Review: Bean Sprout Digital Camera

A few weeks ago there was a woot-off going on, an all day sale at woot.com.  They are always interesting and the amount of random stuff that shows up.  For all the years I’ve watched woot I’ve never actually bought anything, but this woot-off finally had something I could spend a few bucks on.  By a few bucks I mean just a few, as they had two-packs of a toy digital camera slash carabiners called Bean Sprout for $5 plus $5 shipping.  A friend mentioned a few months earlier she had bought one it was fun so I figured what the hay and ordered a pair. Continue reading »

Review: Phototastic WordPress Theme | The Relaunch of SabottaImagery.com

Last year I relaunched my own site utilizing a premium WordPress theme and had a wonderful resonance to the change.  Over the winter and into the spring the number of stunning premium themes coming out from developers is nothing short of amazing, so when my former client Jeff hit me up about rebuilding his site, I was all for it.  Jeff owns and runs Sabotta Imagery, a Pennsylvania based photographer specializing in weddings, engagements and family shoots, he also happens to be a friend of mine.  I had originally set him up more then two and a half years ago with WordPress and a free theme, but it was time to take his website to the next level, one that was on par with his photography and that his clients would appreciate more.  Knowing his needs, I found the solution with ThemeSnack and their Phototastic premium theme. Continue reading »

Review: Banjo Brothers Commuter Backpack

I’ll preface this article with the simple statement that I am somewhat of a bag whore, I like bags for specific purposes and they continue to pile up, but they all get used!

More then a year ago I picked up road cycling and shortly thereafter I started to commute to work by pedaling.  There are no showers at my job, so I had to take a change of clothing, lunch and a few other things in case I caught a flat, along w/ a pocket full of change.  For the time, an existing backpack that I had been using to go to the gym with would due, but there were a few things that I didn’t like about it for cycling. Continue reading »

A Croaking Good Time!

I should start by noting that theater has never much been my thing. I’ve seen Phantom of the Opera, Wicked, Avenue Q etc. etc. and I enjoyed them to be sure, but not enough to pay the exorbitant price tag that inevitably goes with them. Here, in New York, I have discovered the masterpiece of theater for those of us whose goal is to drink and have a good time; Flanagan’s Wake. Continue reading »

Exclusive Interview with Oderus Urungus of Gwar by Markus Goldman

Oderus UrungusThis is a guest post by Markus Goldman, a DJ at WMMR in Philadelphia.

The other day I interviewed Oderus Urungus of GWAR and had a blast talking to him. Oderus spoke very gleefully about the Depravity of Philthadelphia and why he loves visiting our fair city.  Gwar’s new record, Lust In Space, is available on CD or via download on August 18th. You can pre-order the CD at www.gwar.net or www.metalslave.com and you will get an autographed copy of Lust In Space.  Gwar will be on the road with Lamb of God for four months starting this fall. As no Philly date is set yet, Oderus expects a November or December Electric Factory show. Keep checking www.gwar.net and their MySpace page for updated tour information. Enjoy the brilliant insanity of Oderus.

Stream here or download and listen:

Review: Gallerific WordPress Theme | The Relaunch of MikePanic.com

Last month I installed WordPress and theme for Juliart Photographics, a photographer who wanted a clean, simple site with a manageable back end so she could do updates herself.  She had no need for a blog but that doesn’t mean that WordPress wasn’t the best choice for a back end for her needs.  A premium theme was chosen from Theme Forrest and then slightly modified to fit her specific needs.  As the project was coming to a close, I realized that an update to my own photography site was in need, mostly because I never fully finished the last version and partly because my site needed a better focus and direction.

Having such great results with the premium theme from Theme Forrest, I searched around and found what looked to be the perfect theme, fitting all the needs I had without me even knowing what I needed when I started.  Before this review goes further, I’m going to be as specific as I can with regards to the theme itself, this is not intended to be how-to install WordPress or Themes.  You can hire me to install WordPress and the theme of your choice / customize it though.

