Posts in Category: review

Suffolk Restaurants – The Round House Restaurant

Suffolk Restaurants – The Round House Restaurant: http://www.allenby.co.uk/index.html

Found at the side of the A12 on Saturday quite by accident whilst camping near the Suffolk coast with friends, where I had an excellent lunch, was impressed with the tone of the menu and the attitude of the staff and the only possible point to note is that the dishes are described in almost too plain a fashion (but taste absolutely amazing).

I had the chicken and ham in a mushroom sauce (not on the current menu), but I may as well describe London has a large city with a fair bit of traffic and red busses. Accurate, but not really conveying much feeling. My dessert (chocolate rum truffle with white chocolate sauce) was another great dish: the sauce was beautifully vanilla flavoured, and the truffle wasn’t sickly sweet.

I don’t usually bother rating restaurants or food, but this is the first time that the food, staff, attitude and prices (two courses and coffee for £14.50) all met and got on brilliantly.

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photoSIG – review

photoSIG: http://www.photosig.com/go/main

I’m quite behind the times for many things, and actively critiquing photographs (as well as having others rate mine) is something I’ve been meaning to get around to for the last couple of years. There are lots of places to do this on-line and it’s very tempting to dive into the first new site that offers such features in order to have your images up when there are few to comapre it to, and few harsh reviews are written in order to ensure the site stays healthy.

This isn’t helpful to me, though as without genuine well reasoned critiscism my images will never improve. The biggest problem with such sites is how to keep the reviews flowing and the junk down without having to have three times as many moderators as members: something I experienced first hand when running a home-brew music sharing site. The fact that photoSIG appear to have cracked at least part of this problem made me sign up: unless you pay money it’s not possible to comment or upload any images immediately, but you can have an account for free that allows you to review the pictures of other members.

Once you have critiqued enough images, you get the chance to upload your own, so what stops inane reviews being used to bump up the level ? A rather nifty feature where the critique is only the first step on the ladder: each entry is by itself useless, and has to be rated by another member as a valid comment on the image in order to gain you credibility. Once you have written enough reviews and also had those comments rated by others you have 72 hours to use your points to upload images: this helps to keep the system fresh and uncluttered as well as ensuring that the reviews keep flowing.

Does it work ? Well, I’m not sure: there’s only one of my images up there yet as I’m still gaining points. What I am impressed about is the level of the comments I’ve seen so far: some are rather terse, but they tend to loose out on the ratings of others, and the highly prized ones do indeed add to the learning process.

I also wish I’d put up a better picture.

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Tesco DVD Rental – review

Tesco DVD Rentals – the easiest way to rent DVDs: http://www.tescodvdrental.com/welcome/home.html

This (like most of Tesco‘s offerings) is a rebranded service operated by a 3rd party – in this case Video Island who also operate Screen Select: both sites boast a library of over 37,500 titles, with the only difference being the price. At the most basic level, Tesco charge £7.97 per month for a single disc at a time although if you buy yourself a gift certificate it looks possible to get 12 months for the price of 10, albeit tying yourself to paying that amount rather than being able to cancel at any time.

So far the service has behaved exactly as advertised with postage taking one working day, and the turnaround being sameday – I can’t expect this to hold up over busy postal periods but it does show that their system is working very nicely. Until I have a dispute or another problem I can’t comment on the full service, but given that this is around the same monthly rental as the totally pointless TopUp TV[1] it gives far better value for money, and access to more content – e.g: 24 series 3 and 4 are available without having to wait for wrangles over the UK terrestrial rights to be concluded.

When browsing a page of thumbnails, clicking the Rent button will not only add the title to your selection but also removes the disc from the main list: a very nice touch. Another neat option is the ability to rent an entire TV series in episode order, but this does have one drawback: when the next disc is not available you will receive a totally different item from your list of titles, which is nice because there is something else to watch, and not-so-nice as it does interrupt the flow a little. Not that I can complain too much, as just the single disc of Stargate: Atlantis has put us 4 weeks ahead of the terrestrial broadcast, plus we got to watch it with DD 5.1 sound and no adverts…

One very useful feature is the ability to reserve films way in advance of their release: I was able to add Corpse Bride to my list even though it’s not hit UK cinema’s yet. Oh, and that film also has one of the coolest bits of trivia I’ve seen yet (the DSLR one).

[1] It wouldn’t be pointless if they let me choose from the full set of channels at £7.99, or pick and choose as many as I want at £1 per channel per month.

