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Why a universal charger? I have the most shocking memory and am forever losing things like battery chargers! As I own a large number of different cameras many of them were often looking sorry for themselves with completely dead batteries and I'd be turning the house upside down trying to find the correct charger. I've also been given a couple of cameras (old second hand ones) minus their chargers so I decided the time had come to by a universal charger. Why this charger (features)? There are many different universal devices on the market and this isn't the cheapest out there. The main reason I chose it is because, unlike many others, there is an LCD panel that shows you the percentage of charge in a battery at any one time. It also has a 12v cigarette lighter adaptor, USB slot and can recognise completely flat batteries (which some of the cheaper models can't). How do you use it? Due to its nature this charger tends to be bigger and slightly more complicated than most manufacturers originals - you can't simply drop the battery in and walk away. Instead you slide back the top panel to reveal two metal pins - these can be moved using the two grey scroll wheels by the LCD panel. They need to be lined up with the plus and minus contacts on the battery - usually, but not always, the outer two (will be marked on each battery). You then place the battery over the top of the contacts, let the cover slide back to trap it in place and if you've done it right the LCD panel will show you a percentage and start charging. Slightly simpler is double AA's - 2 of these can be charged at any one time and they have their own channels to lay in (of course they do have to be the rechargeable type!) Is there anything it won't charge? You should be able to tell given the size if your battery will fit on the charger ie. it's too small to do a laptop battery. With any battery that physically fits on it should be able to charge 95% of them - the only problem you're likely to come across here is if your battery has very recessed contacts that the pins struggle to reach (although they are quite long). How long does it take to charge? Depends on the battery but in my experience it takes the same length of time per battery as when charging on the manufacturers original unit ie. approximately 1.5-2 hours. How much does it cost? These are currently available for £24.99 on amazon with free delivery - a very reasonable price. What are the benefits? Well as I already mentioned - if you have a tendancy to loose chargers, this gives you a second option (as long as you make sure you always leave it in the same place so you can't loose it!) If you're going on holiday with multiple bits of equipment that need charging it could be a good space saving option by enabling you to take just the one charger. The other benefit is if you're going camping or somewhere else where you'll have access to a car, but no mains electricity - the 12v adaptor means you can top up your batteries on the go? Would I recommend it? Certainly. It's been a bit of a saviour for me and my cameras and my house is tidier now that I don't spend my days searching for that ever elusive Nikon/Panasonic/Sony etc charger!
Earlier this year my trusty laptop became unusable when the charger died - it started emitting a beeping noise and just wouldn't charge/power anymore, some research online told me this meant it was stuffed. I very briefly contemplated a new laptop altogether, but as I like my current one, it was otherwise working fine and cost me £750 a couple of years ago, I decided to stick with it. Looking online I was mostly finding cheapo chargers that I didn't like the idea of buying - for all I know they hadn't passed any tests for sale in this country and I've heard about electrical devices blowing up/causing damage when they've been poorly manufactured in far east factories. My plan was to buy a manufacturers original from a 'reputable' shop, if possible and eventually I popped to my local PC World. They didn't have the original charger in stock, but they did show me this Logik branded one which came complete with 10 different tips. It was on the expensive side (£50 or £60 I think) but I'd heard of Logik so knew they electrically speaking it should be safe, plus the concept of being able to use it for different laptops appealed as it meant it could be used with other future laptops I may buy if I have any more charger problems. The charger comes packaged in a grey box, complete with a figure of eight mains cable and a small material bag to transport it about in. The end of the cable actually attached to the charging unit fits the most laptops including my particular Toshiba and the other tips simply slot into the end as appropriate As chargers go I suppose it looks fairly stylish - it's quite slimline with the Logik logo on the front and a blue glowing light when plugged in. On the rear is a switch to vary the DC output - I've left it at 17-21V as my laptop says 19V on the rear. Total length is 2.2m which I find to be long enough in pretty much all instances so no complaints there. I've been pretty disappointed with this charger right from the very start for reasons: 1) It doesn't seem to charge the battery so I have to have it plugged in constantly to use my laptop, which kind of defeats the portability aspect of a laptop. 