Why a premium theme? Like I mentioned, I had great results with my previous client’s site.  Most of these results were because of a well documented install directions, PSD files of the entire site and solid code.  There are thousands of free themes out there, but for the $15-35 for a premium theme from Theme Forrest, the value seems overwhelmingly worth it for me.  They are half or a quarter of what other premium sites charge for themes and some of the best looking one’s I’ve found.  The other reason for me choosing a premium theme is that I know it will limit the chances of seeing another person using the same one as me.  As it stands now, only 50 people have downloaded the theme I chose, who knows if they all got installed yet.  Compared with the average downloads of free themes, I like my odds more of having a somewhat unique theme.

Gallerific.  The theme I chose is called Gallerific and was created by Justin Scheetz, who through a little research also happens to live less than 20 miles from me.  Even though it’s the internet, I like to support local artists.  It instantly appealed to me because of the large images used for the home page navigation, it comes with two different color schemes and utilizes some creative and unique image handling techniques.  It also has a drop down menu system for the header navigation for a super simple and clean look and feel.  I’ve always felt that photography portfolios should be focused on making the images look good, not be so overly complicated that it takes away from the photographs featured.  This meets my needs.  Here’s what my site currently looks like.

Mike Panic Home Page

Gallerific was a simple install, following the instructions included.  There were however some speed bumps along the way that I needed to iron out, which I’ll cover later in the article.  Because I already had content, most of the initial tweaks were minor ones to properly display the home page.  If you are installing this for the first time, plan on having at least seven unique blog postings ready or this won’t work for you.

Breaking down the home page and all the features.

Header Navigation

The header navigation is powered by a combination of both Pages and Categories.  In my case, the Home button takes you obviously to home and is hard coded into the theme.  Blog and Galleries are actually categories for posts, Archives and Contact are Pages.  During setup of Gallerific, you specify which comes first (left to right), pages or categories.

For my site, every post is labeled with the Blog category, this gets everything to show up nicely in one spot and because I sometimes need to post non-photographic updates, like site updates or to promote an art show.  The Gallery category is the Parent and utilizes ten Child categories, all neatly displayed in the roll-over drop down menu system. While the theme comes widget ready, I didn’t like the idea of storing my archives in the sidebar and wanted a specifc page for them.  I created the Archive page and installed the Clean Archives Reloaded plugin that I feel serves as a better overall archive and site map than one in the sidebar.  Lastly is a rather standard Contact page with another plugin for the form used.

Logo, Search and Social Networking

Included with Gallerific is a PSD file to customize your logo, I made a minor color tweak to my existing one and uploaded it.  The directions do not specify the file format and I’m thinking it needs to be a PNG, as the JPG I used is slightly off in color.  Search is well integrated and, well searches.  The default install of Gallerific includes a section in the admin panel to easily put your name, address and phone number below the search box.  Because I’m not a studio photographer, I don’t really have a need for those fields and have a specific Contact page for such information.  I edited the theme file header to include some social networking links and an RSS icon.  The only design flaw I found for this theme was the lack of an integrated RSS button, something I hope makes it into the next version release of the theme.  For the time being, I’ve installed the overly trendy Web 2.0 style buttons, these happen to closely resemble iPhone icons.  They will more than likely change when I find something that fits in a bit better with the overall theme.

Featured

Moving down is the Featured section of the home page.  Photos in this section appear when posts are in the Featured Category and the photo must be set to a specific width to work properly.  The screen shot above shows what happens when you roll the mouse over it.  Note that it shows the post name, categories it’s filed under, number of comments and the first few words associated with the post.  Clicking the post title or View Details will take you to the specific post.  The arrow to the right will take you to the next Featured posting. This is way cool and a great way to spotlight specific files and a very creative use of WordPress.More Featured

Directly below the featured header box are square boxes numbered, in my site’s case, 1 through 3.  When you hover over them a small thumbnail will appear of the other featured posts that can be displayed in the header if clicked.  From the overall size, I’d guess two dozen or so images could be utilized as Featured and gives the viewer another way to access and see images used.

