The Best Star Trackers

Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer

Put a camera on a tripod and take a picture of the night sky. If the shutter speed is too long the stars begin to streak due to the rotation of the earth. A star tracker compensates for that rotation. A quality star tracker will extend your shutter speeds from seconds to several minutes so you can capture more detail in your night sky photos. A star tracker is the best way to do long exposures of the night sky without going to the time, trouble, learning curve, and high dollar expense of doing guided photography with a telescope.

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“How To” Series: Astrophotography with the iOptron SkyTracker

Camera and telephoto lens mounted on an iOptron Sky Tracker and iOptron ball head.

Camera and 70-200 telephoto lens mounted on an iOptron SkyTracker and iOptron ball head.

You would love to take beautiful, long exposures of the night sky, but even with a 24mm wide angle lens the stars start to streak with exposures longer than 20 seconds. And with a 300mm lens the stars start to steak after just 2 seconds. Not that long ago it would cost you well over $1,000 to buy the equipment that would follow the stars and allow you to take longer exposures.

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Satellite Communicators: The GPS Messaging Devices That Can Save Your Life

The Garmin inReach Explorer+ with built in text messaging.

You need help. You can barely move. You are far enough from the trail that no one can hear your voice. You have no cell phone signal. What do you do?

Every now and then you hear tragic stories about people who lose their lives simply because they didn’t have a cell phone signal and couldn’t call for help in an unexpected emergency. A $260 – $340 satellite communicator would have saved their lives.

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The Best Insurance for Your Photo Gear (and Photography Business)

Granite Ledges and Otter Cliff, Acadia National Park, Maine

Your camera falls down a mountainside or off a cliff. An unexpected rogue wave drenches your valuable photo gear in salt water. Your photo backpack is stolen from your home, motel room, or trunk of your car. To add insult to injury, you learn your homeowner’s insurance will not replace the value of your damaged or stolen gear.

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The Best Film and Flatbed Scanners

Plustek Film Scanner, Epson Flatbed Scanner

If you have precious slides, negatives, or prints that you want to scan, you have come to the right place. Choose wisely from the scanners that are available or you could get burned. A scanner that might be just fine for one person will be totally unsuitable for the next person. When it comes to scanners you need to know what you are getting and, just as importantly, what you aren’t getting. That is what this article is all about.

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Buying a Red Headlamp for Night Photography: The Essential Feature

Photographers with red headlamps. Field Trip, Sprague Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

A red headlamp is an essential tool for night photography. Before you rush out and buy one, make sure it has the most essential feature (other than the red LED). Some inexpensive headlamps have this feature and some very expensive ones don’t, so cost is not the issue.

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Putting Together a “Studio in a Backpack”

Portable Studio in a Backpack

Portable “studio in a backpack” set up and ready to go.

If I am visiting family and friends and traveling by car, I often bring my “studio in a backpack”. I never know when I might be asked to do some portraits and having some studio gear along helps create better images (especially when natural light is not a very good option). If you want to do portraits on the road (or even at home), these items are very useful. You can order these items from Amazon via the link at the end of this article.

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Radio Controlled Speedlites: Yongnuo YN600EX-RT vs Canon 600EX-RT

Yongnuo 600 EX-RT Speedlite and Yonghuo YN-E3-RT Transmitter.

Yongnuo 600EX-RT Speedlite and Yongnuo YN-E3-RT Transmitter. Click to see a larger version.

Should you spend $499 on a Canon 600EX-RT speedlite, or $138 on Yongnuo’s nearly identical clone, the YN600EX-RT? And what about the radio transmitters? Canon’s is $285 and the Yongnuo copy is $95. So you can buy three Yongnuo speedlites plus the radio transmitter ($509) for a few dollars more than the price of one Canon speedlite. The price advantage is clear, but what about quality, reliability, and service issues?

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“How To” Series: Off-Camera Flash

Margarita

Margarita, Studio Portrait with Off-Camera Flash

Twelve articles (links below) to get you started with off-camera flash. The equipment you will need and how to use it.

