Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Essential Travel Tools: Sony PSP

PSPGo has been discontinued. A new PSP, code-named NGP, is slated for release in 2011
PSPgo - Pearl White
Traveling today has become more time consuming. Having to arrive early to get through security checks often means having to spend time ... a lot of time ... waiting. Waiting to board a flight. Waiting to check in. Waiting means you need a distraction. Are you a movie lover? Music lover? Gamer? If so, then the Sony Playstation Portable (PSP) is an ideal travel companion.
The most current versions (PSP Go* and PSP 3000) as well as the PSP 2000 systems not only let you game, listen to music or watch movies on a large, bright screen but also allow you to read comics, surf the Internet and make phone calls via Skype. Both the 2000 and 3000 series require Memory Stick Duo cards (up to 32GB available) if you want to store music or movies but the PSP Go has 16GB of built in storage and a slot for a Memory Stick Duo giving you a maximum storage of 48GB. That’s a lot of space for plenty of music, movies and games! The PSP Go doesn’t accept the UMD game cartridges of the older systems so you must purchase and download games from the Playstation Store. Some might find that inconvenient but I think it has a huge advantage over having to carry multiple UMD cartridges. Good news is that the PSP 2000/3000 series can download games to the Memory Stick Duo ... so get as big a card as you can afford.
PSP 3000 is, as of this writing, still in production
PSP 3000 Core Pack - Black
Both the PSP Go and the PSP 3000 have a built-in microphone and speakers allowing you to make Skype calls without any additional hardware. PSP 2000 series, though they have speakers, requires a headset/microphone combination if you’re interested in being able to make Skype calls via wireless from wherever your travels take you. Being able to make free phone calls from anywhere in the world via Skype through a PSP makes it an incredible tool for the price.Both the PSP Go and the PSP 3000 have a built-in microphone and speakers allowing you to make Skype calls without any additional hardware. PSP 2000 series, though they have speakers, requires a headset/microphone combination if you’re interested in being able to make Skype calls via wireless from wherever your travels take you. Being able to make free phone calls from anywhere in the world via Skype through a PSP makes it an incredible tool for the price.
The built-in on-screen keyboard works well enough for basic web surfing or sending simple e-mail messages through GMail or other web-based e-mail solutions. Even without a touch screen, which I feel is a flaw on the PSP Go considering its competition, the combination of features are noteworthy. With a larger screen and actual gaming controls most gamers would be hard pressed to choose and iPhone or iPod Touch over a Sony PSP system. Maybe the next generation PSP** will add a touchscreen and 64GB of built-in storage thus thrusting itself into the forefront of travel essentials. Until then, either a PSP 2000, 3000 or Go is a welcome travel companion.
*20Apr11 - Sony announced that they will no longer continue production of the PSPGo. As of this writing the PSP 3000 is still in production and the new PSP, code-named NGP, is expected to go on sale in late 2011.

**The new PSP, code-named NGP, does have touchscreen, GPS and a motion sensor.
**UPDATE: 1 Dec 11 - The next-generation PSP is called the PSP Vita
Originally published in The Beacon Newsmagazine October 2010

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Experience Italian culture and history for free during Culture Week

Italian Cultural Week offers free entrance to state-run musuems, monuments and archaelogical sites

When planning a trip one of the biggest budget killers tends to be entry fees into attractions. For the frugal traveler this sometimes means missing out on sites you've been dreaming of seeing since you were a child. Italian Cultural Week is here to change that!

XIII Settimana della Cultura, or the 13th Annual Cultural Week, in Italy runs from April 9 – 17, 2011. Italy has an immense cultural and artistic history to share with the world and during Cultural Week state-run museums, monuments and archaeological sites open their doors and share that history with the public for free!

