Reviews on gear and software

The best dock for your desktop?

One of the main reasons I switched from the Mac back to the PC was very simple.
It had nothing to do with the fact I did not like MacOS, but it was the fact that my workhorse, the MacBookPro, was severly butchered by Apple. Taking away the magsafe, bad keyboard, no more ports like HDMI, standard USB and taking away the card readers…. and raising the prices again to an “insane” level….

But we are a few years further and Apple has done some very cool things.
Over the last year I’ve been using an iPad pro almost exclusively for all my work, including video and photo editing, but also creating and recording music, consuming media etc. it’s just an awesome device, but…. there is also a huge problem with the iPad pro if you want to use professionally.

With the release of the M1 chip things have changed a lot for me, and we are even thinking about getting the new MacBookPro for me when it’s released lated this year (or next year), but that also brings me to the reason for this review.

More and more I’m using my iPad pro, and where I in the past would only use it on my lap it’s now also often found on my desk connected to a wired network connection (for the NAS), an external monitor, keyboard and mouse and of course a nice audio interface. It’s actually quite impressive to see what you can do with the iPad pro, and also a bit frustrating that Apple still limits the usage on an external monitor to a the iPads aspect ratio, meaning black bars on the side, but let’s hope things will change soon. In fact when you look at the new way the Mac connects to the iPad as a second display and knowing both are running the same chips (language) I think (if Apple doesn’t close it all off) the future is very bright for creatives using Apple gear, and it’s one of the things that really drives me back to the Mac (although I love my Windows setup).

Anyway back on topic
One of the issue I run into almost daily is connectivity.
When working on the coach or in the RV it’s not a big deal, you simple connect an external Harddrive and when I need to use something else with USB you can use a USB dongle or just get a small convertor/dongle that supports several connections like for example something like this.

And trust me they work ok.
But they don’t do everything you need.
I actually have several of these kind of dongles and when I combine them all, I can attach everything, but I never found one that did it all (without problems), for example I have one that supports USB, USB-C, HDMI and Network, but…. that one can’t charge my laptop or iPad, so I’m limited to my battery life (which is pretty ok, but still). Now when we travel it’s not really a big deal, we use the dongles only a short period during for example a presentation, or to connect an audio interface.

But when I’m home or in the studio I want a solution that makes my iPad pro or MacBookPro completely capable to do whatever I want, without thinking about charging, network or whatever.

As mentioned before I’ve tried several solutions and never found one that did it all, without issues.

 

Enter the OWC Thunderbolt dock 3
First thing you have to realize is that this is not a portable device. It’s build like a tank, and it has a pretty large powerbrick. So this is really a device for the desktop, but that’s exactly what I need. So lets first take a look at the unit itself.

Ok as you can see, we have more than enough options here, including a working powersupply for a MacBookPro and also my iPad pro works like a charm, however I have to add that I cannot get my Dell XPS 9570 i9 to work with the dock, this could be a problem with my thunderbolt drivers, we are still looking into this issue, and I’ll update the review when I solved it.

The dock is very complete with I think almost everything you’ll ever need, and I love the idea that the dock is powered, somehow I never trust passive docks in the long run when recording music for longer stretches.

The main advantages from docks like this is that you can place it on the desk and forget about it. Just run one Thunderbolt Cable from the dock to your laptop or iPad and you’re done. For me this is an insanely handy option because with one cable I now litterally keep my whole setup in tact, same keyboard/mouse/monitor/network/external drives etc. as on the laptop, meaning it’s a very seamless experience switching between devices.

So how does the dock work
Well what can you say. You connect the power, and connect all the hardware you need and…. well that’s it.
What I really like about this dock is however that on the front I can find a cardreader for both SD and MicroSD, an analog audio in/out and of course a standard USB3.1 and a USB3.1 Gen2 connection. This makes it really easy to quickly connect an external harddrive or of course empty your cards.

The speed is very good, compared to some of my previous dongles it now finally feels like I’m working on an SSD instead of an old spinner drive (ok I do overreact a bit, but it’s just a lot snappier), also with my previous dock I had to reset my audio interface sometimes because it just doesn’t want to keep the clock correct (sample rate), on the OWC I did not yet experience this, big tumbs up.