2) The charger is constantly falling out of the port - it is the right tip, but even the slightest movement of the laptop makes it loose connection or fall out together resulting in the laptop turning off. Laptops tend not to be static so you'd expect the charger to be able to put up with the movement from say, oh I don't know, being used on someone's lap! I know these aren't faults with my laptop as when I had the original charger the battery charged up just fine and the charger always stayed securely plugged in to the port. There is the option of using this charger to charge various devices via USB (so things like a Kindle) but I have never used this feature so can't comment on how well it works. Price wise I paid about £50-60 (I can't remember which now) from PC World earlier this year, but I have noticed it's available on amazon marketplace for £30 which seems more reasonable for a charger. Overall I can't recommend this - I definitely overpaid but even at £30 it's not worth it for something that causes no end of aggravation. In theory it should be a good item - charge most laptops available on the market and a variety of other items too, in reality it doesn't do any charging at all and disconnects at the slightest movement. I should have returned it for a refund at the very start as it just isn't suitable for its intended function, but I never got round to it. Yes it has allowed me to use my laptop again, but that's about the only good thing I can say about it. Ultimately a waste of money and I would have expected much better from Logik.
I think we've probably all heard of cash converters either from TV ads or seeing them in the highstreet, but until a couple of weeks ago I'd never stepped foot inside one before. The primary reason was having looked in their window on past occasions it appeared they're not really clued up on what they're selling ie. they had an old manual film lens in the window with a ticket on it saying 'Canon 67mm Haze' which was what the filter was attached to the front of the lens, not the lens itself... Anyway a work colleague of mine told me that they'd buy pretty much anything so I decided to pay them a visit as I wanted to declutter and get rid of most of my old camera collection. Essentially the bits and bobs I'd decided to get rid of were old film cameras, lenses and accessories that would sell for a couple of quid each on ebay if I was lucky - I had been planning to list everything in one job lot, but arranging a courier due to the weight of everything was putting me off. The selling experience: So the time came when I had to pop into town (Bognor Regis) and pick up something from the post office and I took the 3 most modern lenses from my collection with me to 'test the waters' as it were. There was one person already being served at the appropriate counter so I waited in line behind him for about 10 minutes before it was my turn. The chap at the counter input the details, although I had to help him a bit - he clearly knew nothing at all about photography and often entered details wrong meaning he struggled to find some things, and gave me values they were willing to pay. When I accepted the offer he asked for ID in order to sell. I had been looking at the posters behind the counter which gave information on the number of 'points' each ID gave for a transaction and was confident I had enough, but that wasn't to be. It seems most of the things on the poster inc. credit cards aren't accepted anymore and a driving licence alone wasn't enough so I had to go to the bank and get them to print something with my address on and stamp it with the date. On my return I had another good 15 minute wait before I was seen again - they used a webcam to take a photo of me and set up an account, I then had to sign a print out stating the items and individual values before I handed over the goods and they gave me the cash. As they'd accepted everything I first brought in I made my next trip a few days later with most of the lenses from my collection. Once again they were happy to buy everything for a value I thought was fair. I hadn't been planning to go back to town for the remainder of the year, but another forced trip to the post office this morning saw me back in that direction again, so I took all the camera bodies (the hardest to sell bits from my collection on eBay), 2 more lenses and a single pin flash. Luckily as I arrived very shortly after they opened I didn't have to wait to be served, once again every item was accepted by them for the highest value of all my transactions so far. The three times I've visited they've put the item information into their system and given me a value, when I've agreed I'm happy with that it seems like they have to go through the whole process again (including serial