Outside of Italy it doesn't appear that this is a well-advertised event. I found it completely by accident when I was in Italy in 2004. When I returned to Italy in 2007 I got lucky and happened to be there again at just the right time. Unfortunately, the week fluctuates from year to year so planning your trip around it requires a little research through the Ministry of Heritage and Culture

At the Ministry of Heritage and Culture site you will find information on the near 2500 events, concerts, guided tours and such going on during Settimana della Cultura. Some of the sites include the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum in Rome, the Uffizi Gallery, Medici Chapels and Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence as well as the Gallerie dell'Accademia and Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Venice. No matter where your adventures in Italy take you you'll be sure to find attractions you've been longing to see are free to visit during Cultural Week. A list of sites, by region, can be searched at the Ministry of Heritage and Culture site.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Keeping it all in focus


Hyperfocal example: Staircase in tunnel - Rock City, Tennessee (TN)
Hyperfocal example:
Staircase in tunnel -
Rock City, Tennessee (TN)
Often times, when taking travel photographs, we are faced with interesting foreground, middle-ground and background subjects and we want all of them reasonably in focus. To gain the maximum depth-of-field (DoF) and achieve our goal we have basically two options: Stop the lens all the way down or set the hyperfocal distance that is optimal for your subject distances.
Hyperfocal example: Walkway and cliff face - Rock City, Tennessee (TN)
Hyperfocal example:
Walkway and cliff face -
Rock City, Tennessee (TN)
Before we get into the details lets define "depth-of-field" as simply what is in focus beyond the point of focus (PoF). Typically this is 1/3 in front of the point of focus and 2/3 behind the point of focus. There are a lot of factors that go into DoF including image format (size), focal length and subject magnification. To fully flush out all these factors would be a very lengthy article. So in the interest of conciseness and simplicity we’ll stick to our simple definition.
Stopping down the lens
The first of these options, stopping the lens all the way down, is least desirable. Without getting overly technical it’s sufficient to say that, due to laws of physics relating to light refraction, stopping all the way down actually makes the overall image less sharp while adding DoF. For better results lets explore the concept of "hyperfocal distance."
Hyperfocal distance
Hyperfocal distance is defined as "... the closest distance at which a lens can be focused while keeping objects at infinity acceptably sharp; that is, the focus distance with the maximum depth of field. When the lens is focused at this distance, all objects at distances from half of the hyperfocal distance out to infinity will be acceptably sharp."
The good news is that the technique is simple to employ. Basically what needs to be kept in mind is finding the f-stop which provides optimal performance for your lens. In my experience any wide-angle lens from 21mm to 35mm (35mm format equivalent) performs best somewhere between f/8 and f/11 when setting for hyperfocal distance. Once you’ve determined the best setting for your lens, using the following technique, you can use that f-stop reliably ... confident that you will get the results you are after.
Technique 1
Hyperfocal setting of Mamiya 7 43mm lens (21mm in 35mm equivalent). With infinity set at f/11 the depth-of-field is from about 4.5 feet to infinity.
Example 1
Hyperfocal setting of Mamiya 7 43mm f/4.5 lens (21mm in 35mm equivalent). With infinity set at f/11 the depth-of-field is from about 4.5 feet to infinity.
The simplest version of this technique (Example 1) is to set your infinity mark on your lens next to the f-stop mark you’ve determined to be correct (in this case, f/11). Looking at the f-stop mark on the opposite side of the focus line will tell you the distance at which foreground subjects will be in focus (approx. 4.5 feet). Just this simple setting maximizes your DoF. Now compose your image and take the photo.
Technique 2
Hyperfocal setting of Mamiya 7 43mm lens (21mm in 35mm equivalent). With focus set at about 4.5 feet the depth-of-field is from about 3 feet to 8 feet.
Mamiya 743mm f/4.5 lens (21mm in 35mm equivalent) with focus set at about 4.5 feet. At this setting the depth-of-field is from about 3 feet to 8 feet ... much shallower than the hyperfocal setting in Example 1.
The second version of this technique is not much more complicated it just allows you to be more selective in determining your foreground subject. Use Technique 1 described above to determine the distance at which your foreground subjects will be in focus. Then set the focus to that point (approx. 4.5 feet in our example). Next physically move so that your foreground subject is at that distance or just slightly beyond that distance. Now reset your hyperfocal distance as described in Technique 1. Lastly, compose your image and take the photo.
The main difference between these two techniques is simply that you are making sure that your forground subject falls within the hyperfocal distance. If your camera has a DoF preview function you can use that to aid in checking what will be relatively in focus in your image.
Using this simple technique will maximize your DoF without sacrificing overall image sharpness. Obviously there are times when you want to assure that a certain subject in the scene is absolutely in focus. During those instances, forgo the hyperfocal technique and focus accurately on your subject.
Originally published in The Beacon Newsmagazine September 2010