For video you are able to connect a monitor running up to 4K60 which is very nice for a dock. Do remember that unless you are a gamer 4K60 is more than enough for both videoediting as working on your photo’s. 4K30 would also not be a problem, but personally I rather have the 60hz version.
Power to the laptop or iPad is 85W, which will keep your MacBookPro charged constantly even under a heavy load, and trust me you don’t want to see your battery running down while streaming live (yes it happened to us).

Ofcourse you can daisy chain your Thunderbolt port, and the front USB port even charges your phone or tablet when connected.
Also the headphone/mic connector on the front can be very handy when doing zoom meetings (and we all do those a lot recently).
Now wired network might not be a big deal when you don’t copy large files, but try copying 30GB over wifi and get back to me… when you’re done, and now do the same thing over a wired connection… you never want to go back (and we use a lot of data stored on the NAS).

Can it be improved?
Heck yeah, of course, everything can.
One of the things I read a lot online is the fact OWC opted for a mini display port instead of the more standard availablee HDMI connector. Well I agree and disagree, for me personally it’s not a really big deal. Most monitors will also be outfitted with a mini display port and for example BenQ (the monitors I use) in most cases also delivers the cable in the box. If you don’t have a cable you do have to take into account the extra cost which is under 20.00 euros, depending on the option you choose (do make sure you get the 4K version and not a full HD version)

One thing I do really would have loved to see changed is the delivered Thunderbolt cable, with 50cm that is really way too short if you want to be able to place the dock a bit more freely on your desk or for example a bit higher than the connected device, and changing that cable… well is a bit more expensive, for a good cable you really have to add between 40-50 euros to the costs of the dock, but if you can use the 50cm version that’s not necessary of course, in my situation it’s matter of switching some places on the desk and it worked, but it’s tight. Luckily you can easily switch the cable, just make sure you get the right cable and not a cheap USB-c Cable.

Conclusion
It’s not possible to deny that now a days you really need a dock.
It’s a simple fact of life that laptops and tablets are getting less and less connectivity while we as users need even more than in the past. Luckily companies like OWC don’t only think about the “consumer” part, where wifi is fast enough, but also about the pros using their gear.

The OWC Thunderbolt 3 dock is not the cheapest on the market, but for what you get… it’s worth every penny I would say, although for us it would be cents 🙂
If you’re like me running a laptop and tablet as your main devices, just skip all the cheaper solutions, I think I spend over 300.00 on docks and dongles that simply don’t work in the home situation, the OWC Thunderbolt 3 dock does and it’s also very complete with all the connections one could wish, plus it charges with 85W which is a big deal when you really push your gear.

I would say “Highly Recommended”
Thx to OWC for giving me the oppertunity to test the TB3 dock.

 

 

 

Tourbox NEO review

How often did you think.
“man I would love something that replaces my keyboard for shortcuts”
If that’s you, this might be of interest for you.

As you guys know I’m always 100% honest in my reviews. So let’s start by stating that this product was send to us for review, but that will not for even 1% influence my opinion. So let’s start.

What is it?
Tourbox is a small but very well build (and heavy) external device with buttons and dials that can be “freely” programmed to replace shortcuts. Now there are several solutions out there and some fall in the catagory “total junk” and “genius”. Let me start with stating that the tourbox is very close to the segment “Very usable to genius”. Let me explain.

These kind of devices are a mixed bag for me and a lot of people.
When we have a keyboard in front of us we can learn the shortcuts and for example order a small keyboard that you lay on your lap or next to you while working, or one can just chose to operate everything with a mouse/trackpad, and in all honesty for a lot of software this is still my prefered way of working, for example take lightroom, I’ve never found a product that actually speeds up the trackpad/mouse workflow, for the simple reason that Lightroom has a very clear structure and you can work from top to bottom setting everything up and seeing you also skip certain settings working with the mouse/trackpad is just very very easy also because when you use local adjustments you already need a mouse/trackpad/tablet.

