Archive for category Reviews

Review: 4 Port 250 Mhz VGA Splitter

splitter I purchased this VGA Splitterto drive multiple monitors from the VGA output of a 16-channel security DVR. It’s a small, flat black box with all connections on the rear, nothing on the front but a single red LED indicating it is powered up.

At this point, I’ve set it up with two monitors on outputs one and two, each on a 100 foot standard VGA cable. Fidelity is good; no hum or other interference is visible, and the resulting display is very sharp. However, my application is not as demanding in terms of sharpness as normal computer output is; I’m only using 640×400 resolution. Other reviews agree that output is sharp for computer use, and the claim in the marketing materials is that it is good up to 1920 horizontally. Odds are excellent that it will provide a sharp display in your application, but again, I can’t vouch for that, only for what I have seen.
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Review: Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro Lens

100mm Generally speaking, the Canon EF 100mmis a great lens. The bokeh is fine. The lens is pretty fast. f/2.8 to f/22 is useful as a creative range. The optics are sharp and the all-time focusing is a boon. So what’s not to like? Well, here’s the thing. The Canon EOS50D, which I use, has the ability to use the viewfinder in “live preview” mode, and when doing so, will allow you to zoom in on your focus point (or anywhere else, but that’s irrelevant to my point here) such that you can see extremely fine detail. At which point you can manually focus the lens so that it is exactly right. Marvelous, right?

It would be. But the lens has some mechanical backlash problems. Let me explain backlash; if you’re not familiar with it, it takes a bit of describing.
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Review: Phoenix 500mm Catadioptric Lens

phoenix500 The Phoenix 500mmis a catadioptric lens. That means that it is very similar to a reflex, or mirror, telescope, and that it mixes mirror elements with refractive elements. The light comes in the front of the lens, goes right to the back of the lens, where it hits a large (full lens circumference) concave mirror, which then focuses all that light more tightly back in the direction it came. In the middle of the business end of the lens is another mirror, which then sends the light down the center of the lens back toward the camera, where standard refractive optical elements further magnify and focus the incoming light prior to hitting the film or sensor. A lens of this type is not only similar to a reflector telescope, it can actually perform as one, and you can find eyepiece attachments for just that purpose.

One of the significant benefits of a catadioptric lens is that you get less chromatic aberration, and so with subjects like the moon, which you expect to be grey, you actually get a grey image. With a standard refractor telephoto, you’re quite likely to get colored fringes on sharp bright/dark boundaries – this is an area where reflectors can and do excel, and this lens is no exception.
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Review: Monster MP PRO 3500

My A/V system has a fair amount of stuff. There’s what I call the current generation set of gear… There’s a Sony STR-DA5300ES receiver, a separate 750 watt power amp for my sub, a PS3/Blueray, an XBox360/HD-DVD, a conventional progressive scan DVD player, a Wii, a DBS/DVR, a Mac Mini and a CD/MD player. Then there is what I call the last generation set of gear, an XBox, a PS2, and a Gamecube. There are several wall warts for things like rechargeable Wii controllers, an XBox 360 wheel, a network switch, a power supply for the dish multiplexer and so on. All of this feeds an Optoma 1080p projector which has its own UPS that also runs the Mac Mini (you really don’t want a projector to suddenly lose power… the fan stops and the bulb immediately overheats, losing lifespan or even dying right there on the spot; and of course you don’t want power to a computer failing, ever.)

The wiring for all this stuff is… formidable. Prior to getting the Monster unit, there were multiple power strips and cables just everywhere. So the first thing I got out of the MP PRO 3500was increased organization and lessened clutter. I still needed a couple of power strips, partially because wall warts take up so much room, and partially because there are just so many units, but trust me, it is a lot better than it was.
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Review: Canon EF 85mm ƒ/1.2L II USM Lens


The Canon EF 85mm f1.2L II USM Lensis a very heavy (1025 grams or 2.25 lbs), very well built lens. It comes packaged with the appropriate hood, the Canon ES-7911. You get both a lens cap and a mount cap, all packed inside tight conformal foam to protect the lens during shipping. There’s also a very brief manual and the usual warranty paperwork.