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Lowepro SlingShot 200 AW – review

Lowepro – SlingShot 200 AW: http://www.lowepro.com/Products/Sling_Bags/All_Weather_Cover/SlingShot_200_AW.aspx

Update 05feb07: I’ve just replaced my 200AW with the Tamrac Adventure 9, and have a review of that bag as a comparison to this bag

I wanted two things above all others for my replacement camera bag:

  1. to look anonymous
  2. to be quick to access

The anonymity is purely because I don’t want to advertise how attractive the contents of the bag are to a casual snatcher, but the quick access is because I want to take the camera out with me and the kids, and I want to be able to leave it in the bag until it’s appropriate: anyone who’s tried to help a toddler climb a slide whilst having an SLR swinging around their neck will know what I’m on about, and it’s not simply a case of choosing between trying to grab the camera or child should they fall (that’s an easy choice) but more about not striking the child around the side of the head with the camera whilst bending over them.

The main advantage of the Lowepro is that it’s a normal rucksack/backpack for the most part, except that there is only a single main strap which passes diagonally from left to right across the chest. To access the camera, simply pull on the bottom right of the strap and lift your left arm and the whole bag slides around and down in front, exposing the otherwise odd looking side panel zip. Your SLR (with telephoto attached) can then be pulled out and you can start shooting. The bag doesn’t need to be moved back (unless you want to), and it’s perfectly possible to kneel in this position with the bag in front and shoot naturally. Why ? This is usually where I end up when trying to take pictures of the kids playing. There are also a couple of clips to prevent the whole 180 degree opening pocket from becoming unzipped in this position, which is great for peace of mind.

Other features which truly show that the bag was designed by a digital camera user are the digital card pocket, which is in the roof of the flap which opens to access the camera and is velcro sealed and contains little pockets that take memory card plastic cases perfectly. The soft cloth tucked into the back of the main opening unfolds to lay across the LCD on the back of the camera to help protect it from zip damage, and which is also soft enough to givethe screen a quick wipe. The All Weather covering (which gives the bag the AW suffix) was pretty hard for me to find at first and I thought it hadn’t been included in the shipping bag, but at the bottom rear of the bag there is a very innocuous velcro seal, which opens up into a small pocket that the cover lives in. The cover itself unfurls like a Pak-a-mac to cover the entire bag (and all zips) from direct contact with the elements, and is stitched in at the base so there’s no chance of forgetting it when it’s most needed.

The top of the bag as a triangular pocket with its own zip and this looks to be the ideal size for a small first aid kit, a couple of small bags of crisps, a chewy bar or two and a small bottle of water. Essential supplies when out with young accidents children, although I might cut down on the food and add in some baby wipes instead. For ‘grown-up’ shooting (especially on early mornings), it’d be possible to get a survival bag in there to make lying down on wet ground no problem at all.

There are also Sliplock mouting points in three places, but as I’ve not had those before I can’t comment on their placement. An extra stability strap is also present which ought to keep the pack in place even when scrambling up a rocky outcrop, and a front pocket which I must admit to having no immediate plans for. All of the internal dividers are attached by velcro and can be shuffled around to suit the load: by default the bag comes configured for an SLR with standard lens, space for one more lens below that, and two lenses on each size. This would be for average size 50mm lenses with average diameter filters (52/58mm) – if you have telephoto lenses or very wide filters then it would be best to check things out in advance (I can measure the pockets on each side without the dividers in place if required).

I bought mine from The Digital Camera Company which had the best UK price and managed to get it to me the very next day, even on the cheapest delivery option.

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Canon Digital Photo Professional

Digital Photo Professional: http://www.photoworkshop.com/canon/dpp/

Until tonight I hadn’t paid much attention to this application as I’d mainly been sulking at the lack of EOS 350D support in iPhoto. I’m still not sure why I looked at it again but it’s actually a very well thought out program with features that are totally complimentary to Photoshop Elements and Adobe Camera Raw which had been my previous point of reference.

I prefer to shoot in RAW mode and Adobe RGB colour space when at all possible: ACR does a good job even on the cheap PSE3 in terms of allowing images to be post-processed to avoid burnout, and over 90% of the images I’ve shot so far have worked fine with ACR3 set to Automatic. I have been a little worried about this though, as I’m at the mercy of what ACR thinks Auto ought to be, and that can change with the version. I can’t be certain that ACR7 would think the same, and there’s no easy way to note the changes applied to the RAW file to generate the starting PSD and to be fair, there is no easy way to record the settings in manual mode either.