Main Body

The main body features cropped images from the last six blog postings made and text, customizable from the back end of WordPress.  I really like the fact that every blog post means fresh content on the front page utilizing these lower six boxes, always giving visitors something new and fresh to look at, while the featured box at the top can remain a little more static.  The text to the right is where I’m displaying what would normally be on an About page, which I usually hate on portfolio websites.view-details-larger-image

The six images also hide one more secret, they are not just links to the blog posts associated with them.  Hover over and you will be given two options.  The first is View Details which will take you to the blog post, the second is View Larger Image.  When the second option is clicks, the uncropped photo opens up and gives the viewer a better idea of what could be seen in the rest of the article.   Once again, giving the visitor to the site more to do while remaining super clean with design.

footer

The footer is clean and utilizes the same header navigation, sans the drop down menu system.  Copyright info is displayed to the right, I’ve chose to leave the credits in the footer and added in text for my RSS feed, which again was lacking, and a little icon for stats tracking.  One design element I find missing here is an Up or Back to Top button, often usefull so the user doesn’t have to manually scroll.

Looking at more details.

blog

One setting that is kind of unique for Gallerific is how Categories are displayed.  Each Category can be displayed as a blog or as a gallery.  For the Blog category, I’ve chose to display it as a blog, same is true if you click on the word Gallery.  This shows one highlighted image that I specify for each post (same as used on the front of the site or for the featured section) and about 40 words followed by a Continue Reading that takes the reader to the rest of the individual post.  This keeps the page neat and clean, which is why I like it.  For each of the child Categories under Gallery, I’ve set them to gallery view, as seen below.

people

This displays 10 posts that are in the People category in the same fashion as the front page, looking like a nice gallery with the options to roll over images and view one larger or be taken directly to the post.  Text indicating older entries takes the reader to the second page and so on. You’ll note the two images / articles featuring cars in the screen shot above and may wonder why they are showing up in the People gallery.  Because I’ve associated each of those posts with more than one category, including People, they show up under different galleries.  Because you can only specify one image for the display square, it’s hard to be exactly perfect.  Each of those posts also feature photos of people, clicking the View Details button reveals that in the full post.

As I’ve said, the install went really smoothly and once I wrapped my head around how the categories section worked, I’m more than thrilled to use this as the theme to power my site.  Making images Featured on the front page and creating the thumbnails for the gallery view is very straight forward and well documented.  I do have plans to utilize Parent / Child categories more for an upcoming wallpaper section of the site which I hope to launch in a few months, as well as a page to sell prints from.  The only main problem I had with the theme during install and configuration was that I had existing posts, more than 150 to be exact.  Each post was in a category but didn’t utilize the parent / child sections because, well I had no need to.  Gallerific almost requires that and relies heavily on categories to function to its fullest potential.  Because I wanted every post I’ve published to show up under Blog and needed to move every post in an existing category under the parent category of Gallery, some time was going to need to be invested.  WordPress does not feature a bulk or mass edit categories option, and I spent two full days searching google with different search strings, asking on Twitter and Facebook for a plugin that would simply let me bulk edit categories with no luck.  The plugins I found weren’t supported by the newest version of WP and I was left high and dry.  A week after giving up I tried a new search query and found exactly what I needed and compliant with the newest version of WP, Manageable.  This plugin should be included with the theme as it’s almost essential to anyone looking to use Gallerific on a site with existing content.

I’ve quietly launched this, now 4th version of MikePanic.com over the last two weeks while tweaking and making minor customizations to it, and adjusting all the categories to fit my needs.  Today marks the unofficial relaunch, in this review, and the best my site’s looked since buying the domain name 9+ years ago.  I can’t thank the coder / developer Justin enough for making such an amazing, low cost theme.  Justin currently has six super high quality, amazing themes available for WordPress here, some as low as $15.00.

Exclusive Interview with Dave Wakeling of The English Beat

This is a guest post by Markus Goldman, a DJ at WMMR in Philadelphia.