So although it does work flawlessly in Lightroom I would probably never use it myself for this, no matter what others say 🙂
Now let’s look at Photoshop.

The more you work in Photoshop the more you are almost using shortcuts blindely, for the simple reason you use them all the time, and also Photoshop is a totally different program than Lightroom. For me Lightroom is really based on a mouse/trackpad workflow where Photoshop is really aimed at a tablet/pen control surface PLUS shortcuts on a keyboard, you actually hardly to never touch the mouse/trackpad, and in that case…. man this is genius.

We all have our favorite shortcuts.
For me it’s always the following I program.
Brush size, Rotate canvas, switch for/background (X), Curves, Levels, Saturation, zoom in and out, 100%, fill and of course the usual Space, CRTL, SHIFT etc.
And those can all be programmed in the Tourbox, and this makes it very usable for Photoshop and other software that is really based on shortcuts and non mouse/trackpad operation.

So let’s take a look at the software itself so you get an idea about what’s possible (and it’s a lot)

First of all, don’t worry that you have to do a lot of work before using the tourbox, there are several presets available in the software right after the installation. So when you use Photoshop and Lightroom you’re already covered. But what about if you want it differently (what I would do without a doubt). Well that’s very easy.

It’s very easy to create a new preset, and after that the fun really starts.
Of course you can emulate the normal keystrokes, but also combinations with SHIFT, CRTL etc.
But… and that’s actually very cool, you can also combine keys on the tourbox, for example the normal dial changes brushsize, but if you hold the side button you can use th same dial for screenzoom for example. And that makes the tourbox A LOT more usable, you are literally not limited to the keys you see (well actually you are, but you can also combine the keys making it a lot more usable).

Now this sounds awesome, but it also brings in a problem I experience almost everyday, “where the heck did I …..”, and with so many options it can indeed very quickly become very confusing. It also doesn’t really help the device is black including the keys (later more on that).

Now loads of people will program the Tourbox the way that they use it, and the nice thing is that you can download those from the TourBox website. Just search for the program you want to use and download the presets.

 

Luckily you can always call up the hub and see what’s programmed.
And if you don’t know all the shortcuts, don’t panic, the TourBox software helps you out by the build in functions menu. This makes programming literally a breeze.

 

Conclusion
Ok, so how does it work in reality.
Let me start with the positives.

First off all the device is build very nicely, it’s heavy enough to not drift around the table or your lap, but not too heavy you can’t travel with it. Also size wise it’s a very smart size, it’s not too small and certainly not to big, plus a BIG plus…. it uses USB-C, I still don’t understand why manufactores still release gear with other connections than USB-C.

Also there is so much flexibility that it’s almost impossible that there is a situation where you can’t use it.
So overall I’m very positive about the TourBox. But let’s also take a look at the negatives.

First of all one could argue that it should be wireless, and I start with this one because I agree and disagree. You do have to realize the price point of the TourBox, compared to some competitors the TourBox is A LOT cheaper and when you add wireless you will need a battery and of course BT or WiFi board which will drive the price up and also the stability, I’m actually mostly a fan of devices that also have the option to be used with a wired connection because I hate batteries that run out, or connections that are instable (and yes that happens a lot).

Ok so what can they improve
Now do realize that some of these options will add some costs or are not possible in this product.

First off all I think the TourBox is genius for Photoshop but also when recording and editing video and music, and especially for music it’s awesome to be able to start recording/punch ins with just a quick tap on a button instead of reaching out to the keyboard or using the mouse/keyboard, and while editing zooming is just plain awesome…. “Hey Frank this is positive, not negative buddy…” yeah I know, now when I record music or edit photos/videos I’m a bit of “batman” I’m editing in a dark area and in most cases there is just not enough light to see the pure black TourBox, this is also the reason I’m using keyboards with backlit keys. I would love for them to add a light behind the keys, just to see where the keys are and not having to trust my fingers in the dark. Now not everyone will be editing in a “batcave” but if you do this is really a negative thing about the TourBox, I love black gear, but man it’s hard to see in the dark.

