not perfect, not professional... and certainly not like a real tilt-shift lens. It is, however, very cool for something that can take less than a minute from capture to Tweeting your latest faux tilt shift masterpiece... and all from your beloved iPhone.

Check out the TiltShift app on iTunes. For $1.99 it's pretty darn cool.

These are images I shot today at Disneyland and edited directly in the TiltShift app.

TiltShift iPhone app review

TiltShift iPhone app review

TiltShift iPhone app review

TiltShift iPhone app review

TiltShift iPhone app review

Click to download TiltShift in iTunes

UPDATE

Michael Krause, author of Tiltshift app, emailed me to explain some things and let me know about the recent update!

"To clarify the erratic behavior of the save function and the missing want-half-size-dialog:

The dialog appears only for photos that take a long time to process (more that 20 seconds) for example. This only happens with high-resolution photos and lens blur. What probably happened to you was that you saved a high-resolution photo in half-size and you got the dialog. Later you loaded this saved half-sized photo and saved it again. Because the source was no longer high-resolution it was automatically saved as is without asking for resolution reduction again.

Regarding the Bokeh possibility this is not well documented but the three main points are: 1) Lens blur must be on. 2) Bokeh is best with night time images with isolated light points 3 )The blur level and blooming factor must be high enough that blooming kicks in.

A third issue you mentioned was that the parameters are not reset when loading a new image. You can reset all parameters at once with a tap-and-hold gesture on the button to the left of the slider."

Version 2.1 was released on Oct 21, 2010.

Thanks for the answers and for the new software update, Michael!

Ewa-marine Underwater Housing First Test | Mini Review

Tracie and I took the Ewa-marine underwater housing out for a first test in the swimming pool in my apartment complex. The video above should show you everything you need to know to get started with it... and know if it will work for what you want it to do. We will have more examples of photos and videos in future posts, but this is a quick review to show you all the features and our first use of the bag.

We needed an affordable underwater housing for the Hawaii Fusion Trip, and although I considered purchasing a point-and-shoot underwater camera to accomplish this goal I wanted better quality video and more control over the photos I'd be taking. Shooting underwater will degrade the quality of what you are doing already... first of all because of debris and light-loss... but also because it is mainly blue light that is allowed to travel through water... blocking out the rest of the visible spectrum quickly as you get further from your subject. We wanted to have the highest quality capture possible, so we went with the full housing. The Ewa-marine is actually the most affordable by far, yet it still performs very well within its own limitations.

One of the biggest benefits of the Ewa-marine housing over others, besides the price tag (just $269!), is the fact that you can use it on multiple cameras. Especially if you don't use it much... the housing will likely outlast the camera model you have... and all the hard plastic housings ($1,000 and up) are made with specific buttons to fit each individual camera model. The Ewa-marine is essentially a plastic bag, so as long as your new camera fits in it... you have full use of all the functions.

Pressing the buttons inside the bag proved to be a bit difficult, but with practice it ended up being just slightly slower than usual. Practice definitely improves your performance with this thing... and quickly. Underwater photography is difficult for a host of reasons, which I found out later during a snorkeling trip, but results can be amazing, especially when you have a fantastic video DSLR.

We made a few mistakes our first time out, and there are a few things to note:

  • You need googles if you plan on seeing the screen AT ALL. This might seem obvious... but I totally forgot to buy a pair.
  • Water magnifies everything... so if you have a plan to use a certain focal length, keep in mind that it will be "zoomed in" about 30%.
  • Keep the lens as CLOSE to the front glass of the housing as possible, or you can get reflections in your images of the lettering on the lens. Blacking this out with tape can definitely help.
  • If you have sunscreen on your face and chest... it's going to get on the bag, and will make it really hard to see through it, because it won't wipe off easily.
  • Light bends all over in water... mainly when coming through the surface of it, so direct sunlight will turn into lots of streamy bands of light all over.
  • Focusing isn't easy to do, and isn't easy to verify... but with practice autofocus still does a pretty good job if you can stay still long enough to lock
  • People like to breathe, and breathing causes bubbles, so coach your model in not exhaling while shooting, because bubbles coming out of their nose isn't attractive, unless you're going for that.
  • All-in-all I was extremely pleased with the initial results of the housing, and have a great full shoot to share with you soon!