On Tuesday June 30th, 2009 I had a chance to speak to Dave Wakeling for the second time in 7 months. He had a lot to share about what is going on with the band. The interview is about 28 minutes and we talk about political change briefly in the beginning and then switch to the tour, the band and recording news as well.  The Beat have begun recording some new material which will be previewed on the Tour as well as a stellar mix of make your feet move Beat Classics. All the details including how they are recording in Analog, their 1983 US Tour with Bow Wow Wow and R.E.M., plus, could there be a special 2 Tone event in the future? Listen in and enjoy. I live in Philly and the Beat will be at these dates and venues in the NE. Go to www.davewakeling.com for the entire tour schedule.

The English Beat will be at the Croc in Allentown on July 17th with Reel Big Fish and Supervillians.  It is the 30th Anniversary Tour for the Beat and should be quite memorable.  Check out these other upcoming east coast tour dates:

  • Tuesday 7/7/09 House Of Blues Boston, Mass.
  • Wednesday 7/8/09 Hampton Beach Casino, Hampton Beach
  • Thursday 7/9/09 Nokia Theatre, NY, NY
  • Friday 7/10/09 House Of Blues Atlantic City, NJ
  • Saturday 7/11/09 Starland Ballroom Sayreville, NJ
  • Sunday 7/12/09 Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel Providence, RI
  • Thursday 7/16/09 Northern Lights Clifton Park, NY
  • Friday 7/17/09 The Croc Allentown, PA
  • Saturday 7/18/09 The Norva Norfolk, VA
  • Sunday 7/19/09 Pier Six Concert Pavillion Baltimore, MD
  • Monday 7/20/09 The National Richmond, VA

Stream here or download and listen:

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Best Last Tracks

A great last song ties up an album, bringing climax and closure to an aural experience.  It should leave you satisfied, like after a great roll in the sack, providing a sense of denouement to the listener. Secret tracks don’t count as great last tracks; the requisite preceding 30 seconds of radio silence breaks the continuity of the album (and used to be a bitch to get to if the silence and the song were tracked together).

Too many of my favorite bands end their albums with a track that feels like a poorly attached afterthought.  There’s nothing worse than finishing off a masterpiece of an album with a weak, emotionless throw-away song with no “oomph” to speak of (Tool – I’m looking at you).

To me, a great last song is: 1) iconic (Zeppelin, The Beatles), 2) perfectly exemplary of the methodology and style of the band (DMB, Pink Floyd), or 3) a perfect narrative resolution of the album (R.E.M., Rufus).

Here’s my tentative top 10 (as always, it’s subject to change as my tastes evolve… and as I clean up my iTunes to put all of said album tracks in order… I need Mike to hire me an intern!).

Disagree or have additions?  Tell me in the comments!

Best Last Tracks (in no particular order, as of 2009)

Horseman Bellows for DSLR Cameras

This weekend I had the pleasure of testing a pre-production bellows meant for DSLR camera made by Horseman.  Not only was I thrilled to be able to test one of, if not the only, pre-production model available, I was nervous, as I’ve never shot bellows, or large format photography.  Before I delve into the review, understanding what a bellows is from the Wikipedia is probably helpful,

In photography, a bellows is the pleated expandable part of a camera, usually a large or medium format camera, to allow the lens to be moved with respect to the focal plane for focusing.

The bellows provides a flexible dark enclosure (the camera obscura) between the film plate and the lens. In some cameras, the photographer can change the angle of the film plate with respect to the optical axis of the lens, providing alterations of perspective distortion and of the object plane of focus.

The Horseman model I was given comes with the ability to use darkroom enlarger lenses, which means finding them shouldn’t be too hard. It’s still not worked out if Horseman will sell the bellows with or without a lens, though.  Needless to say, I was very excited to get this thing out and play with it.

Horseman

The overall build quality is everything you’d expect: Solid aluminum, smooth rails, knobs that are easily accessible, and the look of a serious camera when mounted to a tripod.  The base is solid, flat and easily accommodated the tripod mount with no question as to how stable it would be.  Fit and finish are also top notch, although I’ve been told there will still be some more minor tweaks to the production model.

