Photo: Castle Neuschwanstein take three! Now in HDR!

Okay, so there I was, perched on the precipice, snapping the best shot I could of Castle Neuschwanstein in Bavaria while attempting not to fall to certain doom. While half my brain was furiously trying to stifle fear, the other half was thinking, 'you know what, even though I'm no fan of HDR, this shot could actually benefit from it'. So I fired-off a seven frame bracket, then clambered to safety.

I should note I was not carrying a tripod, and to make things worse I was shaking somewhat when i took the photos, so my expectations for a useful composite were low. I'm also the first to admit I know little about putting together a decent HDR image... (note to self, pay more attention next time you meet with +Trey Ratcliff rather than rolling eyes at mere mention of HDR).

But I did have a plan of action, and it involved my good friend +Scott Kublin , who in my view knows how to strike a really nice balance between exploiting the tonal potential of HDR without over-egging the pudding. Indeed I had him in mind when I took the shots, so once I got back to the safety of an internet connection, I asked him if he'd like to have a shot at them. Generously he agreed - thanks Scott!

So here's his take on it, and you may want to compare it to my single frame version at (https://plus.google.com/103519655975029093996/posts/grTe4ok4WeM). Scott explained most of my frames were too shaky to use, so he only ended up compositing a pair for this result. He added he'd held himself back a bit too, knowing my feelings towards the process!

Either way I think he's done a great job here. It's fairly subtle, but manages to increase the contrast without looking unrealistic. There's also the added benefit that the subject matter is fairly unreal to start with. Maybe he could have turned it up a bit more? What do you think? Which version do you prefer?

(and if you've not already circled him, i'd recommend adding +Scott Kublin to your collection of photographers)
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Photo: Go large or go home!

Size matters, or at least it does if you're a geeky photographer, compensating for the lack of, er, light gathering power in your own backpack. And in the world of ludicrous lenses, there's really only three contenders to be seen showing-off with: Canon's 1200mm mega-telephoto, the bulbous vintage Nikkor 6mm fisheye, and Sigma's monstrous 200-500mm f2.8 zoom.

I was a little disappointed not to see the Canon 1200mm at the recent Photokina show, but cheered right up when I spotted the 200-500mm f2.8 on Sigma's stand, especially since I've never seen it in the flesh before. It seemed rude not to grab a shot with it, ironically with a teeny tiny Panasonic GX1.

This is a pretty amazing piece of kit, with motorised zoom and focusing rings and of course that impressively bright and constant f2.8 aperture across a super-telephoto range. Yours for the best part of $25k. If you fancy a laugh, look up the owner reviews on Amazon.com...
Photo: Choices choices...

When I left New Zealand to embark on this round the world trip, one of my biggest choices was which camera to bring along. As many of you know, I opted for a mirror-less system to keep the size and weight down, and opted for Micro Four Thirds for the breadth and quality of lenses available; in particular for the excellent Lumix 7-14mm ultra wide zoom. But had my decision been based on image quality alone, it would have been a Nikon D800 I'd have taken with me, fitted with the peerless 14-24mm f2.8 ultra wide zoom.

While visiting +Thomas Rubach in Germany, I remembered he'd opted for the D800 and also owned that 14-24mm. So I thought it would be fun to photograph his full-frame against my micro four thirds when both were fitted with their respective ultra-wide zooms which deliver a similar field of view.

Now this isn't an entirely fair comparison as the Nikkor lens has an f2.8 aperture, compared to f4 on the Lumix. Obviously the Nikon FX system is also addressing a sensor that's almost as big as four Micro Four Thirds sensors stuck together, and packs-in 20 more Megapixels too.

But for me on this particular trip, the most important factor was size, so it's fun for me to validate that decision with this comparison. Indeed I couldn't even fit the D800 and this one lens into the same area where I have the GX1 and three primes.

But equally I look at the D800 images with envy!

Decisions decisions!

PS - anyone like the Cameralabs strap? I had 100 of these made a couple of years back and they sold out pretty quick. I'm considering another run for this Christmas if there's demand! They're based on OpTech products, which are among the best straps I've used.
Photo: Samsung Galaxy S3 cracked screen. But how much to fix?

Here's my Samsung Galaxy S3, Spiderman special edition. Like it? Nope, me neither. I was somewhat surprised and upset to find the screen dramatically cracked following a fall of no more than two feet onto a gravel surface the other week. No, I wasn't using a screen guard or case. I'm normally very careful - or lucky - with portable tech, and believe it or not in a 20 year career of testing and owning products, I've never broken or damaged a single thing. Until now that is, and it's going to cost me.