numbers this time) and check the items work. Given that it appears they often have no idea what it is they're buying this is easier said than done and I had to tell them how a lot of this stuff worked. All in all it does mean the process is time consuming and I spent about 45 minutes in there this morning selling 10 items. The other two occasions were also about 40 minutes to an hour each, so don't expect a quick sale! Value given for items: As I mentioned I've sold them most of my old camera collection - these were all working and useable items, but of an age and type where they're not particularly popular and therefore had no real value. As a professional photographer and someone who works in a camera shop I am well aware of the values of everything I had - essentially all low enough that I couldn't really be bothered with the effort of selling on eBay! Over the course of my visits to the shop everything I sold them has netted me a total of £157 and I'm still left with a few old camera cases, a couple of lenses with fungus and a couple of broken cameras. If I'd gone down the eBay route I would have listed absolutely everything as a job lot and would have been happy with £50, very happy with £100. So the return I've got on my items from cash converters has exceeded my expectations. That said do not get your hopes up - I did see a chap selling some Mikita power tools and he was given £30 each for them. Now I don't know much about power tools, but the values did sound rather low to me. I also don't imagine you'd get much for newer technology. I think with that sort of thing, private sale is the way to go as you'll probably make more. Where you're likely to get the best deal is to do what I did and sell outdated equipment - the kind that is still common, not popular, costly to post due to weight (limiting sales and value on sites like eBay), but does have some market in the right place. ID: The display posters with all the points for various forms of ID are apparently not applicable/right according to the Bognor branch so you need to make sure you have enough appropriate things with you or you'll end up frustrated. A driving licence is a winner and combined with something like a bank/credit card statement this was enough for me (although the letter/statement does need to be within the last 3 months) - essentially they wanted two current/recent items with my name and address on. Making purchases in store: This section is going to be brief as I haven't actually bought anything, but I did have a look at things on offer while I was waiting around - certainly on camera equipment tickets were often wrong, other electrical goods seemed to vary from reasonable price to too much. DVD's and CD's seemed nice and cheap - I saw some for as little as 50p. Overall I'd say it's probably not the best place to shop unless you already have all the knowledge on the item you want to buy, because the chances are they don't have a clue (I suppose this could work out to your advantage!) Staff: There have been multiple members of staff in the shop each time I've been in, at least 4 on all occasions, and 2 counters - one for selling and I assume the other is for everything else. While the counter for buying in goods had 2 'tills' on it, there was only one member of staff manning it and even when there were lots of people waiting none of the other staff came over to help (even though they weren't doing anything else) until my last visit, when the chap serving me asked a colleague to serve someone else. That said the one person I did speak to (same one each time) was very friendly even if he didn't really know what he was doing when it came to knowing what my items were or how they worked! The branch: The Bognor Regis branch does look fairly nice for what is essentially a pawn shop - they have a big yellow and red sign out front so it's clear what the shop is, the windows are large and there's plenty of floor space with no trip hazards. Everything looked very clean and quite modern so no complaints there. Other services: I heard the term 'lay by' mentioned by numerous people while I was there, but honestly have no idea what it is other than a service they obviously provide! Clearly they buy and sell goods, they also act like a traditional pawn shop by loaning money against goods that you can buy back within a given time frame and they also offer basic short term cash loans. With the latter two you'd always be better off getting a proper loan from a bank or similar, provided your credit rating is good enough. Would I go again? Yes, after all I've already been 3 times in less than 2 weeks! I have however sold pretty much everything I wanted to get rid of (that works) - I have just a couple of bits left I'll pop in on my next trip to town, which leads me to my final point - personally I would never make a special trip out just to go there given you never know how much they'll offer (if anything) and I wouldn't want to waste a whole trip out, and petrol for no reason, but combining it with a shopping trip etc. makes it a likely worthwhile diversion.
