The Cecilia Mercator & Tharp - Camera Bag Review

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INTRODUCTION

Over the past 6 or 7 years, I’ve had the privilege of testing, reviewing, and owning way more camera bags than I should. The equipment room in my studio at one point looked more like I imagine a Kardashian bag closet would look rather than a photographer’s gear room. I actually started selling off some of the ones that I either didn’t use anymore or have found others over time that I simply like better. It’s not so much that I have a thing for camera bags, it’s more of a problem that I have with saying no when companies reach out and ask if I want to test out and review their new products. Good companies, like Cecilia, that I know make quality products.

 
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A bit of a backstory, I was initially introduced to the Cecilia product line through a photographer friend before they even had any bag designs completed. In fact, I believe they had just started designing a few concept ideas but nothing more than that. I did some research on the company and then reached out to the owner to introduce myself and ask if they would be willing to send me a few products to test and review. You can click HERE to read more about the products I tested and what I thought. If not, let’s just say I was more than impressed. Not only with the Alpaca Wool camera straps that had been their original product that caught my eye, but also a few of the others that I normally would have passed on. Products that both my wife and I are still using today.

I spoke to the owner and founder, Michael Fleisch, at the time and he had mentioned a few camera bag concepts he was currently working on. When he explained the concept and what he had in mind I had just started using backpacks again, something I had gotten away from for years. Hearing that a backpack and messenger bag were in the works I was really hoping to hear back from him once he had the bags ready to go. Well, luckily I did, and here we are.

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REVIEW PROCESS

So, as I started putting this review together, it dawned on me that I really should explain my process for bag reviews. If you were to go through all my gear reviews, where I also throw bag reviews, you won’t find me trashing any bags or writing negative reviews. I don’t just write up positive reviews for every camera bag or accessory that comes my way. I learned early on when I started doing these that I simply don’t want to waste my time testing out a bad product any longer once I know it’s one that I won’t ever use or that I’m disappointed in. If a product comes my way, outside of actual camera gear, that I don’t like or recommend I send it back and give the company my honest feedback directly in the hopes that they make the changes I suggest. You can see all of my gear reviews HERE.

Depending on the job, or project, I tend to switch things up a lot when it comes to the accessories I use with my camera gear. I tend to either use a messenger bag, backpack style camera bag, single camera strap, or one of my Holdfast Moneymakers. Besides the bags that I’ve been sent to test and review, I have plenty that I’ve bought as well for either myself or my wife. Some have stayed and some have been quickly sent back.

I basically carry a camera with me at all times, even when it’s just between home and the studio. I’ve been like that ever since I purchased my first camera and don’t see myself changing anytime soon. I use a couple of different backpack style bags as work bags, carrying my 15” MBP, iPad Pro, Leica M10P, along with a number of other items. I typically don’t use those for shooting, I like to keep them looking nice since I meet with clients at the studio. I have a few different bags that I like to use while shooting, messenger bags and backpacks, and some that I use just for carrying gear from one place to another such as airport rollers and Pelican cases.

Since a lot of my weddings can involve a lot of hiking in the mountains or on large farm properties, to jumping from Uber to Uber in a big city, having options to choose from before each job is definitely something I can appreciate. Believe it or not, I have about 3 different backpack style bags that I use and beat up pretty good, 3 or 4 different messenger bags, and different camera straps for each camera that I shoot with. So, even though I have way more bags than I should, it’s often surprising to other photographers when they see how beat up most of them are.

 
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One thing about having the unique opportunity to test products like camera bags is that I get to try out all the different styles, pocket configurations, and material that each company uses. This has definitely helped give me a good idea of what I personally like, don’t like, what works and what doesn’t. I’ve tried some that have had stitching start to come loose within weeks, some that simply aren’t comfortable to wear whatsoever, and others that I thought were great products right out of the box that turned out to be poor quality and not be able to take a beating. I can honestly say that camera bags are probably one of the toughest products to review because it’s such an over-saturated market and it’s a lot like reviewing a pair of jeans. Personal taste and style play a big role in choosing a camera bag, but just like jeans, you don’t want them falling apart after you wash them a few times. Basically, I’m going to tell you what I like and dislike about the two Cecilia bags I have and let you know some of my thoughts. I’ll keep it short and sweet since you can see by the photos what they look like and if these style bags are something you would be interested in or not.