    Shortly after tweeting about the housing, where I actually mentioned the full name "ewa-marine underwater housing", I got a reply message from a gentleman from Germany (I think) with the Twitter name @ewa_marine. It was a small exchange but very welcome and it shows that the company is looking at what people are doing and saying about their product, which is awesome. He even asked for me to send over a link to examples when I have them. How 'bout that?

    NOTE: in the video I mentioned that I didn't find the manual... it was actually in the front pocket of the case. I forgot to mention that I had found it!

    You can purchase an Ewa-marine housing through the following links, the first is for smaller SLRs (fits Canon Rebel series or Nikon D40 or D90) and the second is for larger bodies (up to the 5DmkII size). If you buy it through this link I get a nice little 4%, and will love you for it.

    Ewa-marine U-A Housing f/ small AF SLR Cameras w/ a built in Flash

    Ewa-Marine Underwater Housing for Large DSLR Bodies like EOS 5DmkII, 7D; Nikon D1, D2X, D300

    This post is part of the Hawaii Fusion Trip 2009.

    This video is brought to you by:

    Smug Mug LogoThe Bui Brothers Logo

    Special thanks to Know How Cafe for providing accommodations and tech for the trip.

10 Reasons to Upgrade to Snow Leopard | Review

Snow Leopard is cool. Like snow. After using Snow Leopard for less than a night... these are the reasons I am actually happy to have spent a whopping $29 on the upgrade.

  1. It's friggin' $29! (or $25 if you buy HERE)
  2. Space savings - While a 6GB or so savings doesn't SEEM like a lot... it can make a big difference on a laptop, especially a laptop used for photo and video editing. I have a 320GB drive and with all of the apps and support files I have I average only 80GB free space when I'm keeping it CLEAN. I regularly run out of space when working on projects, but now I'll have 6GB more!
  3. Quicktime - Wow. It LOOKS cool. And it plays with no borders. There is no longer a Quicktime Pro. This is cool for most people. There is a new share menu and you have your standard iTunes-Mobile Me-YouTube options... but you are limited to them and the save for web (which is great for quick iPhone exports). The downside is that there are no professional output options... luckily during the upgrade you can choose to keep Quicktime 7 for that stuff.
  4. Screen Recording - Yeah this is another Quicktime feature but it's AWESOME and thus deserves its own place on the list. You can do screen recording now, so making simple tutorials, etc is a lot easier. I use Screen Flow for the more advanced stuff but sometimes I just want to do a quick capture, and now I can use Quicktime instead of iShowU.
  5. Wake up FASTER! - Although I had little to complain about Leopard's wakeup time... Snow Leopard is twice as fast. I pretty much never shut down my laptop, I just close the lid and open it to use... sometimes to use quickly... so this is great for me. Shut down time is also faster, though I don't really care.
  6. iChat in Hi-Res - I use iChat for lots of things... not usually chat. I share smaller files, talk to people via video chat, and preview documents and videos to clients and colleagues. This is a big upgrade for me because I was previously limited to crappy video quality when video chatting or especially when sharing videos and images through iChat Theater. Now it's 640x360, and that's pretty sweet.
  7. Finder - Yup, it's faster. Not so blazingly fast that I was as wowed as when I first used the iPhone 3GS after the sluggish-in-comparison 3G... but you can tell it's a little more zippy. You can also customize your Spotlight searches... which is something I've wanted for a long time... and you can undelete items straight back into the folder they came from... instead of having to figure it out and drag it back.
  8. Stacks - One thing I used to hate about stacks from the dock was that it would only show so many files... then you had to click the arrow to see more, and it would just open a new Finder window. It sucked once you had lots of files in your Downloads folder, and weren't looking for something recent. Now you can scroll right in the stack!
  9. Expose - I use active corners on desktop and all the wonderful multi-touch features of the pad on my MacBook Pro, but it's nice to have new options... and now by clicking and holding the dock icon for an app you can see just the application's windows in Expose. Small but cool feature.
  10. Faster Time Machine - Time Machine is cool, and Time Machine is slow. While a REAL upgrade would be the ability to actually travel through time with Time Machine... Snow Leopard supposedly runs 80% faster (I haven't timed it). That's cool, cuz until they build a real time machine... time is pretty short.
  11. Automatic printer driver downloads - Ok so this is number 11, because I've already got everything written for 10 but Lan just showed me something cool, and everyone likes a freebie, right? When you install you can choose to install NO printer drivers, which saves almost a GB, then when you connect to a printer the drivers will automatically be pulled for you. This ain't Windows!