I've owned a number of these cages over the years - initially for their intended purpose as a hamster/mouse cage and currently I have two which I use for my rats. Before anyone gets upset - these are not used as permanent rats homes (they have a huge cage to run around in - soon to be replaced with a brand spanking new Savic Royal Suite), but as useful spare cages for the following purposes a) transport to (rat) shows to enter them in competitions b) transport to the vets for more than one rat when the normal carrier is too much of a squeeze c) recuperation for anyone who needs separating from the group after surgery d) for young babies who are still small enough to squeeze out the bars of my huge main cage and most recently I took my old boy Bernard to Cornwall in one with me when I had to go to my Grandad's funeral - Bernard is on permanent antibiotics for an abscess so I couldn't leave him at home. Ultimately these cages aren't suitable for anything bigger than a (dwarf) hamster as a permanent home and they're not really suitable for gerbils who do better in a half tank/half cage type set up due to their love of burrowing. That said the bases are nice and deep so you shouldn't find too much substrate gets kicked out the sides. The cages come with different coloured bases - mine are yellow and red and also come with a coloured shelf that hooks over the horizontal bars and covers approximately half the surface area of the cage. A short plastic ladder also clips into place for ease of access. Both my current cages I acquired second hand, but I believe when new they sometimes come with a small wheel and house included. The bars are nice and narrow and the base has no defined edges on the inside - this means you shouldn't have any problems with escapees as they should neither be able to chew or squeeze their way out. There is only one door - a small one hinged on the top, but given the overall size of the cage I feel this is perfectly adequate, especially considering that if desired you can just unclip both ends and lift the whole top off. The cage is very easy to clean out and the depth means that I find I can just about squeeze it into your average sized supermarket bag and tip the contents out all in one go. A quick squirt of or some animal friendly cleaner and a wipe around with kitchen roll should be all that's required. The bars (certainly on the two I have currently) are coated so they should last a good number of years - rust only tends to creep in when your little darlings chew the bars and reveal the metal underneath. Price wise you should be able to get a new one for around £25 and they make a taller one for about £5 more. As the cage is fairly small, the tall version may be a better option if you want to house syrians, rather than a dwarf variety of hamster. Personally I paid £5 for one of mine and £2 for the other one, which I consider absolute bargains! Overall I have to say I'm pretty impressed with these cages - they are a bit small as a permanent home for a larger hamster (or other rodent), but they have a variety of other handy uses savic probably never thought off and I've found them invaluable for those reasons. Build quality is very good and pricing (especially second hand) can be great. I probably wouldn't recommend the cage as your main/only one in most circumstances, but as a spare/transport/emergency cage it's great.
As the title says, Redken has been a bit of a revelation for me. I have long hair (about a third of the way down my back) and would love it to be longer, but I honestly have no patience for time consuming hair care routines. I do dye my hair (from a bottle - yes I know it's bad) because I like red and purple hair, plus at 25 I already have a good handful of greys, and even dying it feels like a chore. In the last 4 years or so I've had my hair cut twice. All of that together meant that my hair was staying at the same length and was generally very dry, prone to tangles etc. I recently made my first (and only) visit of the year to a hairdressers and owned up to my lack of hair care (well the evidence was pretty obvious) and she said that it's amazing the difference using the right shampoo and conditioner can do. Now in the industry I work in people are always rubbishing your professional opinion - you can see them pretending to agree, but inside thinking 'what a load of bull, they just want me to spend more' and the conversation ends with them saying thanks and they'll ask their friend who's into that sort of thing (yeah because your friend knows more than I do). Anyway I digress... For that reason I decided to listen to her, ask lots of questions and buy what she recommended - Redken. Now the conditioner was a lot more expensive than I normally pay - about £13 (usually I'm splashing a pound or so on conditioner at the supermarket). I'm sure I could probably have got it slightly cheaper elsewhere, but even though money is very tight right now, I do believe that sourcing the cheapest isn't always best, especially when it was professional knowledge that put me on to the product. So I decided to part with my hard earned cash and in return was given a 250ml bottle (why does conditioner always come in a smaller bottle than shampoo?!) of Redken All soft for dry/brittle hair. The bottle is nothing flash to look at - gold in colour with a flat front and bulging back, it has a black flip top. I think the information on the rear could be a bit more, well informative I suppose! It doesn't give any guidelines on how long you should leave it on your hair before washing out - I went for a couple of minutes. Previously when using my 'cheap' products, I would liberally douse my hair in conditioner in a failed attempt to get any kind of soft or smooth result and I was worried that I would be spending a lot of money on a product that looked like it was only going to last a few washes. I was informed though that it's only necessary to use a small amount - approximately the size of a 10p coin, concentrating on applying it to the 'ponytail' section of hair. I've found it very difficult to get used to using so little product and have to consciously stop myself using too much, but I stuck to what I was told and she wasn't lying - a little really does go a long way with this stuff. Smell wise it's very, very subtle - luckily there are no nasty chemical smells and I would liken the scent to coconut. Consistency wise it's fairly thick and creamy, but doesn't feel heavy or greasy like some products do. Even after the first use my hair felt instantly much better quality - I can brush it out fairly easily when wet (rather than the painful, frustrating tangles of before), when dry it's less frizzy (but I won't go so far as to say frizz free), it has shine where there was none before and it feels soft to the touch. It even seems to dry quicker when left, although I'm not sure how this is possible. Would I recommend it? Absolutely. While it initially seems like a lot of money for not much product - the difference in quantity used (at least for me) means that in the long run it probably won't cost you any more at all and the immediate difference in your hair should be convincing enough to have you wishing you'd done it sooner. So if you're not happy with the quality of your hair, if it's very dry, but you don't want to spend ages trying to get it to look good - try this, I doubt you'll regret it. I'm honestly a complete convert and time will tell if it helps in the quest to grow my hair even longer. Now I just need to find something to do with all my old bottles of shampoo and conditioner...
My Dad and I were on holiday in Grasmere (reliving old times) earlier this month, but at the start of the week the weather wasn't so brilliant so we put off the walking and decided to do some things that had an under cover aspect to them. One idea that came to mind was Beatrix Potter's famous home of Hill Top farm. Getting there: Have to say that unless you already know where you're going, this wasn't the easiest place to find and my Dad's got a pretty good sense of direction. I would have expected signage at key points, at least those near to the destination, but don't recall seeing any so if you're not familiar with the area then I certainly suggest use of a map or good sat nav or you'll be driving about for ages. I did notice a bus stop opposite, so public transport does seem to be a possibility. It's a couple of miles from Hawkshead, a slightly bigger village where there's a lot of Beatrix Potter themed shops. Parking: The car park is located 'down hill' from the house itself - it's of a half decent size, but was fairly busy when we were there and I wouldn't be surprised if it ends up full during peak season and there doesn't seem to be much in the way of alternative parking nearby. When we parked there was a man in a high vis jacket directing cars into spaces - seemed a bit unnecessary to me. At the back of the car park is a barn where you go to purchase tickets to the house (which have times written on them), from here you have to walk back out to the road, and up the hill (don't worry it's not a strenuous walk) to get to your destination. The property: Coming off the road you enter Hill Top farm via a small gate and turn right up a slightly inclined path between attractive flower beds. At the end you're greeted by a rather attractive old building, where there's at least one member of staff standing outside - they will check your tickets and give you a brief history on the property and Beatrix Potter's association with it. You're allowed to walk freely around the house rather than having to take part in a tour, however there are staff on hand to ask questions. It's a very dark property with dark wood panels lining many of the walls, fairly small windows and no ceiling lights. The property has been kept as much like it was when Beatrix Potter lived there (early 1900's) in terms of both decor and furniture - specifically furniture and other items actually belonging to Beatrix Potter herself which I think really adds to the experience and you really do feel like you're stepping back in time. There was also a great deal of personal correspondence and other original work of hers so the connection remained strong throughout the property. The rooms were of a decent size and the staircase is