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The Mercator is the 16L backpack camera bag that comes in a black and brown leather as well as the cotton canvas that was sent to me. Cecilia also offers a slightly smaller 14L design called the Humboldt which comes in the same options. While the look and design on the outside is quite simple, the inside is quite perfect. The 16L that I have holds a 15” laptop with a leather strap that snaps in place to keep it from accidentally sliding out. There’s just enough pockets and room to hold all the gear that I’ve ever needed to put in any backpack camera bag.

PROS

  • Weight: It’s extremely lightweight

  • Comfortable. Even with its very basic shoulder strap design, it’s more comfortable than most that have tried to get fancy with the design.

  • Impressive pocket design. Some bags have way too many, others not enough, the inside design and pocket layout is done nicely.

  • Holds its form well.

  • Easy to access and hide rain cover.

  • Well made tripod or light stand pocket and strap.

CONS

  • Not the sexiest looking backpack design, it’s quite simple and plain looking.

  • Personally not a fan of the one and only cotton canvas color, but being that this is the first line introduction to a bag line from Cecilia I’m sure there will be more colors soon. Although, I don’t know for sure.

  • The provided strap to hold a tripod or light stand is located inside a pocket. As you’ll see in the photos below, the pocket needs to be open when using the strap.

  • Price is $398 for the canvas and $498 for the leather.


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The Tharp is the 8L Cecilia messenger style bag, which also comes in a 12L named the Lambert, in the same two leather colors and cotton canvas color. The Tharp and Lambert are like most messenger bags with a few unique characteristics. While ONA messenger bags use straps and buckles to close the top flap and ThinkTank uses velcro, Cecilia went with magnets strong enough to hold it closed. The EVA foam padding is also a nice feature, not only as extra protection for the gear inside, but also comfort.

PROS

  • Weight: Light weight just like the backpack.

  • Comfortable with a well padded strap.

  • Sturdy and holds form really good compared to other messenger bags.

  • Seems to be quite durable.

  • Pocket design, just like the backpack is the best I’ve seen.

  • Price is $149 for the canvas and $249 for the leather. A good price for one of the best made messenger bags I’ve used.

CONS

  • No short strap for picking up, only the long shoulder strap.

  • Same as with the backpack models, I’m not a fan of canvas color.

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Leica Q2 Photoshoot

Prior to its launch this past Thursday, March 7th, I had the opportunity to test out the new Leica Q2 for a few weeks. Here is the first photoshoot that I brought it on, each photo below of the beautiful and talented Katt Wilkins was shot at 28mm f/1.7. This was the first of several shoots I shot with it, but also my favorite. Even though it was cold and raining, we shot for a little over an hour and I was able to get a real good feel for how the new Q handled and performed. The sun that you’ll see in some of the shots is simply the affect from using off-camera flash with MagMod grids and warming gels.

If you haven’t already seen it, there’s a lot more sample shots here in my “First Impressions” review - THE LEICA Q2.

The New Leica Q2 - First Impressions Review

Meet The New Leica Q2

In true Leica fashion, their team of engineers took the already impressive innovation of the original Q and elevated it to new level. The new Q2 is easily the most impressive compact camera on the market, and to be honest, labeling it that will make most photographers shrug it off yet it has simply so much more to offer. There currently isn’t a camera on the market quite like it. Sure, Sony has a full frame sensor compact with a 35mm f/2, but the Q2 brings a whole new level of what you can do with a fixed lens camera. The Sony RX1RII comes in at a price of $3300 and is the closest competitor to the Q2, but with when comparing the specs head to head, the $1600 difference seems like a no brainer.

When rumors started circulating around months ago about a new Q on the horizon, I was pretty curious as to what Leica’s mad scientists had been cooking up in the their lab. I was oddly interested to see what they would add or upgrade, besides the sensor, since the SL would naturally be the next in line for a update. Well, I've been shooting with the new Q2 for the past month and can tell you that even though I was skeptical as to what they could pull off, I’m pretty impressed to say the least. Like I said, there really is nothing on the market quiet like the Q2. Not only will this update impress those who already own the Leica Q (I know a good handful of photogs that do), but also those who really don’t see the need for a compact camera (like myself).