While I've heard a few reasons NOT to upgrade just yet due to incompatibilities with software by some 3rd party companies who haven't updated yet... as long as you're not using any of those you should cough up the cost of a basic lunch for two and upgrade to get your mostly-small-but-much-appreciated new features.

EDIT: There is a wiki set up with a compatibility/incompatibility list of apps for use with Snow Leopard here: Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Compatibility List.

NOTE: If you are using a 3rd party hard drive or a replacement drive you may need to update your partition map scheme before you can install Snow Leopard. (you'll know if you get an error saying ""HD" can't be used because it doesn't use the GUID Partition Table scheme") If you have your original Apple-installed drive on an Intel Mac you will be fine, those come with a GUID partition table. If not then you'll need to reformat your drive, which means you need to back everything up first, format your drive, then install. Or do what Lan did and back everything up using Carbon Copy Cloner, reformat the main drive and change to GUID partition scheme, then restore your carbon copy clone, and upgrade to Snow Leopard normally. Takes a few hours but is clean and fairly simple.

If you buy Snow Leopard on Amazon by clicking the little banner below, you'll save $4 and pay only $25 AND I'll get like $2.23, which will make me much happier than you'd think $2.23 would.

Contax G2 Review

contaxg2 I bought my Contax G2 after selling off my entire Canon EOS 1v system, opting to go for a smaller and lighter kit that would allow me to pursue a more candid style of photography. I kept it for about 4 months, then let it all go at a loss. I do miss the camera, but had to sell it for various reasons. Would I ever buy another one given the chance? Probably, but it is definitely not high on my list of photographic desires.

Build :

From the moment I first handled the G2 I knew I liked it. It is a solidly built camera, with good ergonomics, and a decent heft to it. The raised plastic in the back for the thumb rest fits my hand perfectly, and the smooth surface of the titanium body is a joy to feel. The dials and switches work smoothly, clicking into place with an amazingly precise feel. All in all you get a good feeling of craftsmanship and accuracy when holding this camera.

Noise :

The noise is a problem for me. At first it didn't seem so bad. I was an SLR user before the G2 so it seemed quiet in comparison. I had, however, bought it for more discreet candid shooting, and though the size and weight are just fine, the noise is a bit too much. When focusing, the lens makes a zipping noise back and forth, quite a departure from my USM lenses. It parks itself at infinity when not focused, which is the subject of many complaints from users, but I think that it's necessary due to the design of the focusing system, which although automatic, is still rangefinder based (it's not through the lens). Then there is the shutter and motor wind, which although at first I thought sounded very neat (as in quick and precise), became quite a nuisance in quiet situations. So, when I would try to take a quick shot of a candid moment, I usually ruined it with the initial sound of the focusing, which distracted my subject. If that didn't get them, then the sound of the shutter and film advance did, so any subsequent shots were out of the question. This was actually one of the 2 main reasons I unloaded the kit.

