Review of the Inmacus 18mm Wide Angle Lens for the iPhone 6

The Inmacus 18mm, with close up lens +5 and circular polarising filter. Click on all of the images to enlarge.

The Inmacus 18mm, with close up lens +5 and circular polarising filter (Click on all of the images to enlarge).

When I studied documentary photography in the 1980’s, for the first six months we were not allowed to use any lens other than a 50mm. It was a really useful  experience, as it made you think carefully about framing. Eventually we started to experiment with other focal lengths, but to this day I can fairly accurately predict, which lens I need for any given situation. If I am put in the position of only carrying one lens, my preferred focal length for the type of work that I do, is a 28mm.

With the iPhone, I have tended to zoom with my feet, but would have liked to have had a slightly wider focal length than the standard. I did try some experiments with the Olloclip 4-in-1 lens, but to be honest, whilst it’s fun, it softens the edge sharpness too much for my tastes. It does have a distinctive look, similar to a Lomo but it’s not suitable for the type of work I do.

To a large extent, after this experience, I dismissed the idea of using supplementary lenses, until I read a review of the Inmacus 18mm lens. The results looked excellent so when the company recently offered a 50% discount, I ordered one.

The Inmacus 18mm Lens, with included cover.

The Inmacus 18mm Lens, with included cover.

The lens comes in a specific iPhone 6 or 6 Plus mount. Included is the 18mm lens, a +5 close up lens and a circular polarising filter. First impressions are very positive. The lenses all have metal threads, are multicoated and come in a soft bag. It attaches using a unique design. You squeeze the sides of the mount which expand and grip your phone. The upside is that the fit is excellent and very secure, but it does mean that the mount is model specific.
In use, I have to say that the results are excellent. Lets have a look at some practical examples and compare it to the Olloclip I have.

Continue reading

Using the iRig Pre to Power and Connect an XLR Mic to a DSLR Camera

iRig Pre

On the left an unmodified IK Multimedia iRig Pre. On the right the hacked version. Use a 3.5mm/3.5mm stereo jack in the headphone socket to connect it to your DSLR (click on all of the pictures to enlarge).

In todays post we look at a simple low cost hack, that will allow you to use XLR mics with your DSLR camera. Giving you great quality and control, without the need to buy an expensive preamp or sound recorder.

For my smartphone journalism work I really like using the Røde Lavalier mic, so I thought I would try it out with my DSLRs. Unfortunately the mic requires phantom power, which is a feature that my simple DS214 Juiced link preamp doesn’t offer. No problem I thought, I also have a the more sophisticated Tascam D70, but unfortunately this doesn’t work with my Panasonic GH2, because it only accepts mic level inputs! Not wanting to have to invest in another expensive preamp, I did some research on the net. Continue reading

Is Serif Affinity Photo a Credible Alternative to Photoshop?

Serif Affinity Photo in the Photo Persona (normal edit workspace).

Serif Affinity Photo in the Photo Persona (normal edit workspace).

I was intrigued recently to see the announcement from ‘Serif’ of the launch of their new product Affinity Photo. It is being marketed as direct competition to Adobe Photoshop, which is a pretty bold claim! I did look at one of the beta releases about six months ago, which looked interesting, but like all beta releases it was a bit buggy. I have used Adobe products for the last twelve years, but as a lecturer was dismayed when they adopted the subscription model. Whilst I can afford it, it is an extra cost for students, who face ever increasing financial burdens.

The introductory price for Affinity Photo is £29.99 – 20% off until 23rd July (normally £39.99). That is a one off flat fee, with free upgrades. This compares to the student deal on Photoshop and Lightroom, which is £8.99 a month. So over the course of their studies (3 years) an undergraduate student will pay £323.64. So if the program is any good, it will be a substantial saving! Continue reading

Going Hand Held


Last weekend I videoed a Scooter festival, in my local town of Leek. I used my tripod to capture all of the action. Whilst this gives me a great, steady shot, I do sometimes have worries about people tripping over it. My usual solution is to use a Monopod, or if I want to be very mobile, a monopod into a waist belt.