ISO160 f/1.7 1/50sec - Model: Katt Wilkens

[Entire Shoot For The Image Above]

Much like the M240 upgrade to the M10, they slightly tweaked an already minimalistic body design and made it even sleeker looking. Inside, they put a completely new sensor that is easily one of the most impressive full-frame sensors I've ever shot with. Taking it from 24mp to 47mp which not only provides amazing IQ, but the ability to digitally zoom in to 75mm. Paired with the same awesome 28mm f/1.7 Summilux lens, the image quality is hard to beat for any full-frame camera let alone a compact one. I photographed two entire shoots with only the Q2, taking portraits at 28mm, which you’ll see the results of throughout this review.

*Every photo below, besides the 75mm digital zoom sample was shot at 28mm.

Red Rock Canyon

Red Rock Canyon

While the original Q was one that I got to shoot with a lot, I never quite fell in love with it. The Q2 is a different story. It's gonna be tough giving this one back and having to wait til mid-late April to purchase one for myself. The new sensor, along with the addition of weather sealing, a newly designed viewfinder, image stabilization, faster and more accurate AF, and a sleeker body design that makes it hard to put down had me wanting one for myself after the first shoot I took it on. 

 

Photo by John Kreidler, taken with Q2, with me holding a Q2.

 

NOTABLE UPGRADES

While the new sensor will be the most talked about and notable upgrade with the new Q, there are a few others that are definitely worth mentioning. The Q2 now has weather sealing against dust and water. I don’t think it’s the greatest weather sealing in the world, but it’s there and I did shoot with it in the rain without any issues. The other biggie for me is the battery. Being that the SL is my primary body which I often shoot alongside of the M10, giving me two different batteries and chargers to carry around. Leica went and gave the Q2 the same battery as the SL which now makes it even more enticing for SL owners like myself. I don’t ever travel without my M10, but when it came time to pack for my trip out to Vegas to teach at WPPI it got left behind. Having shot with the new Q alongside of the SL for an entire week prior, I really started to like the combo and decided to give the M10 a rest. Crazy, I know.


THE BODY

 
 

From a distance, it’s actually not that easy to differentiate the two. They’re pretty similar looking being that Leica didn’t want to reinvent the wheel with this upgrade, instead choosing to take the original and simply make it a little sleeker looking with less buttons. Just as Leica did with the upgrade from the M240 to the M10, they took an already minimalistic body and stripped it down even further. Personally, it’s the simplicity of the M and SL design that made me fall in love with shooting them. The Q2 is now just as sleek as the M10 and in that same category. It’s a camera that I can shoot without having it get in my way. I set it and go, not having to remembering which buttons or knobs do what.

ISO50 f/1.7 1/320sec - All Natural Light

Compare the Q2, M10, or SL to the Sony A7 or A9 Series models and you’ll see very quickly what I mean. Having owned the Sony A7II at one point and then the newer A9 giving it another shot, I simply couldn’t get over the fact that I felt like I was shooting with a mini computer that lacked soul. It was actually after shooting with the A9 for a few months that I decided to convert fully over to Leica with dual SL’s and the M10. Sorry Sony shooters, that’s just my opinion and my experience.

 
 

The new stripped down design of the Q only makes me enjoy shooting with it even more. Less buttons to get in my way, going from 5 to 3 on the back and scrapping the Record button on the top plate. Shooting with the new Q feels even more like shooting with my M than the original which made it tough to put down.

Leica Q2

Leica Q

Leica Q2 size comparison and similar design to the Leica M10.

Leica Q2 size comparison and similar design to the Leica M10.


THE NEW SENSOR

(Click on image to see larger) Fully Edited - Shot at ISO50 f/1.7 1/250

Okay, so let’s talk about how Leica decided to just about double the megapixels with the Q2. Do you really need close to 50mp in a full-frame sensor? Well, that depends on the photographer. For myself, I would have said no prior to getting my hands on the Q2. Now, a few weeks later, I’m REALLY hoping that Leica throws this sensor in the new SL. The image quality and detail in these files continue to impress me the more I shoot with it.

 

Fully edited - ISO50 f/1.7 1/320sec - Model: Sasha Casares

 

I have no doubts that there will be a nice handful of photographers that will look at this upgrade from 24mp to 47 as unnecessary. While 24mp is more than enough to get just about most jobs done, I can honestly say that this sensor produces some of the most beautiful images that I’ve seen from a camera with impressive resolution and image quality being paired with the 28mm lens. While 24mp would be plenty, the amount of detail when digitally zoomed in to 75mm was pretty damn impressive. Let alone the ability to crop in post if needed for a better composition is more than welcome.