Now adding backlights would be pretty easy I guess, just place a ledstrip in the housing and it will show through the side of the keys, it doesn’t have to be disco ball but just outlining the keys would help a lot. The next step would be a small display that shows what you programmed under the keys, I don’t see a lot of products that use this but in all honestly it would make it worth double the price for me personally, because especially when you use the TourBox in 4-5 apps it can be VERY confusing where what is. In all fairness on my XP-Pen tablets after hours and hours of use I know most of the buttons, but still…. I’m using console tape next to the keys with the functions because the most used keys I know where they are but keys you don’t use a lot can still be confusing, and these kind of devices are build for speed and easy workflow, the fact that most keys are shaped differently does help a lot, I’ve tested several solutions that use the same buttons (just a lot of them) and I never really used them for the simple reason I just lost track and eventually interest. By using different shapes it makes it 10x easier to remember.

The thing that I would LOVE to see, and I really think it should be added is support for iOS.
Now bare with me for this one.
I know most of you still edit on desktops or laptops, but you can’t deny that the iPads are making huge waves at the moment and for me the iPad pro 12.9″ M1 actually fully replaced my laptop and for 90% my desktop, and indeed that means I use the iPad for everything from photography to video editing and media consumption.

Now on a desktop and laptop you already have a keyboard an a mouse/trackpad connected but not on an iPad, the only reason I have a keyboard connected when editing is for certain shortcuts which I find easier than using the touch interface, and for that I would not connect a keyboard but would literally LOVE a solution like the TourBox, in fact I would use it almost daily seeing more and more app makers are adding loads of shortcuts, and editing with a keyboard next to me is possible but I would love the TourBox (or another solution) connected to the iPad.

When talking to manufactorers I often hear they don’t look at the iPad pro as a serious device and I strongly feel they were right 2-3 years ago, however when we now look at what Adobe is doing with Lightroom and Photoshop, but also apps like LumaFusion, Cubasis, Beatmaker3, affinity photo etc. I really feel they are very wrong to not take the iPad pro serious, and luckily soon Capture One will be released on the iPad pro M1 which I think will break open the way for more software makers. And let’s be honest with the new M1 it should be pretty simple for TourBox to port their software to the iPad.

So should you run out and buy a TourBox?
Well if you compare it to the price of a normal keyboard… no absolutely not.
BUT…. that’s not fair, it’s a totally different product and well worth it’s price especially when compared to other solutions.

So when you find yourself looking for shortcuts in software and would wish there was a way to have this all easy accessable the TourBox might be the perfect solution for you. I’ll keep using it behind the desktop we record music on and do the editing when I’m home, and this has nothing to do with the quality but the simple fact in the studio we use XP-Pen tablets that already have more than enough shortcut keys. But if you are using a tablet that doesn’t have enough hardkeys (most don’t have enough) combining your tablet with the TourBox I can HIGHLY recommend and I mean HIGHLY, it will make your life a lot easier. But do make sure you have a little but of light in your workarea. Or wait for TourBox to release a special Doorhof white version with backlighting (just kidding).

If you also want a TourBox, get them (or anything else :D) via this link and also support our work.
https://amzn.to/3wTPihQ

An awesome filter to spice up your flares

I love photography, but most of all I love to play with lights.
For me, the challenge and the cool thing about light is that you don’t just light your subject with it, but you can also create the total mood, add a color and you can even set that mood even more.

When you’re feeling blue, add some blue, when you feel in love ad some red.
Yeah, I know pretty cheesy.

However besides light use as in contrast and color, there is something else that REALLY enhances the mood of your setup, and it’s actually something that a lot of people don’t realize, lensflare.

In simple terms, lensflare is something you don’t want in your images, it washes out the blacks, creates weird reflections if you don’t pay attention and it’s just overall a very nasty effect that you shouldn’t want in your images, this is also why most lens manufacturers try their best to prevent this from happening by using special coatings on their elements/lenses to bring it back to as low as possible (totally eliminating lensflare in all situations is near impossible).