The 85mm specification is for a full-frame camera; with an APS-C size sensor like the one in my EOS 50D, this is multiplied by 1.6 to an effective 136mm.

The lens offers AF and manual focus. However, the manual focus is electronically driven from the focus ring to the AF motor system, which has several consequences. First, you can’t focus when the camera is off. Second, the rate of focus is limited by the speed of the focus motor. Third, focus adjustments are extremely precise, essentially free of backlash and drift. The first two issues are negatives, but in my view, they are more than outweighed by the third. For instance, I often take images of the night sky; in order to do this, the lens can be AF-focused on something in the sky (I’ve been using Mars recently for this), and then it can be put into manual focus where the focus will remain correct and constant as long as the camera and lens temperatures do not change significantly. This is the only lens I own that has stable enough focus hardware to be able to do this. The focus ring is broad and well-textured, and a pleasure to use. There is a second textured area on the lens barrel, closer to the camera, that you can mistake for the focus ring – this area is meant to assist you in mounting and unmounting the lens. I’ve learned to avoid it. Manual focus is precise and moving the ring results in a fine enough focus change that when you blow a shot, you can be absolutely certain the lens wasn’t to blame.
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Review: Manfrotto 322RC2 Horizontal Grip Action Ball Head

The 322RC2 Ball Head and rapid connect plate,used in combination with a decent set of tripod legs (for example, Bogen Manfrotto 190XPROB) are a profound step up from the all-in-one tripods you may be used to. Even more importantly, they are a step up from most other ball heads by virtue of the immense improvement in both speed and ease of aiming your camera once actually mounted to the ball head. I can’t emphasize this enough: This product actually changes how you use your camera, because repositioning the camera on all axis at once is a one hand, fraction of a second operation.

I know that’s hard to visualize, so let me describe the process. The head has a handle sticking out the side, quite substantial and comfortable, that fits in your hand (right or left, your choice.) On this handle is a very large “trigger” that fits beneath all of your fingers as they wrap around the handle. When you pull this trigger, the ball head releases your camera and you can move it, using the handle as a precise and ergonomic lever, to any new position you like in no more time than it takes to adjust your wrist and arm – essentially immediately. Then you simply let go of the trigger and the ball head locks the camera right where you have it pointed.

The process I just described applies equally to large pans and tilts as it does to tiny pointing adjustments. If you find that difficult to believe, I’m with you – so did I – but having used the head extensively, trust me, it really works as advertised.
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Review: Galactic Odyssey – by Keith Laumer


Keith Laumer’s long and varied career as a science fiction writer has seen all manner of interesting stories come and go. No matter what you think of his writing style, his ideas are as varied as one could possibly wish for.

Some of his books are better than others, like any writer, and I want to say that if you have enjoyed anything he has written, you owe it to yourself to find a copy of this book.

Now, I don’t want to spoil the story – I don’t consider it the job of a book reviewer to tell you the plot, or even tease you with a little bit of the plot – so you will find no spoilers here. Instead, let me tell you that the book will leave you thrilled and awed, not to mention envious.
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Review: Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Lens


The Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Medium Telephoto Lensis a moderate weight (15 oz), very well built lens. It does not come with the appropriate hood, the Canon ET-65 III. You get both a lens cap and a mount cap, all packed inside tight conformal foam to protect the lens during shipping. There’s also a very brief manual and the usual warranty paperwork.

The lens offers AF and manual focus, and allows manual focus even when AF is set to on, a very useful feature for low-light and other challenging focus situations. This is a USM lens, and as a direct consequence focus is fast and precise, just as you’d expect.

The AF/Manual switch is in a reasonable location, close to the camera body. There is a range indication on the barrel of the lens behind a transparent window which serves to keep dust and debris out of the workings of the lens. Manual focus is controlled with a broad, easy to manage textured ring about mid-body on the lens. During focus, nothing external on the lens body moves or rotates, so there are no complications for using polarizing filters, and no concerns about the lens “pumping” air and so causing dust contamination in either the lens or camera with use.
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