RESOLUTION SAMPLE

RAW Image - Click image to see full size

Cropped in - Click image to see closer

The sensor was the number one reason that I was excited to get my hands on this camera early to test out. Why? The SL is my primary camera body for all of my professional work. Based off of the original Q and SL having the same sensor, I knew that this could give me an early look at the image quality that the new SL will bring to the table. While I haven’t heard anything about the SL2 at this point, or whether it will share the same sensor as the Q2, I would be one happy camper if it did. After shooting with the Q2 for a few weeks I can tell you that this sensor produces some of the best image quality that I’ve seen from a full-frame sensor.

 
 

THE 28mm f/1.7 Summilux

Leica kept with the 28mm f/1.7 Summilux lens as the original, no changes there. However, the image quality produced by the Q2 with the higher resolution really makes this lens shine. Being that the Q is a compact camera with a fixed lens, the combination of the sensor and lens are what ultimately make this camera so special. Shooting wide open at f/1.7 is a thing of beauty, especially for portraits. The out of focus rendering and sharpness when shot wide open, along with the new sensor, are what really show off the precision engineering and design behind this camera. I shot with the original Q a good amount, but never quite fell in love with it enough to buy one. The Q2 is a different story. It’s gonna be tough giving this back and having to wait til mid-April to pick one up.

 
 

DIGITAL ZOOM FEATURE

Just like the original Q, you have the ability to digitally zoom in to 35, 50, and now 75mm which you see above. Both the RAW and edited version to show that it’s a usable image. While you can just as easily crop in post, this feature is actually pretty slick and helps when composing your shot. Sure, you don’t get the compression of a true 75mm lens, but being that this is a fixed lens camera, the digital zoom is a pretty nice feature.

The original Q had the ability to zoom in to 35 and 50mm. The extra resolution of the new sensor now allows for a 75mm zoom. I’ll be honest, I was pretty skeptical about how good the image quality would be cropped in that far so it was one of the first features I tested once I got out to Red Rock Canyon last week. How usable is an image cropped in that far? Take a look for yourself at the RAW file sample above, and the zoomed in image below. I also included an example of how the digitally zoomed in images look when opened in Lightroom. Zooming in doesn’t lock you into that crop, you still have access to the full file which is pretty nice.

 

75mm Zoom - Cropped in even further to show detail

 

The digital zoom isn’t a feature that I used a whole lot with the original Q, but I can easily see myself using it now with the Q2. I think a lot of photographers will really like this feature. Personally, I love shooting at the 28mm focal length which is why I loved shooting with the original, but I know there were a lot of photographers who expressed that a 35mm lens would have been a better way to go for Leica. Shooting the Q2 at the 35mm digital zoom won’t disappoint, I found myself using it a lot this past week.

Opened in Lightroom - Full size image


DYNAMIC RANGE SAMPLE (Raw Images)

By now dynamic range samples in a review shouldn’t even be needed, but I included them anyways just for those that may be interested. There had been a few photographers who reported banding issues with under exposed files were pushed. I saw no banding whatsoever when I pushed files like the one below 5 stops in Lightroom. Honestly, seeing how clean the files are when pushed 5 stops did impress me. While I didn’t have the original Q to compare them head to head, I can see the difference by going back and looking at the original Q Review that I wrote up. You can see below how much detail is preserved when pushed 5 stops, with little to no noise. Had I made a mistake with my settings on a real shoot and underexposed an image by that much, you can see that it’s still a very usable file.

NOTE: The Next 2 Sample Images were each pushed 5 stops of exposure (the max) in Lightroom to test the Dynamic Range. No other changes. Shot with Auto WB, which is why it’s so warm.

 
Click on image to see even closer

Click on image to see even closer

 
 

Click on image to see even closer

 

Micro-contrast

Pushed 2.5 stops - ISO50 f/4 1/20sec

Closer Look (click on image for full size)

Dynamic Range

Exposure +3.5 - ISO400 f/1.7 1/640sec

 

Click on image to see even closer

 

MACRO Option

You can easily switch the lens to macro mode and capture images at a much closer minimum focus distance. This is a really nice feature to have at your fingertips for when you need it, but even more so now with the additional megapixels giving you the ability to crop in even further.


Full size image shot in Macro Mode.

Zoomed in to show detail up close

CONCLUSION

The Q is a compact, or fixed lens camera. There’s no changing lenses, you’re stuck with one lens mounted on a sleek looking Leica body. For some, that’s a deal breaker. Why spend money on a fixed lens camera and limit yourself? Well, I used to be one of those people who had no desire to purchase one, until the original Q. I decided against it however, I did shoot with one a lot.