“But wait a minute Frank, in the title I thought you liked it?”
Yep, ignore everything you just read, although it is the way they want it for a lot of people.
For me, lensflare is one of the tools I use to create a special look in my images, and in my personal opinion it’s a very powerful tool that is very hard to realistically recreate in post-processing, it can be done (like everything) but… well it just looks different.

Now as mentioned before modern lenses are almost always coated against lens flare. So to have those nice creamy lens flares you have a view options which all have some drawbacks.


First off, old lenses.
Buy a converter to mount old M42 lenses on your camera and you can have awesome effects, and not just lensflares, man I just can’t express how much I love shooting with old lenses on my modern camera. It immediately gives you not only a different feeling but also a different look, it really gives me a healthy and creative kick so to say. Luckily with most modern cameras, you can get converter rings that make it possible to use almost every lens ever made on your camera, take a look for example at the spectrum that F&K Concept delivers, I’ve been using their converters for years and was never disappointed. I also use them on my TechArt and FotoDiox AF converters (which makes it possible to shoot autofocus with manual lenses on Sony cameras, yeah it’s awesome). And those old lenses really do the trick.

Second, Lensbaby
Also here it’s a matter of I can’t express how much I love this company. My first experience with them was very negative, weird lenses with magnetic discs that never really did what I wanted, but times change and at the moment Lensbaby offers a wide variety of awesome lenses that vary from razor-sharp tilt lenses to super creative reflection-based systems and super smooth focus lenses. It’s a company you really should have high on your list when you’re more creative with your photography or video. The disadvantage is that their lenses are manual focus only (at the moment).

So what is third…..
Well, it seems I might have found the perfect all-round solution, and I couldn’t be more enthusiastic.
One of my friends online (Paul Monaghan, make sure to check out his work too) pointed me towards a filter by F&K Concept, now I have to immediately say that I’m not a filter guy, I do own several like a polarizer and ND filters but in all honesty, I hardly use them, unless I really need them, but it’s more like a tool than something I use creatively, and let’s be honest I’m also not so happy with my screwdriver that I post a review about it, they do what they have to do and…. Well, that’s it. If you need them, get them and use them.

But this is different, and I mean totally different.
I’m talking about the Black Mist Filter.
So what is it?

The Black Mist filter is a filter you screw in front of your favorite lens (see where I’m going with this?) and now when you use it normally there is nothing you see, the images are sharp as you’re used to, and when you zoom in you can see a very nice sort of glow over your highlights, but nothing that will jump out like “oh wow look at that” if you don’t know it, you won’t really notice it.

But that all changes when you start adding some light in the mix aimed at the lens (filter), now the image totally transforms from standard to, let me choose my words carefully, pure art and excitement (well at least for me).

For years one of my on-and-off stage tricks that always have people first laughing out loud and then realizing it’s pretty cool is to have one of the attendees “breath on my lens” this creates a layer of water droplets op the lens and this can create (if you’re lucky) very nice effects, (now that I type this I realize how the world has changed since COVID, I would not do that anytime soon with people I don’t know).

But you don’t need to do that anymore, the Black Mist Filter does something very similar.
The filter is scattered with small black dots, you hardly see them with the naked eye, but man they work.
It’s an effect that’s very hard to describe without 50% of the people quitting the review with a remark like “yeah sure”, so let’s just show you what it does.

Because we don’t shoot a lot of models at the moment due to the COVID rules I’ve decided to use the filter during a session I did for Tethertools and see what I could do with it in a studio setup and show you exactly the difference. So here we go.


This image is without the filter.



And here I added the filter.
Lighting setup is 100% the same, NOTHING has changed, as you can see this is a HUGE difference, and in all honesty, it is an effect that I think is just perfect for spicing up fashion shots and especially street and travel photography (can’t wait to test that out soon).

Now I did use the filter on two digital classroom streams before but I didn’t show a before and after during those live streams, but just to show you how it works in a setup like that here are two images from those streams.

Conclusion
It’s not often that there is an accessory that really triggers my creativity like the Black Mist Filter, the main attraction I think is that you can use it on all your favorite lenses, and by choosing your angles in the field or the studio you can go from a normal-looking image with some cool highlights to let me put it mildly “pieces of art”. Yeah, I’m really that convinced about it.