Viewfinder :

At first the viewfinder didn't seem all that small to me. Yes, it's not nearly as large or bright as my 1v's was, but I could still see clearly through it, and the automatically cropping frames were nice. My opinion of course changed after I looked through the viewfinder of a Bessa R, which was the first manual rangefinder I have ever handled. The viewfinder shows a focusing scale, which is helpful in determining whether or not the focus is WAY off, but not for exact measurements (which are displayed in a small window on the top of the camera). It also shows the shutter speed and if you are in manual exposure mode, it has 2 arrows indicating over, under or correct exposure. There are also indicators for exposure compensation and flash. All in all a decent display of information, but I was used to the 1v, and would have really liked to see the selected aperture too.

Functions :

All of the cameras controls and dials seem well laid out to me. I never had to search for anything, the layout was very intuitive. The focus lock button on the back is easy to use, and with a little practice, you can use the focus lock button to select the focus, then twist your thumb with a little help from your forefinger and select manual focus mode, which will automatically store the point of focus you had selected. The only gripe I had with any of the controls was the drive selector, it would always get turned when being put in or taken out of my Crumpler bag, causing me much frustration when I started making double exposures during the next use.

Focusing :

I never had all the problems that others report with the focusing of the G2. Perhaps it is due to my experience with autofocus SLRs, but I found it to be quite accurate and quick, and had very few focusing mishaps, that were usually the result of me forgetting to take the camera off of manual focus.

Use :

In use, the camera really excelled in some areas. Thanks to the autofocus you can shoot without looking through the viewfinder, and with the 21mm Biogon this was an easy way to shoot candids on the street. I soon tired of the Lomo-esque "shoot and pray" style of photography, though, and decided that looking through the viewfinder was the way to go if you want decent compositions. For those occasions when you don't have the luxury of being able to compose with the viewfinder, the autofocus system is invaluable. Carrying the camera body, TLA200 flash, 21mm, 45mm and 90mm in a Domke F803 bag was great. The intire setup was small and light, and changing lenses is as fast as with any SLR, except that you need to get used to the fact that only part of the lens rotates as you bayonet the lens to the camera, part of it stays still. There was still enough room in my bag for a Bessa-L w/ 15mm for those rare times when 21mm didn't cut it.

Image quality :

What can I say that hasn't been said a thousand times before by those much more qualified than myself? Nothing. The images I got from this camera were superb. Crisp, sharp and well defined. The lenses are much better than me and my poor technique, so I never even got to see their full potential.

Contax Service :

This was the second of 2 reasons why I got rid of my G2. Shortly after I bought my used G2 system, I found that the 90mm had a problem. When shooting with the metal hood on and in portrait orientation, the lens and entire camera would vibrate and make this horrendous noise every time it was focused. At first I though the gears were somehow grinding, but after careful inspection and a bit of patience, I figured out the problem. The inner lens barrel had somehow become a little loose, and in portrait orientation would hang downwards just a little bit, and a bit more with the heavy hood on. It hung so low that it would actually touch the outer barrel, and as the lens moved back and forth and rubbed against itself it would vibrate. I was concerned about this and I sent out a few emails on some Contax G mailing lists, and found there there were a few others out there with the same problem, they had all jsut decided to live with it. I wasn't prepared to take the same pacifist route and instead sent the lens to Contax with a description of the problem, only to receive it back 6 weeks later with a note saying "No problem found". I was quite upset at this response, and found that I didn't feel confident with the camera after that. Although it is quite likely that my experience with Contax service was a rare one, it nevertheless left a bad impression on me that I have yet to shake.

Conclusion :

So, my judgement is that this camera is great for certain types of shooting. I think it makes a good street photography camera, and would make a great vacation camera, due to its size, easy of use and the great quality of its lenses. Unfortunately, if you want to be more discreet, especially when noise is a factor, you may want to do what I did and consider the Leica M6, or even a Konica Hexar, which has a reportedly amazing little 35mm f/2 lens, and is supposed to be even quieter than a Leica M. Although a great little camera, the G2 was just not for me.