This works great, but there are occasions when I want something even more compact and a way of mounting other gear, such as a radio mic or an LED light. A discussion on the #mojocon Facebook page, got me thinking about other solutions. I have used a Nikon flat bracket in the past, but it wasn’t the best solution. Bernhard Lill posted a picture of a bracket that looked like it would do the job. I found one on Amazon for £12. Bernhard mentioned that his smelt horrible, but mine doesn’t at all. With a Shoulderpod S1 camera bracket, it works really well. I started off with the handle in my left hand, but this left the audio input on the phone exposed and was a stretch for the TRRS converter (SC4) that I use to connect my Røde VideoMic Pro to my iPhone 6+. By changing everything around and holding the handle in my right hand (the same as I would with a DSLR), the jack into the phone is protected and I can even fit an Røde SC6 if I want to monitor the sound, through headphones. I added the very short handle that comes with the Shoulderpod S1 for extra stability. Continue reading

#mojo Battery Power/Charger Options

From left to right: 3. EC Technology / 2. Maxell / 1. Ankar with a pound coin for scale.

From left to right: 3. EC Technology / 2. Maxell / 1. Ankar

It is often said that ‘the best camera you have, is the one that you have with you’. This has been one of the philosophies behind the #mojo Mobile Journalism movement and the growth of using Smartphones for news gathering. The problem is phones now have multiple uses; web surfing, photography, videography and even making phone calls 🙂 so they use a lot of power. All too often the camera you have with you, is sitting in your pocket with a flashing battery warning! With most phone makers electing not to have removable batteries, the answer is to carry a portable charging device. Here are three I use, there are many more options available.

1. Anker 2nd Generation Astro mini 3350mAh Lipstick-Sized Portable Charger External Battery Power Bank. At £9.99 this is cheap as chips and with its small size (87gm) it easily slips into the pocket. It is made of aluminium so feels solid and robust. When I was using an iPhone 5, it would give me one complete charge. It also, easily attaches to my tripod with a velcro strap, so I can use it whilst videoing.

2. Maxell 790404 5200mAh Power Bank Battery. This is a slightly larger unit, weighing 152 gm. It cost £25.16 and with my iPhone 5 gives me just over two full charges. With its aluminium housing, it feels very robust. Again it is small enough to velcro to a tripod so can be used whilst videoing.

3. EC Technology® 2nd Gen Deluxe 22400mAh Ultra High Capacity 3 USB Output External Battery (£28.99). This is a monster weighing in at 476 gm, you could build walls out of these! I bought this for prolonged trips where I do not have access to mains power. I charged my iPhone 5 with it and the battery indicator didn’t move. It will in theory charge an iPhone 4S 13 times!  It has three outputs and has a plastic case, presumably to keep the weight down. This is definitely one for the camera bag and not your pockets! It even has a built in torch!

I have recently bought an iPhone 6 Plus which has much better battery capacity than my iPhone 5, I will post charging figures for both phones when I have more data. Hope that helps! If you have any solutions you would recommend, please let me know.

 

Microphones Testing Testing 123

mics3Whilst for 9 out of 10 #mojo interviews I prefer to use a lavalier (clip on) mic, sometimes other microphones do come in handy. I have recently been looking for a USB microphone that I could use for podcasts and voice-overs. They have the advantage that they can be plugged directly into a computer/iPhone/iPad, without having to use an additional preamp. I was also interested to find a hand held, reporter style mic, that I could use with my iPhone for #mojo pieces. Here are some sound files to illustrate my findings. They are best reviewed with a good set of earphones.

First off is the Samson Meteor Mic (£56.65) which I know is a popular choice with podcasters. There are loads of reviews on YouTube, so I won’t go into too much detail about the build quality and looks. However, in a nut shell it’s a work of art. Well built and in the chrome finish I tested, it looks like something from the 1930’s, that Flash Gordon would be at home using. It uses a USB connector, but can be wired into an iPhone or iPad with the camera connector. In use, with its large diameter condenser diaphragm (25mm) it has a very full rich tone. Unfortunately with the sample I tried, there was a little background noise. Probably not too much to worry about, but it is there.

Next up, is the IK Multimedia IRIG MIC HDIN Microphone (£80). This comes with a selection of connection options; including USB and Lightening cables, so it can be plugged directly into an iPhone (a 30 pin connector can also be purchased for older iPhones). In use I found the mic to be exceptionally quiet, with a full sound. It also comes with a microphone clip, so can be connected to a stand. At a normal handheld distance, in a quiet environment it was fine. However in noisy environments, where I had to hold it closer to my mouth, I did find it was susceptible to breath noise and popping. To counter this I tried it with a Rycote foamy which cured the problem completely.

