[REVIEW-SIGMA 24mm 1.4 DG HSM Art lens]

Price: $980 street price
Simply superb

THE LOW-DOWN: This 24mm f1.4 wide angle lens is for full frame cameras. (On an APS-C camera it will have an effective focal length of 36mm). It is the latest in Sigma’s Art range of premium lenses. As with others in the Art group it has very high quality optics and mechanics. The HSM auto focus mechanism is fast and silent and the manual focus ring is smooth and well damped. When set to AF the manual focus control is still engaged allowing for simultaneous auto focus and fine tuning. Closest focus is 25cm. While the manual focus ring keeps turning there is a focus scale on the barrel showing the focus distance from 25cm to infinity. A lens hood is supplied. For the fastidious there is a Sigma USB dock available as an option for updating firmware and customising the lens.

LIKE: Barrel distortion is barely perceptible, but if you need straight lines then correction in the computer is easy because the distortion is even across the image. Colour, contrast and sharpness are beyond reproach. While there is corner and edge fall-off of both light and sharpness at f1.4, as is common for wide angle lenses, it disappears by f4.


DISLIKE:
This is a very heavy lens. It is not something that we dislike, because it balanced nicely on our Canon 5D MkII, but it could be an issue for anyone trying to reduce weight in their gear bag.

VERDICT:
This lens is simply superb and for any photographer with an interest in landscape or architecture it is unbeatable. Making the product even more irresistible is the price: $1600 cheaper than the Nikon equivalent and $1100 under the Canon competition. And this price difference is not achieved by diminishing the quality of the product.

 

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[ADVENTURES IN APPLAND]

Managing photo files on the computer is not a task for the weak hearted. In no time at all the hard drive is stuffed with pictures and a ruthless clean-out is imperative. And for that you need a good image management application.

An image management app needs to be fast, display decent sized thumbnails and handle instant deletion, moving, batch conversion of format and full screen inspection of images. Neither the Windows nor the Mac operating systems have ideal image managers built in. Photos in the Mac system and Photos (that’s right – the same app name) in Windows 10 do a reasonable job but they are essentially image editors rather than managers.

There are free apps for both Windows and Mac that do the job. Irfanview (Windows only) is the go-to manager for millions of Windows PC users. Its virtues are speed and the ability to display RAW thumbnails when it is configured with Irfanview Plugins/Addons (www.irfanview.com/) We have used this app on our Windows PCs for many years.

Cross-platform apps that we use are Xnview (xnview.com) and Picasa (picasa.com). These are both free and work equally well on Windows and Mac. So there is no reason to spend money to get a versatile photo management app. These three freebies include basic image editing functions that will make them an acceptable substitute for iPhoto, Photo Gallery or Photos for users who can’t be fussed with Photoshop.

But (there is always one) in spite of our satisfaction with the three free apps we have recklessly parted with $22 to buy Lyn (lynapp.com) an elegant super-fast viewer, manager and editor for the Mac. The user interface is customisable and we like the layout with the folder navigation on the left, the editing controls on the right and in between a thumbnail strip across the top and the enlarged image under that.

Lyn opened RAW files from the new Samsung NX500 which no other app will handle at the moment. It also runs videos smoothly. Editing is non-destructive but the functions are restricted.

Lyn is perfect for quickly viewing the contents of a memory card, deleting the unwanted and then opening the keepers in any editing program, such as Photoshop or Lightroom. It automatically creates a list of compatible programs under File/Open with.

Is it worth $22? Well, there is a 15 day free trial of the full program, so try it and see.

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[REVIEW-WD MY PASSPORT WIRELESS]

 

Price: $250 1TB, $300 2TB
Portable backup

THE LOW-DOWN:
This device is a portable hard drive for backing up photos and videos on-the-move. An SD card inserted into the slot can automatically transfer of files to the drive, which is a conventional spinning device. All file types, including RAW, can be loaded onto the Passport and once on the drive the built-in WiFi connects it to a computer, smartphone of padlet. File viewing and management is through the computer/phone/tablet. RAW files only show as icons, not thumbnails. Some essential software is on the drive and must be copied to use it. For instance the WD Quick View, which sets up a one-click connection on a computer, must be retrieved and set up from the My Passport. And the full user manual in pdf is also on the drive and is essential reading – you will never get it to work by relying on the quick setup folder in the box or by intuition.

LIKE: This device provides a massive add-on storage for a phone or padlet which typically have only a few gigabytes of memory. Photos can be mailed or uploaded to various cloud servers direct from the My Passport via the phone/computer or they can be opened in an editing program. Very slick.

DISLIKE: File transfer from SD card to hard drive is slow.

VERDICT: The WD My Passport is a good answer to the question “How do I backup and protect my photos while travelling?” Even if you were to exceed the drive capacity you can still transfer photos to a cloud service and free up space on My Passport. The only caveat is that there seems to be no way of deleting individual photos when using a phone or padlet as the display device, but it can be done if the connection is with a computer.

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[DO IT WITH THE LIGHTS ON]

A reader wrote recently asking if we had changed our mind about the value of the Adobe subscription method of buying software. After all, we did express some scepticism when the company started selling applications by subscription rather than as an outright purchase.

The inquiry came at the time Adobe released Lightroom 6, both as a permanent once-off purchase for $185 and as part of the Adobe CC Photoshop Plan at $9.99 a month. The subscription includes Photoshop and Lightroom and comes with the regular updates to the programs. The subscription wins hands-down, but our one reservation concerns the likelihood of the price suddenly increasing.

One way of future-proofing is to buy a one year subscription prepaid. $120 for a year’s use of Photoshop/Lightroom stands up well against the one-off $185 for Lightroom alone. And for the subscription you get a free installation of Lightroom on mobile devices running Android or iOS. The synchronisation of Lightroom on desktop, padlet and phone is a worthwhile feature.

So, a $120 per year prepaid plan looks like good value. (adobe.com.au)

Lightroom 6 has a few new features that are worth having. One-click high dynamic range processing has been added under Photo/Photomerge. There is no fiddling around with options for realistic or bizarre – the output is photo-realistic and it can be further tweaked either in Lightroom or an external editor, such as Photoshop. Just combine a bracket of images, click on Photomerge and HDR and the job is done. We like it very much.

Also under Photomerge there is now a one-click Panorama option. The operation is as simple and straightforward as for HDR and the result is a seamless panorama. There is an option for auto-cropping to remove the usual ragged edges of the merged picture.

Auto syncing between desktop and mobile devices is not new but it is an impressive function, particularly when the free mobile version of Lightroom is such a good photo editor. (As usual, not for Windows mobile)

The Book, Slideshow and Web modules have all been improved and now provide a number of ways of sharing a collection of photos. The pdf output from Books can be used to print a book or to distribute as a pdf photo album.

If you are apprehensive or sceptical there is a free 30 day trial subscription that will probably get you hooked. You have been warned.

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