Horseman

I mounted my Canon EOS 5d to the Horseman bellows and put it atop a tripod. This one was equipped with Manfrotto 410 geared head, which, in my opinion, is one of the best heads made, especially for this application.  The lens was a 105mm f/5.6, a bit longer than I would have liked, but it was what was available to me and I was hell bent on making the most of it.  The bellows would be more at home on a 5d Mark II with its live view LCD screen, but I am not ready to upgrade just yet.  Once mounted, I was ready to start shooting.

Horseman

The first time you look through the view finder and tilt, shift or swing the bellows and micro-adjust to focus, it all makes sense.  Little bells go off in your head and a warm feeling takes over inside.  This is what photography is all about.  Digital photography has taken something away from traditional film based photography: Shooting on the Horseman bellows really makes you plan a shot out, think about composition, focus and conceive how it should be before shooting.  That aspect alone is probably what was most enjoyable to me, spending 5 or 10 minutes composing each shot I took, swinging and tilting the lens around to find the optimal angle at which I’d shoot my subjects.

Horseman

Because this has no electronics for the EOS system to focus or give feedback on, (Nikon mount will also be available) shooting the lens in manual or aperture priority mode is a must.  Additionally, the auto-focus confirmation points don’t work so on a full tilt or swing of the bellows where focus is critical; you’ll be chimping and zooming on your LCD to see if you did hit your focus point or not.  Again, with the 5d Mark II this won’t be as much of a problem with the live view, but still fully expect to be zooming in, possibly shooting several of the same shot, and adjusting the focus rail slightly just to make sure.

Getting familiar with the bellows is straight forward, as the knobs and locks are all in somewhat standard locations.  I utilized the left focus rail knob to focus while tapping the shutter button to check for exposure, which worked out well.  Also on the right side is the knob for tilt adjustment while the shift lock release lever is on the left side.  The tilt needs to be operated with both hands, and I accidentally moved the lens board release lever a few times while adjusting everything but quickly got the hang of it.  The first attempt with the bellows is probably the most frustrating because as you look through the lens, it’s hard to do anything but focus: It took me about an hour of using it before I could start to remember where the knobs are, and what they did, so I could utilize the bellows efficiently without having to peak around the camera body to see which knob I was on.

Shooting, like I said, was a pure joy for me.  Most every shot I took was at a full swing, tilt or shift, or combination of some sort for maximum depth of field effect.  I didn’t have much in the way of subject matter to shoot to test out the perspective on it, but I can only imagine the bellows would nail it.

My style of shooting tends to lean more towards people and fashion than landscapes, where a bellows is traditionally at home.  This didn’t stop me from shooting people though, and I got a few other fun items in the mix, too.

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img_7387-lr

The above two shots were taken in the middle of nearly cloudless day, so reviewing on the LCD playback proved to be very hard.  Truth be told, they are slightly back-focused when viewed at 100%, but the first shows a full swing and the second shows the ability to pick a focal point of two subjects standing side by side.  Traditional lenses simply can’t do this. Shooting people tends to be a bit more tricky since they are always moving, no matter how hard they try to stand still. This is where digital photography really comes in handy.  The ability to shoot many frames of the same subject of focus will ensure you get the shot you want when you can’t see through the viewfinder or in review well enough.

This telephone booth was a blast to shoot; it was the first still object I put in front of the camera.  I tried my best to focus on the telephone inside, but with more than 40 shots, I simply couldn’t.  Maybe with wider angle lens I could have, but I still really like this shot and how it came out.

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Right down the street was an old sedan rotting away; it seemed as if time passed by this little town in rural Pennsylvania.  Knowing right away how great this would look if shot on black & white film, maybe even high ISO film for added grain, I set the tripod back up in front of it and went to town. Pulling the image into Lightroom then Photoshop later, I used a filter to emulate Tri-X  400ISO film.  The full sized image has a wonderful grain to it.

img_7402-lr

As I adjusted the focus point to the other headlight prepping for the next shot, it dawned on me how much fun I was having, and how amazing the creative control being put in my hands was.  There are effects and filters in Photoshop that could give you similar results, but nothing could get this close, not without a lot of work.  Additionally, I could still use Photoshop and Lightroom to develop the RAW files from my camera and add virtually any film effect with plug-ins and add-ons that I use for my normal photography.  Truly, the Horseman gives the best of both worlds; all the advantages of a bellows and the flexibility to post process however I see fit, as is the case with this similarly composed yet drastically different image below.

img_7404-lr-lomo

The next day I called a friend to see if she could meet me in a field for some quick shots before the sun went down to give the lens one last go before I had to hand it back.  She agreed, and we went out for the following images.