…and with a Rycote Foamy

I already have a Reporters mic, an Audio Technica AT804, which is a short handled model. So I also tried that into an iRig Pro (see my review). Again this was very quiet, but not quite such a rich sound as the IPIRIGMICHDIN Microphone.

So what conclusions can we draw? Well listen to the sound clips and decide for yourselves.  I know the iRig mic and the Samson Meteor were designed for different tasks, but there is quite a lot of cross over. For versatility and sound quality, I really like the IK Multimedia IPIRIGMICHDIN mic. It can be used directly into a computer or iPhone. I did find it a little prone to breath noise when it was used close to the mouth, but using a cheap foamy rectifies this.

I wanted to like the Samson Meteor Mic, the build quality, looks and full sound are exceptional, but it is a little noisy.

If you are already using an iRig Pro and have a Reporters Mic, try that. Depending on the mic it can be great and again is very quiet.

All of the microphones where tested, by plugging them into an Apple Macbook Pro and recording directly into Audacity (A free multi-track audio editor and recorder). As you can hear from the recordings, I have a voice that is probably better suited to being behind a camera and not in front, sorry!

Ethics Statement: All of the equipment above has been purchased by me. This site is not sponsored in any way. If products are reviewed for manufacturers it will be clearly stated, none of the above was.

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#MOJO Demystifying Microphone/Headphone Interfaces

As soon as you start working on mobile journalism pieces, two things become apparent. Bad audio can completely wreck a video and to be confident you need to monitor the sound you are recording, using headphones (see my article here).

Whilst the on-board mics in your phone are fine for ambient sound, to isolate people you need to use some form of external microphone. A popular choice for #mojo reporters is the Lavaliere (lapel/tie clip) mic, which can be discreetly placed on your subject. For reporters working to camera, some may prefer a stick mic (some models are specifically designed with longer bodies, to facilitate a good working distance)

XLR Connectors Microphone/iRig/Rode Lav

XLR Connectors Microphone/iRig/Rode Lav

No matter what you choose, most professional microphones use XLR connectors (see note below) and some require a power source to work (referred to as Phantom Power). So your first consideration is to find a way to plug these into your phone, some kind of interface box.

There are a few options currently available and a few new models about to be released. The most popular options for #mojo reporters at the moment, are the iRig Pre and iRig Pro. These are made by IK Multimedia, a company that produce recording interfaces for musicians using tablets and phones. Both of these models are essentially high quality preamps. They boost the microphone output so that the gain in the phone can be kept low, to avoid introducing noise. Continue reading

Sandisk iXpand 32GB Flash Drive

Sandisk iXpand Flash Drive 32 MB for the iPhone!

Sandisk iXpand Flash Drive 32 MB for the iPhone! Click to enlarge.

During the recent Mobile Journalism Conference (#mojocon) in Dublin, the organiser Glenn Mulcahy announced that he had a surprise for everyone. We would all be getting a 32GB Sandisk iXpand Flash Drive, for the iPhone! It was like one of those American chat shows, where they talk about something and then give everybody in the audience one (without the silly whoops and screams)!

Apple for some strange reason, has never included the option to expand the internal memory of their phones, with removable storage. This could be related to the silly price they charge for models with expanded ram. Having just bought a 128GB iPhone 6+ I thought the gift was a nice gesture, but I wouldn’t have much need for it.

However just a few days after getting it, it has proved really useful. I was demonstrating the Filmic Pro app to a lecturer at another University, she was impressed and keen to have a copy of the files. I only had my iPhone with me and didn’t have access to her Wifi. To make matters worse, she is a Windows user (I know)….  Luckily I had the iXpand with me, so it was a simple task, to back up the video onto it and transfer it to her machine. Job done!

I have only just upgraded from a16GB iPhone 5 model, which was always full and giving me memory warnings. When I shot #mojo pieces on it, I had to clear off all my stored images and video to free up space, so it would have been great for that. It is also be ideal for journalists/students who want to quickly, get media off their phones and onto editing machines. Circumventing long uploads/downloads to cloud services.

It’s a very simple solution. It has built in Lightening and USB connectors. You download an app from the App Store. Plug the drive in and select what you want to backup. It has a built in battery, which Sandisk says ‘speeds up transfer times and doesn’t drain the iPhone battery’. Transfer speeds are really quick.

iPhone 5 plugged into the 32GB Sandisk iXpand Flash Drive.

iPhone 5 plugged into the 32GB Sandisk iXpand Flash Drive. Click to enlarge.