Since the display below the glass surface still works fine, I naively thought all it would take is a simple switch of the glass plate and I'd be back in action, but it turns out the GS3, like many modern smartphones, has the glass plate bonded to the display itself. Yes, you might be able to work some DIY magic with a hairdryer, but the official repair involves replacing the entire display unit at a significant cost. For the GS3 I've been quoted around 180 GBP or 300 USD from small market stalls to the biggest shops.

As a side-note I was very disappointed to find Samsung's flagship showroom in London couldn't repair it in-store. Lest we forget Samsung was a major sponsor at the 2012 Olympics, and used the GS3 as its hero product during the event. The London showroom opened in Stratford, literally next to the entrance of the Olympic park and is styled inside in a similar aspirational way to Apple stores. This is the one place in the whole UK where any Galaxy problems should dissolve into solutions, but no. I was told I needed to schlep my S3 across London to Islington to a repair centre. I called the centre and they were very nice, but I didn't have time to make the detour at that point in my trip as I was flying out two days later. Ironically, a nearby Carphone Warehouse did offer in-store repairs, but had not yet been certified to touch the GS3.

Now don't get me wrong, I like Android and love the GS3. But this is one aspect where even die-hard drod-heads would have to admit the Apple experience is superior. As I understand it, pretty much any Apple store will either repair or replace a broken handset in-store. Depending on the circumstances, there may be charge, but I think it's less than I've been quoted for my GS3 repair. Ultimately I'm very envious of a broad infrastructure of stores which will not only sympathise with your problems, but also normally fix them, often while you wait. This has to be one of the best aspects of buying into the Apple world.

But even though I have two iPads and a MacBook Air, I still prefer the hardware - and the OS - of the GS3 for my phone. I just have to live with the inferior service when things go wrong. Which brings me to my current predicament. I've got this top-end phone with a horrible crack which taunts me every time I look at it. The repair is prohibitively expensive. Then there's newer versions of the handset which support various 4G LTE bands. It's almost tempting to forget the repair and get a 4G model instead.

But this in turn brings me to another issue: exactly which variant of the GS3 is the best one for worldwide 4G compatibility - or at least compatibility in the UK and US. However much we strive for international radio standards, the fact is the local spectrum is chopped up and sold in so many different ways that it's almost impossible to find a phone which supports the latest data speeds everywhere.

So here's my question for the phone techies out there. Do you know the bands for 3G and 4G LTE in your country, and which ones are used by major operators? In the UK I believe the 4G frequencies are 800, 1800 and 2600MHz, but in the US I think it might be 700 and 1700MHz which are most common. There are 4G LTE variants of the GS3, but as far as I know, none which support all of those frequencies. I think T-Mobile USA may also use 1700MHz for some of its 3G which means many international handsets may be limited to 2G speeds on its network.

I'm confused, and my Spiderman special edition GS3 isn't making things any better. I'm now in the US for three months. Do I fix the screen? Do I buy a 4G LTE version that works here but might not back in the UK? Is it actually cheaper to enter into a contract than buy another unlocked handset given I may return to the US within 12 months? Do I try and find one phone which does it all? Or do I suck it up and let the cracked screen continue to teach me a lesson to be more careful? Put it this way, if I do get a new phone, I'm definitely getting a screen protector for it, and I'd recommend you do too. A cracked screen is a common breakage and one that on a modern smartphone is a very expensive repair.

PS - another point worth noting is that as we demand - or desire - ever thinner and good-looking tech with big displays, the more the manufacturers rely on bonded components. This may be fine when things are working well, but means if you break a small part, you may need to replace a significant portion at significant cost. Is this really the way forward for our phones, tablets and laptops?

(+Robert Scoble what do you think?)
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Gordon Laing
Public
Go large or go home!

Size matters, or at least it does if you're a geeky photographer, compensating for the lack of, er, light gathering power in your own backpack. And in the world of ludicrous lenses, there's really only three contenders to be seen showing-off with: Canon's 1200mm mega-telephoto, the bulbous vintage Nikkor 6mm fisheye, and Sigma's monstrous 200-500mm f2.8 zoom.

I was a little disappointed not to see the Canon 1200mm at the recent Photokina show, but cheered right up when I spotted the 200-500mm f2.8 on Sigma's stand, especially since I've never seen it in the flesh before. It seemed rude not to grab a shot with it, ironically with a teeny tiny Panasonic GX1.

This is a pretty amazing piece of kit, with motorised zoom and focusing rings and of course that impressively bright and constant f2.8 aperture across a super-telephoto range. Yours for the best part of $25k. If you fancy a laugh, look up the owner reviews on Amazon.com...

46 plus ones
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