Now this is not a filter for people that just place it in front of their lenses and think they now have Instagram on their lens, you do have to know a little bit about how light behaves and how to get lensflares in the first place, but let’s be honest, just look through the viewfinder and you immediately see the result, so compose through the viewfinder till you see what you like (lensflares vary immensely by just slightly changing the angle) and press the shutter, and… smile. (not the model but you).

I really can’t recommend this filter enough, if you want to really spice up your images and create some cool art without breaking the bank and using different lenses than you’re used to… get the Black Mist Filter, you’ll thank me later.

This is a 100% honest review, but we also have to continue our work and help with this.
Order your filter via the link below (or any other product via that link) and you support our work via the affiliate codes on Amazon. https://amzn.to/3xeahwA

 

If your size is sold out, use this link

 

For more about K&F check https://www.kentfaith.com/

A cool cheap keyboard case for the iPad Pro

I absolutely love my iPad Pro, in the past year it has almost completely replaced my laptop, and lets be honest with the new M1 version the future for mobile workflows has never looked more promising.

I’ve already figured out a workflow for modelphotography that is not only fully working but it also a lot more precise thanks to the Apple Pencil. And for video it’s been my workhorse for over a year now and with multicam support coming soon I can’t see myself going back to a desktop to edit, Add to this the insanely fast M1 chip and the incredible screen and it’s I think very easy to imaging what will happen.

For me the future is 99% iPad Pro or similar solutions. My first iPad Pro was indeed the very first one and at that time I was highly disappointed by apple because it was.. well just a blown up iPhone, awesome to read comics on or consume media but for that it was too expensive and too heavy/big. Fast forward to present time and in only a year I’ve seen the iPad Pro go from almost unusable to almost replacing my complete workflow.

And remember that M1 chip?
yes the same one that’s in the Macbooks, iMacs etc.. yes the same chip, and in the first leaked benchmarks it was a race between the MacBook and the iPad Pro and the iPad Pro came incredibly close, meaning that in essence add a keyboard and mouse and the full photoshop should be able to run without any chances from the desktop version, now that’s awesome.

However there is on thing where the iPad Pro experience is a lot less “laptop like” and that’s the keyboard and mouse, don’t get me wrong you can do a lot with the onscreen keyboard, but it does cover a lot of real estate (even on the 12.9”) so the first thing I looked for was a keyboard cover. With my previous iPad I ended up with the apple folio solution which is pretty expensive an although it works like a charm I did miss backlit keys and some sort of trackpad for when I record tutorials with on screen actions.

I was looking for something where I could easily remove the keyboard and use the iPad Pro without the extra weight. That’s when I found the Sross keyboard case.

I’m not going to tell you it’s the best out there, because it isn’t but you can’t expect that for this price.
But, that being said, for the price you get a very nice sturdy case and a magnetic keyboard that attaches to the case when you want to use it, but you can also use it away from the iPad.

The trackpad works ok, and does the trick.
Lighting on the keyboard is very nice and you can even set different colors fitting your mood.
There is also storage for the Apple Pencil, but do realize it doesn’t charge when stored, but luckily they left the top part open for charging the pencil (something I see missing in a lot of budget cases) The volume and on and off also work nicely inside the cover but are covered against dust. The only “problem” I ran into was that my USB-C adaptor didn’t work anymore so I now use one with a small cable and that solves that “problem”, you will see this with all “fitting” cases, this is the advantage of the magnetic cases, but they have less protection, you choose.

Without keyboard the case is slightly heavier than the Apple version with keyboard (folio) but that’s more than ok.

I love the fact you now have a normal keyboard with backlit keys, cursors, delete AND backspace and a trackpad all for a very affordable price.

It might not be the best case or keyboard but for the price I can’t see how someone can be disappointed. For me, I’m going to use this keyboard till I see what others bring and can try those out in a store, because in all fairness as the keyboard and case operates right now I’m not willing to spend a lot more money for a solution, it’s very nice.

Here is the product link on Amazon, https://amzn.to/3fhtfew