I am using the iPhone for more and more video and photographic work. With the big screen of the 6+, the only reason I take a laptop with me is to back everything up. Now I can just slip the iXpand in my pocket for that added piece of mind. When I get home, it is then just a simple job to plug it into my desktop computer, to permanently archive everything.

To sum up: My students know I am obsessed with backing everything up. This does a great job and makes sharing files easy. I am going to buy another one! At the moment it doesn’t seem to be available in the UK, the 32MB version costs $80 in the US. I will try to find out when it will be available here.

I am working on a review of the conference, which I will post soon.

Student #mojo Mobile Journalism Kit For Less than £100!

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Student #mojo Kit

I am now teaching mobile film making and Journalism at three UK Universities. Whilst all three institutions provide equipment, a growing number of students want to buy their own. So here are some of my recommendations. The key features are; Good value for students on a limited budget (under £100), future proof and good quality (professional).

1. Phone: you already have it!
2. Smart Phones are notoriously power hungry, so an additional battery is a must. This one is the Anker Astro Mini 3200mAh, which gives me one complete charge. I Velcro it to my tripod. Cost £13.99
3. Microphone and Extension Lead. The key to good #mojo is good sound. A popular mic is the Røde Smartlav+. These were designed specifically for smartphones. Cost £43.99. The cable on the Smartlav+ is quite short so you will need an extention. Amazon do a 2mtr TRRS cable for £3.44. Røde also do a 6 mtr SC1 extension for £13.99.
4. Input/Output Device: A key to using external microphones is being able to monitor your sound input. There are a number of solutions, including the iRig Pre (which include a pre-amplifier and allows you to use XLR mics). However if you are just using the Smartlav+ a cheaper solution is to use a Røde SC6. This allows you to attach two mics and a set of headphones. Cost £11.49
5. Tripod Mount: The Jobo Griptight at £9.77 (check it will fit your phone, there are different sizes available).
6. Headphones: You probably have a set.  There are some recommendations here. Use ones without a built in mic.

Amazing value at £15.64 including this ball head

The Amazon tripod, amazing value at £15.74 including this ball head

7. Tripod: For the budget conscious an AmazonBasics Tripod with Ball Head costs £15.74! This is an amazingly cheap and sturdy tripod. In some places you would pay more for the ball head and it comes in a bag! Not as compact as some, but not bad and extends to eye hight!

So lets do the maths:
Battery     £13.99
Røde Smartlav+     £43.99
TRRS Cable     £3.44
Røde SC6     £11.49
Jobo Griptight     £9.77
Tripod     £15.74
TOTAL: £98.42

If you can afford it, I would replace the Griptight with a Shoulderpod S1 at £25. They are much stronger and fit a wider variety of phones, but the Griptight does the job and keeps us to budget.

So there you have it. Excellent sound and a steady platform, all for under £100.

Ethics Statement: All of the equipment above has been purchased by me. This site is not sponsored in any way. If products are reviewed for manufacturers it will be clearly stated, none of the above was.

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PicPlayPost for MultiMedia Collages

Sometimes one picture is not enough to tell a story. I recently discovered PicPlayPost, an app that allows you to create and post multimedia collages. These can then be embedded in your own website or posted to popular social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It is available for both the Android and iOS platforms. It is free to use, but posts with a small watermark, which can be removed with an in-app purchase of (£1.49) UK.

Example: A MultiMedia collage from the 2010 Greek General Election.

It is incredibly easy to use. There are 48 preset grids and you simply choose images and video from your camera roll. You can also pick a music track from your music collection, but be very careful with copyright issues!

You can either save the video as a finished piece or upload it to a social media site of your choice. It can also be streamed from the PicPlayPost server. To avoid their page layout and requests to download the app, simply right click on the video and embed the direct link (as above). If you use the hashtag #picplaypost in your work, it may even be featured via the app. Most of the examples they shown are from selfy, gym types, which detracts from how useful this platform could be for journalistic use. Don’t let that put you off!

Media organisations such as CNN are using the platform to illustrate stories on their website and on Instagram. It is very easy to use, free and looks very professional. Whats not to like, give it a go!. Download here Android and iOS. Here is another example of my work.