Lomo LC-A Kompakt Automat Review

lomo One day while browsing the internet for photo exhibits or something, I came across lomo.com. It was a lot less sophisticated back then, and focused on the Lomographic Rules of Photography (or something like that) which I found to be very interesting. I fell for the hype, paid too much for the camera, but enjoyed it nonetheless. I recommend that everyone have at least a brief flirtation with a Lomo LC-A, and though I don't see it as much of a long term photographic tool, many would disagree.

The Lomo LC-A can be bought new for $150 from Freestyle Camera or $180 (new higher price!) through the Lomographic Society. The Lomographic Society (from here on "The LS") bought exclusive distribution rights to this camera, so they can charge anything they want, and they do. The best place to buy this camera is on eBay, but read my eBay article before you rush over and Buy It Now from a scam seller... you've been warned. You shouldn't pay more than $95 for a New In Box or $65 for a mint camera, no box.

Build :

It's actually a very solidly built camera for its price (ie. the eBay price). It is mostly metal, with a rugged finish, which is very grippable, and fully covered lens and viewfinder (when not in use). You slide a switch on the front of the camera, and the metal shields move away from the lens and viewfinder, ready to use. I had dropped mine a few times with no adverse effects.

Noise :

The shutter is rather quiet, not subtle and muffled like a Leica M, but more of a quick snap. The manual winder resembles those of disposable cameras (the spoked wheel you rotate with your thumb) and has about the same zip noise to it. Focusing is manual, so it doesn't make a sound.

Viewfinder :

Well, you almost can't see through it. It's tiny and dim. The LS, however, says that you don't need it anyway, and that you should shoot from the hip. It does have a little focus indicator, which is mostly useless, and 2 red lights. One that comes on to let you know the battery is still good, and one that comes on when the shutter speed is slower than 1/30th sec.

Exposure :

Most people just put the camera in A mode, which is Priority. In fact, the LS says this about the other exposure settings: "For the numbers above "A" - forget about them!" The other numbers are actually manual apeture settings in full stops from 2.8 to 16. When you select these, the shutter speed is automatically set at 1/60th sec, for manual flash photography. In practice the P mode works just fine, and shutter speeds go from 1/500th to a full 30 seconds. Yes, that's a long ass exposure for such a simple camera. By the way, you also manually select the film ISO speed with a really difficult to use selector dial, it goes from 50 to 400 in full stops.

Focusing :

Focusing is done manually with a little lever (no focus ring here!), with a type of scale focusing known as guesstimating. There are four click stopped focus distances, 0.8m, 1.5m, 3m, and infinity. Just try and guesstimate the distance of your subject, kinda move the lever until you think you've got it right, and shoot! Even with the depth of field you get with the fairly wide 32mm lens you still will shoot mostly out of focus, unless you just shoot landscapes at infinity, but then why use a Lomo?

Image quality :

Horrible. That's supposed to be part of the appeal though. With the long shutter speeds you get with the ISO 100 film they recommend (which is crap junk garbage film) you get very saturated colors and so much motion blur you can't even tell that it's also out of focus, but even tripod mounted shots have no clarity. The lens also vignettes like you have never seen. This is also part of the appeal of the camera, as The LS states on their website:

"...produces an awesome effect called "Vignetting." Look closely - you'll notice that the corners of your Lomographs are slightly darker and a little softer, in contrast to the lighter and sharper center. This tunnel effect yields a clear and vivid subject, with the corners acting as a natural "frame," directing your attention to the center. You see, lomographs simply have more content!"

Conclusion :

I think everyone should read the 10 rules of Lomography, try out the camera, and move on. It does get you to think outside of the box for a bit, even if the website is cheesy and rather condescending (it is a hell of a marketing scheme though, because it works!) I'm glad I owned one for a while, but I don't think I took a single decent image with the camera. It was fun trying to "shoot from the hip" though, and I have lots of butt shots and lots of shots of absolutely nothing. Don't buy from lomo.com or Freestyle though, get it on eBay from a reputable but cheap seller, and then you can resell it for near what you paid for it when the novelty wears off.