Getting your flash off the camera opens up a whole new world of photographic possibilities. And the really good news: the equipment is way less expensive than it used to be. If you are ready to get started, I just finished writing (or re-writing) a series of articles on off-camera flash that covers the equipment you will need and shows you how to use it.

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A High Quality, Compact RØDE VideoMic for Your DSLR and Smartphone

RØDE VideoMicro in use at Acadia National Park.

Let’s face it. While many recent DLSRs, ILCs and smartphones can give you excellent visual quality in the videos, the sound quality of the built in microphone leaves a lot to be desired. For a modest amount of money you can bring the sound quality up to par with the visual quality. That is why video mic sales have exploded.

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Tripod Head Recommendations: Some of the Best of the Best

Two ball heads and two 3-way heads.

A good tripod head will save you lots of frustration. For still photography I recommend two types of tripod heads. If you do a little of everything you will want a quality ball head for the quick and easy aiming of the camera. If you only do landscape or architectural photography and you want precise separate controls in each axis of motion, you will want a 3-way head.

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The Best Closeup Photography Equipment

Forget-Me-Nots, Thorne-Swift Nature Preserve, Michigan

Forget-Me-Nots, Thorne-Swift Nature Preserve, Michigan

There are several ways to do closeup photography. Closeup filters, extension tubes, and macro lenses are the most commonly used options. The best gear for you depends on your preferences, how you want to work, the subjects you are after, how much stuff you want to carry, and how much you want to spend. I cover your best options.

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Get Sharper Images By Using The Best Lens Calibration Tools

Lens Calibration Tools

Lens Calibration Tools

A lot of photographers have discovered their almost sharp lens was actually a very sharp lens once they tweaked the micro-adjustment settings. You will get sharper images if you adjust the settings for your specific camera and lens combinations. You do this using the micro-adjustment settings in the camera menu along with a lens calibration tool which you can buy or make yourself.

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The Chinese Lens Rip Off Series – Overpriced, Low Quality Camera Phone Lenses

The ads started showing up on FaceBook all the time. They talk about wonderful lenses that will turn your smart phone into a camera that is better than a DSLR costing thousands of dollars. They brag about German engineering, a NASA optical formula, or the testing that proves their lenses are better than expensive lenses from Nikon, Zeiss, Leica, or Canon. The names of the companies change on a regular basis, but the scam is the same. Sad to say, a lot of people actually fall for this nonsense.

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GoPro: Amazing, Small, Inexpensive, HD Video Cameras

GoPro Hero9 Black

Looking for a small, mountable, “ideal for sports and action”, inexpensive, high definition video and still camera with a waterproof housing and image quality that Lucasfilm (the Star Wars people) calls “amazing”? This camera will go anywhere and mount just about anywhere. Prices range from $198 to  $399 (which is a lot less than your typical DSLR with HiDef video).

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Inexpensive Gifts (Starting at $8) for Photographers

Flash adapter and umbrella for an shoe-mount electronic flash.

Flash adapter and umbrella for a shoe-mount electronic flash.

There are a lot of practical and inexpensive (more or less) gifts for photographers. Here is a nice list of items starting at $8. To make it easy to track them down, these items are individuality linked plus most of these items can be found in the Misc Goodies section of my photography store which has direct links to Amazon.com. Prices are current as of the date of this post, but prices do fluctuate. Some items can be temporarily unavailable. These items are not listed in order of price.

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Camera Choices: Using Full Size Test Images from DPReview.com

Panasonic Lumix ZX20 (left) vs Canon SX260 HS (right)

I was comparing the Canon PowerShot SX280 HS with other cameras with similar features (shirt pocket size, 20x zoom range) like the Panasonic Lumix ZS30. There weren’t full reviews of either camera so I went back to reviews of the Canon SX260 HS and the Panasonic ZS20, assuming the current cameras would be somewhat better than the older models and that both would have the pedigree traits of their predecessors (which is often but not always the case for a camera’s family tree).

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