What changed my mind? There are some really nice benefits to a compact camera, which I didn’t see until I shot with the Q. For hobbyist photographers, a crop sensor compact might do the trick for you. Maybe something like the Fuji X100 series, which I tried and realized very quickly that I wouldn’t be able to shoot anything professional with it. It was a lot like a wiffle ball bat. Sure, it’s great for playing in your backyard, but it’s not made for much more than that.

 
 

The Q is a camera that’s great for the backyard and someone like myself who has young kids, or kid, but also likes to know that it can also be used for professional work. With a body that’s very much similar to that of the M that I love so much, a kickass full-frame sensor, and a lens that seems to fit like a match made in heaven, the Q2 now becomes a compact camera that fits perfectly in my gear bag. I can shoot at a 35mm focal length if I want to, it just won’t be full-frame which is fine. I can shoot at 50mm, and now even 75 if I have to. BUT, here’s the thing, I can also shoot at 28mm with a 47.3mp full-frame sensor at a wide open aperture of f/1.7 and take beautifully rendered photos on just about any professional job if I want to. I love when I hear photographers say that 28mm isn’t good for portraits. Sure, it’s not the most ideal focal length, but if the headshot of me at the top of this review along with all of the portraits I’ve mixed in doesn’t prove differently, I don’t know what will.

 
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While the new Q2 is a camera that I admittedly didn’t see myself falling in love with as much as I did, I’m even more excited about the new SL that’s due to come out some time this year. Even though the M and the Q are similar, the new Q2 has now separated itself and I’m looking forward to getting my own. I’ll be following this up with a full detailed written review and video review next week. Below are more sample images that I took with it over the past few weeks. Feel free to leave a comment with any questions you might have.

The price of the Q2 is $4995, and as far as I know, those who put pre-orders in have already started receiving them. When considering the fact that the M10 starting at $7295 without a lens, the Q2 is actually a great price for a body and lens combo that also has an awesome AF system, Image Stabilization, and a brand new full frame sensor. If you don’t own a Leica but have been thinking about wetting your feet a little, in my opinion, this now becomes your best option.

Full shoot with the Q2 - Katt Kilkons Shoot

Full Sample Gallery in addition to the photos below - Q2 Sample Gallery

Cheers!

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Aurora Camera Care - Sensor Cleaning Kit Review

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The Focus Pyramid

Back in 2014, about 3 years after purchasing my first DSLR (Nikon D60), I purchased my first full-frame camera, the Nikon D700. This was right around the time that the bokeh bug bit me. All I wanted to shoot were f/1.4 primes and the aperture rarely left that wide open position. Most of you know what I’m talking about, a good amount of portrait photographers go through the same phase. Some are going through it right now.

Luckily, I broke that habit and learned how to use my lenses more creatively. However, going through that phase taught me a very valuable lesson. It taught me the importance of making sure my lenses are calibrated to each of my cameras. Shooting wide open does look great, I still do it a lot today. The problem is, if you aren't nailing the focus, no amount of bokeh can save the shot. When shooting with such a shallow DOF and using auto-focus, it can become pretty frustrating if your images aren't sharp. I quickly learned how to calibrate my lenses.

I still find it surprising how many photographers don't calibrate their lenses. Whether they don't even know there's even such a thing, or they simply are too nervous to attempt it on their own, fearing they will mess something up. It's honestly impossible to make a mistake and mess anything up that can't be fixed with a little help from a call to another photographer who knows what they're doing. The tools you need are also very cheap. Back in 2015, I wrote an article for SLR Lounge that laid out the very easy to follow step by step instructions on how to go about calibrating your lenses to each of your DSLR cameras. I also gave a cheap alternative to the pricier calibration kits that were on the market at the time and worked great: The Focus Pyramid, which can be found here: FOCUS PYRAMID.

Click on the image of the focus pyramid above to read the SLR Lounge article on how to calibrate your lenses on your DSLR. If you aren’t already doing so, it’s a must and there’s simply no way around it. It doesn’t matter if you just bought a brand new lens or not, that DOES NOT mean that it’s calibrated. Most aren’t, and that’s because each and every camera is different. I wouldn’t shoot with brand new lens on any job without taking 10-15 minutes to calibrate it first. It’s very rare that a lens is spot on, so when you’re shooting wide open at f/1.4 your images are more than likely not as sharp as they should be.