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The bellows has a lot to offer, and I wish I had had it longer both to learn how to use it better and to shoot more with it.  I’ve been promised a second go at the production model when that is released, which will hopefully be soon, as I’d like to expand on how I’ve used it, and continue to learn more about it.  Currently, I have no technical specs on the bellows or a release date. Hopefully, it’s due out this summer.

The production model is said to have a thinner mount, and hopefully slightly larger knobs and a notch on the rise/fall portion, so you can feel when you’ve hit the middle rather than have to look around the camera. Horseman will also more than likely put this into some sort of protective field box as well to make transportation safe.

Who is this lens for?  I’d say landscape photographers right off the bat, but also commercial photographers who shoot everything from architecture to catalog work and even food photography.  The price point is rumored to be around $1,700 without a lens. I’d like to see this sell for $1,500 with a lens, but still not 100% sure on any of it.  It’s a very spendy setup, but the results and the pure enjoyment I got from shooting it would put it right up there on my want list of camera gear.  It’s not for everyone, though. A tripod is essential, and so is time – there isn’t much that’s quick about shooting a setup like this. 

I think aside from the joy of shooting, the results speak for themselves, even if I didn’t really get to play with as much perspective as I would have liked.

More photos from my weekend of shooting can be seen here on mikepanic.com.

Next Song, Please: My Fave iPhone App

This is a guest post by Jana K. Hoffman, the editorial assistant at Lehigh Valley Style and freelance fashion writer. You can also read her stuff on BettyLife.

When it comes to iPhone 3G Apps, you can never quite have enough, right? Although I beg to differ, as I decided to join the masses, one thing I told myself after I purchased my iPhone was that I certainly would not download useless Apps that contained no apparent reason or use for it.

Well, I openly admit I haven’t quite adhered to Rule No. 1 of Jana’s iPhone Don’ts–I’d say Fluid and Heat Pad are rather unnecessary. However, out of the thousands of pointless Apps that only have some form of reasonable functionality or entertainment like while riding a bus or flying, you’ll clearly come across many that are actually useful, helpful and handy when you need something in a pinch. Remote App for iPhone & iPod Touch

Out of the 20 Apps (yes, I counted) that I’ve downloaded–mostly for free–can I just say that Remote ranks up at the top as one of my most favorites? Closely behind, The Weather Channel sits right up there beside it since the default Weather App just wasn’t meeting my forecasting expectations.

Why, out of every App that I could possibly ever imagine having, is Remote my favorite? Normally I set my iTunes to shuffle just about any time I’m listening to music. Perhaps this is the laziness in me, but if someone else is using my MacBook while I’m in the same room (and this happens more often than I’d like it), I can instantly change songs without having to reach over or walk to my computer.

This works in between rooms, too. One morning as I was getting ready for work, my Mac was sitting on the dining room table as I stood in the bathroom. I didn’t like the song, and with the light tap of a finger I chose a more preferable tune. So easy!

I’m not the gaming-kind-of-gal so, honestly, those Apps just aren’t the slightest bit appealing. I did, however, purchase–at the sale price of $1.99–Wolfenstein Classic 3D because growing up I would watch my dad play it on our MS-DOS system. I took a liking to it then tried my luck and beat the game. I haven’t yet mastered the iPhone version. In fact, I’ve only played it once and that lasted a mere 10 minutes before I became frustrated. I just don’t have the time and patience to learn!

While I know preferences and tastes differ, I would recommend Remote to any iPhone and iTunes user. The convenience factor alone makes it pretty awesome. I should mention, though, that Remote connects to your iTunes through a wireless signal, so this minor (and I use that term lightly) detail is pretty pertinent to its functioning.