This is where DPP really shines: if you can stick the too-short video tutorials (written with so much marketing speak and narrated soooo sloooowly watching them feels like my brain is being scooped out with a spoon) there’s some really good information in there. Any edits carried out do not alter the RAW file: each edit (and yes, this appears to include both cropping (called Trim) and cloning (called Stamp) as well as all the usual colour, contrast and curves tweaks is thrown into a Recipe which is attached to the RAW file and can also be applied in bulk to any other image. A huge plus point for Elements users is that it’s now possible to not only use Curves (a PS CS/CS2 only feature) but to use them in 16-bit colour space and then batch apply them (again, a PS CS/CS2 only feature) and it also appears from the demo that multiple applications of a recipe are handled intelligently and do not multiply the effect.

The Curves palette also has an interesting control system: I’m used to balancing levels with a White, Grey and Black point system in PSE3, but DPP opts for a four edge system, where Black is on the left, White is on the right, and there is no direct Grey equivalent. The bottom and top edges can be pulled in to restrict the depth (and height) of the values, and choosing the four curve “Luminance R, G, B” option in the Preferences and dragging the top edge too far down creates some stunning special effects that are reminiscent of negative Fill Light in Sigma‘s Photo Pro software, although DPP takes the concept of a single custom X3F one step further and allows individual recipes to be saved as standalone files, whilst giving an iconic representation of the current alterations applied to a RAW file in the thumbnail view and attaching those settings to the CR2 file (just as the X3F in SPP).

I’ve yet to try some stock RAW conversion tests to see how well DPP fares against ACR (and dcraw just for completeness) but unless it manages to be very bad I think I’ll stick with DPP for a while, and keep my changes inside the RAW file.

Edit: from comments on an earlier version it looks like PSE3 would still be the best bet for sharpening, and (of course) anything that involves masking or multiple RAW ‘exposures’ to bring back images with a large dynamic range.

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Shure E2c: mini-review

A couple of years ago I bought a pair of Panasonic active noise cancelling headphones from Heathow duty free, and after using them on a transatlantic flight my only regret was that I’d made two trips prior to purchasing them. They were cheap (£55) compared to the $300 Bose ones advertised on a previous flight and so I thought they couldn’t possibly be any good: I still can’t compare them to the Bose as I’ve never had the chance to listen to a pair, but they dropped virtually all of the bass rumble of the aircraft and lead to me actually being able to hear the in-flight movies for the first time. An unexpected side effect was that they didn’t mask much treble at all, so I could still mostly hear the flight attendants (and so didn’t miss any meals). Unfortunately they are bulky and require a AAA battery to operate but because of that treble leakage they’re not great for use at home when I want to block out the TV, and when cancelling is on the bass of the music also suffers somewhat.

The Shure E2c‘s are different in concept and are basically earplugs that can make a noise. I ordered mine from iPodWorld at around 10pm on Thursday night for £59 with £3.99 for 1st class recorded delivery and a full, sealed retail blister pack turned up on Saturday morning in a nice sized jiffy bag. Excellent.

So far I’ve only tried the foam adaptors as I read that they are the easiest to fit correctly for novices and only listened to 192kbps MP3 files (ripped from my own CD’s with iTunes) on Nicci‘s iPod Shuffle. I’ve not noticed any discomfort, nor have I found them to be lacking in bass which seem to be the major complaints against them: The bass will disappoint if you’re used to the sound from ‘walkman optimised’ headphones as it isn’t large and intrusive, but because of the lack of background noise it doesn’t need to be boosted to be heard, original balance is preserved and there is no boom to the bass to mask out other more subtle sounds.

When no music is playing it is possible to make out sounds from the real world as the isolation isn’t as great as pure foam earplugs (earplugs don’t have a hole in the centre) but as soon as any music starts the relative volumes mean that everything apart from the music simply vanishes. The sound response is one of the most linear that I’ve heard, certainly at this low price point: The Chemical Brothers‘s Under the Influence has a great diving bass that sets my sub (and occasionally pictures) rumbling but rather than being a note that drops off in volume as it falls it retains it’s relative place in the mix. The Scribes narration in Philip Glass‘s Ahknaten really stands out, with every vocal nuance apparent. The stereo image is also quite remarkable when the sound is just in one channel as the lack of any noise at all in the other ear is most unusual; I hadn’t realised until now the amount of subtle ambient noise that still intruded into even the most engaging track.

The main drawbacks so far: I’m going to have to listen to my original CD’s to decide if 192kbps MP3 is now too low a quality setting for these headphones, which could be expensive in both time and disc space. The other is a much more immediate one: it’s not possible to eat a digestive biscuit whilst listening to music as it sounds as though half a ton of gravel is being dumped right next to my head. Still, that might save some money on snacks…

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