Aurora Camera Care Sensor Cleaning Kit

Shortly after posting that article on SLR Lounge, the designer and owner of the Focus Pyramid, Joseph Cristina, reached out to say how much he appreciated me using his product and even more so writing the article. Over the years, I’ve stayed in touch with him and just about a couple months ago, he reached out to tell me about a new product. A product that typically scares photographers even more so than a calibrating kit. Even some of the most experienced photographers I know wouldn’t want anything to do with this product and for one simple reason, it involved touching your camera’s sensor.

Just the slightest whisper of this procedure can leave photographers feeling lightheaded and nauseous. For some odd reason. I’ve been cleaning my own sensors for as far back as I can remember. Why? Well, once I started shooting at higher apertures, I was able to see all the little dust spots that were from my dirty sensor. Once I found out the cost and wait time to get a sensor cleaned I decided to learn how to do it myself. It was either that or get a lot quicker with the spot healing tool in Lightroom.

 
 

The most popular product at the time was made by the company VisibleDust. They made a number of different tools to clean camera sensors. One of which was a spinning paint brush looking tool called the ARCTIC BUTTERFLY. The Arctic Butterfly? With a name like that what could go wrong?

Well, when I used the Arctic Spinning Bat Mobile, it touched the side of the sensor compartment and picked up some grease. Grease that would then be transferred onto my D700’s sensor. YES, Perfect! Exactly what I wanted to see. Not only did my sensor still have the dirt and dust, but it now had a grease smudge across it.

After tossing the spinning paint brush (which I have listed below) into the trash, I ordered the next product from Visible Dust, the “EZ Sensor Cleaning Kit". It says EZ right in the product name, how tough could this be right? This kit came with a few dry swabs on sticks and some small vials of liquid cleaning to apply to the swabs. The kit also came with swabs that were for drying. This was a huge pain in the ass. I had to be careful not to put too much cleaning liquid on the swabs and no matter how many times I used the drying swabs, there always seamed to be streaks left on the sensor that I couldn’t quite get off. I called Visible Dust and was told that I may have gotten oil on the sensor and would need to order a different solution. After placing a new order and waiting for it to arrive, I gave it a try and was able to finally get the sensor clean. Great, that would be the last time I used that product.

The next day, I threw all of the swabs and liquids into the trash. It was too much of a headache, let alone the added bonus of a brand new grease smudge that I had to figure out how to clean off. I would rather send my cameras out to get serviced then deal with this kind of nightmare again.

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If you’re looking for the easiest way to quickly rid your sensor of any dust that may be sitting on it, the Rocket Blaster does an excellent job. Especially, if it’s just dust on the sensor, which in most cases, that’s really all it is. The Rocket Blaster can easily blow the dust right off the sensor and you’re good to go. I use it at least once every couple weeks, just to make sure there’s nothing just sitting on top of my sensor that will leave spots on my photos when my aperture is stopped down to anything over f/8.

Giotto Rocket Blaster

 
 

THE NEW ACC SENSOR CLEANING KIT

When Joseph Cristina reached out to me about his newly designed sensor swabs, I told him straight up that I’ve tried a number of different ones and none were easy to use. He basically asked me to please give his product a shot and sent me a free pack to test out. As a disclaimer, I’ve been using a sensor cleaning gel stick over the past couple years. While it’s not perfect, it does do a much better job than any wet/dry swab I’ve ever tried and I told Joseph this. I received the packets in the mail and right before I left for my Savannah Workshop I decided to give them a try. I could have tried them on my wife’s Canon 5D MarkIV cameras but instead used my $6k Leica SL to test out the new sensor cleaning kit.

Once I opened the individual swab packs, I immediately knew these were a great design. Not only are they sized to match the sensor, but there’s no vial of liquid to make a mess with. These swabs were lubricated with just the right amount of liquid. No more than necessary, no less. I was a little hesitant being that it was the first time using this product, but I knew Joseph long enough to know that he wouldn’t be shipping me a bad product. I was right, he didn’t.

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Anytime I clean my sensor, I pull up this YouTube channel which plays a white screen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8lgfq3LX34g.

I set the lens to manual focus and focus to infinity, set the aperture to f22 and take a photo. This will allow me to see whatever sensor dust is on the sensor. Now I know what the “before” photo of the sensor looks like so I can start the cleaning process.

My Thoughts

The ACC Sensor Cleaning Kit was very easy to use, and I was able to open the packs without any trouble. After applying the wet swab and swiping across the entire sensor to clean off any artifacts, I immediately applied the dry swab to soak up any remaining residue. The dry swab didn’t quite dry the sensor completely. It came close, but if you watch the video carefully you’ll be able to see the streaks that are still there after making two passes. I gave it a few more minutes in the hopes that the residue would dry and it did on its own. I re-attached the lens to take a quick test shot of the white screen and everything looked great. No streaks, no dirt or dust, and any artifacts there from the first shot were completely cleaned and off the sensor.

The Images below shows the dust/dirt that was there on the sensor before I cleaned it. Not too bad actually considering how much I’ve shot with this body over the past few months. I’ve seen them a hell of a lot worse than this, so this was good news! The third shot on the bottom is the one that I took after cleaning the sensor with the ACC sensor cleaning kit.

Once I took the test shot above, it was clear to see that the sensor was pretty clean and all the spots had been removed. Nice and clean again! While I do still like the gel stick, especially for my Leica camera bodies being that Leica recommends the gel stick as a sensor cleaning tool, these ACC sensor cleaning swabs do an overall better job of actually cleaning the sensor. These were the first wet/dry swabs that I felt actually worked really good and didn’t make a mess or when comparing them to my previous attempts with similar products, make things worse. Going forward, I’ll be using both. The gel stick for a quick clean and the ACC swabs once every couple months to get things really clean and back to looking brand new.

  • My one and only critique has to do with the wet and dry swabs looking exactly the same once they are out of their pouches. They are labeled with different colors on the individual packages, but as you can see below, once they are opened they look identical. As I was cleaning my sensor, I made two swipes with the wet swab, followed by two passes with with the dry swab. I gave it a few minutes to see if it would dry on it’s own and since there were still slight streaks I wanted to very gently run the dry swab over the sensor one or two more times. As I reached for the dry swab, I had to really look closely to see which was which. I would really like to see them make the wet and dry swab handles a different color, the dry having a tan handle to match its packaging and the wet swab to match its blue packaging.

Wet swab is on the left, Dry is on the right.

Wet swab is on the left, Dry is on the right.


Whether you have a full-frame sensor, cropped sensor (APS-C), or Micro Four Thirds, there is a separate kit designed specifically for each sensor size. To visit the store and purchase one of the sensor cleaning kits, please click HERE!


All the other products I’ve that have ended up in the garbage!

Visible Dust Arctic Butterfly Sensor Brush

 
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The iForway PowerElf - Review

 
 

INTRO

Five years ago, I started reviewing camera gear for SLR Lounge. A couple of years later, they decided to focus more on education so I began writing them here. Since my real and honest approach to reviewing products/gear seemed to click with photographers, I've done my best to keep up with them as best I could. The problem with running a multi-photographer studio that photographs upwards of 150 weddings per year, plus teaching/speaking for Leica as an ambassador, my time is spread pretty thin. I've never wanted to just throw a review together for the sake of getting something fresh up on my site. They can be very time consuming when you take into account all the time needed to properly test anything that I review. Testing takes time, especially when I do my best to test products on real shoots and in real life scenarios. It's the only way to make sure I'm providing accurate information. Otherwise, what's the point? There's plenty of other reviews out there that are done half assed. 

[SUGGESTED READING: NEW STORAGE / BACKUP SOLUTION]

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I typically only review products/gear that I'm personally interested in using myself, with a few one-offs here and there. Over the past couple of years as traffic to this site has grown, so have the requests from companies asking me to review their new products. While some of them are tempting, it takes a lot to make it worth my time. 

A couple months ago, I randomly checked my spam folder and found a review request email from a company named MP MeltMall. The product was described as the safest outdoor mini power station called the Iforway PowerElf. Nope, I'm good.

I have a small portable power pack that I use for travel and charging my iphone/iPad already and it does a decent job. A month went past and while going through my email decided to give it another look before hitting delete. This time it had my attention. I actually read the product description this time and was blown away by what it allegedly could do. Now, I was all about testing this beast of a power pack out and quickly replied back asking if they were still interested in sending me one.

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What is the PowerElf?

Basically, if you've seen the 2017 move the Justice League, you can picture the PowerElf as one of the Mother Boxes. If you haven't seen the movie, these boxes individually hold enough power to bring Superman back from the dead. Not only that, but afterwards, still maintaining enough juice to charge your iPhone so you don't miss a single selfie with him. The PowerElf even has a LED light on it, beat that DC Comics.

 
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The PowerElf is pretty damn impressive, comic book references aside. It really is the ultimate, supercharged, portable power supply. At least as far as what I have seen out there, and I've purchased a couple of them that can't do a quarter of what the PowerElf is capable of. While you won't be able to carry it around in your pocket, it's still one sleek looking lightweight product weighing less than 3lbs. For the techies out there, just seeing 173Wh / 46800mAh should be enough to impress you. Especially, when you consider the $129 you can get it for during the remainder of the campaign. If you want something to carry in your purse or pocket to charge your iPhone in an emergency, that's not what this is. This is made to charge your iPhone, your laptop, your tablet while not even having to worry about recharging it. It will still be have plenty of juice left over.

[ALL THE SPECS & MORE TECHNICAL INFO]

While I primarily tested this from a photographer's perspective, I've been pretty much bringing it everywhere with me. Even though it doesn't fit in my pocket, I fits perfectly in my camera bag. Plus, even though it's larger, it's not much heavier than the smaller RavPower supply that I've been using for the past year. 

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WHAT I LIKE 

The specs on the PowerElf are beyond impressive, so right out of the box I wanted to put it through its paces and test it as best I could. My main complaint with the majority of portable power supplies are that they have just about enough juice to fully recharge my Macbook Pro. If they can, they've completely blown their load with nothing left over to charge anything else. The PowerElf claimed to have the ability to fully power an iPhone 16 times, a Macbook 3 times, an iPad 4 times, and they list a few others. After fully charging up the PowerElf, I plugged in my dead IphoneX via one of the two USB ports, my Leica M10 battery via the 12v DC cigarette port, and my completely dead Macbook Pro via the USB-C port. I let it get to work and went about my day. Not keeping track of how long it took, I was surprised to see that everything was fully charged. Even more surprised to see that there was still juice left over. 

 
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It's waterproof, has an LED light on the front that has already come in handy a few times, and has a very reliable and quick way of checking how much power it still has. I love that it has a USB-C port since I have a 2017 MBP along with a few other devices that use type-C. One thing that I've noticed can tend to happen with a lot of portable power supplies is that if you let them sit around, they slowly lose power and need to be charged. I let the PowerElf sit for over a week and it still had a full charge when I checked. So far, I've honestly found no flaws to even bring up. 

LED Light

LED Light

Quick press of the power button reveals how much power is left using 4 blue LED lights

Quick press of the power button reveals how much power is left using 4 blue LED lights

WHAT I DON'T LIKE

I can honestly say that there really isn't much that I have to say here. I've tried to beat it up pretty good, and it's still looking pretty much brand new. I have seen other reviews that report the rubber cap breaking off, but to be honest, it might be a better design if it wasn't attached. Then again, I would more than likely lose it in a week and have to buy a 10-pack to keep at the studio. The only real downside I see right now is with the 12v cigarette lighter port. While I do have a couple Leica battery chargers that are capable of charging via that port, most need a two prong AC plug. Because of this, straight out of the box, you may not be able to charge your camera batteries, or your MBP if it isn't 2016 or newer which uses the USB-C port. I would like to see them implement this somehow in the next model, but until then, the fix is quite easy and not expensive. There are several adapters on the market, this is one that I already have and it works great - Foval 150W Power Adapter. Just $17 from Amazon. 

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CONCLUSION

The bottom line here is that I wouldn't have taken the time to test and review this product if I wasn't impressed by what it had to offer. I'll fully admit that I was skeptical that it would be able to live up to the marketing hype and specs it boasted in its portfolio. I was more than pleasantly surprised. Outside of photography gear, it's rare that I suggest a product as highly as I am with this one, but for $150 it's a no brainer. The amount of trouble this little black box can potentially get you out of when you least expect it is worth far more than $150 in my book. 

There's 5 days left in the INDIEGOGO iForway campaign where you can get one shipped out to you by backing them at the even lower price of $129, back the campaign for $249 and get two of them. Use this link to check it out: https://igg.me/at/iforway-powerelf/x/19272041

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As always thanks for reading, please leave a comment with any questions or feedback below. If you're interested in seeing my wedding work, please head on over to TWISTED OAKS STUDIO. Next up will hopefully be the Leica 50mm Summilux comparison which I'm still working on.