fairly wide, but obviously due to the nature of the property access for the disabled in fairly poor and I see no way that wheelchair users would be able to get upstairs. The 'living room' was lovely - really cosy feeling with a nice log fire, I could easily imagine myself curling up in a chair opposite the fire in winter, reading a good book. I was also intrigued by the wallpaper on the ceiling in this room and a large piece of dark wood furniture with a date on it somewhere in the 1600's. The kitchen is all set out but roped off just beyond the open door so you can't go in - not really sure why this is. There are some other closed doors throughout the property, but when we asked about these we were informed they're 'just cupboards'. I also loved the sheer number of desks and writing spaces in all the rooms - I have a pen palling hobby so this was like my idea of heaven! Back outside there is a small vegetable/fruit garden with a short path to the middle of it - even in October there were still some raspberries growing. Coming out of here and walking down a slightly narrower path, next to the one you came up on, there is a field bordering one side - in here were a small number of sheep and a few wild rabbits (if you look close enough). At the end of the path is a small building housing the shop. The shop: As you'd expect most of the items in here are related to Beatrix Potter with everything from factual books on her life, to her stories, and a great many kids toys (Dad said he wished I was still a child as there's so much he would have loved to buy me). There were a few other slightly more 'generic' items such as fancy jars of food, that have no specific relevance to the property or Beatrix. Price: The National Trust are the owners so my Dad and I got in for 'free' as Dad is a member. If you're not a member then you can currently expect to pay £8.50 for an adult, £4.25 for a child or £21.25 for a family. Personally I think this is fairly expensive as the property doesn't take a huge amount of time to walk round, even when dawdling. If you're a national trust member though then great. You may also want to consider that you can access the shop and gardens without a ticket, so effectively membership just covers entry to the house. Opening times: There are varying opening times and days for the house and the gardens as well as being dependent on the time of year, so it's always a good idea to check on the national trust website to check it will be open when you plan to visit - I won't give any specifics here as it seems to change on an almost weekly basis. Suffice to say the gardens and shops tend to be open for longer than the house. Photography: Like many National Trust properties, you're not allowed to photograph the inside (which is explained before you step into the house) however there appear to be no such restrictions on the outside and I took a few photos of the house exterior and garden. Food: There is no on site cafe and the shop doesn't really sell any good that would be suitable for lunch/picnic. If you do want to make a bit more of an event from your day out though then there is a pub called The Tower Bank Arms which is located between Hill Top and the car park - it's a quaint little pub and was featured in 'The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck'. Worth a visit? I think I'd have to say yes - Beatrix Potter is a well loved historical figure of not just national, but international importance and she had a huge impact on children's literature, one which is still very much felt today. Hill Top was a large part of her life and being in such 'original' condition does make you feel like you're getting to know her and her life that little bit better. I know it probably costs quite a bit to maintain, however I can't help but think the tickets are rather pricey considering the length of time you're likely to spend there - enough probably to justify becoming a fully fledged member of the National Trust.
I think I have to agree with Wordsworth - Grasmere really is one of the loveliest places on earth. When I was young I used to come here once a year with my Dad for a weeks holiday and we'd spend most of that time in or around the village, walking up mountains like Silverhowe and Easedale Tarn (don't get the impression we're fit, we really aren't and we're even less fit now). Unfortunately other things that happened in our lives meant that this tradition ended up falling my the way side and although I wanted to go back, I could never really afford it. Back in April of this year (2013) I was booked to photograph a wedding by Lake Windermere and as the distance from my home required at least one overnight stay, I decided to use the opportunity to book myself into a B&B in Grasmere the night before. To cut a long story short I took a quick photo of the room I was staying in and later emailed it to the B&B owner asking if he'd like to exchange a few nights free stay in return for me photographing the whole B&B for him - he said yes and a few days ago I got back from said holiday, on which I had taken my Dad to relive old times. Grasmere is now, much like it was as I always remember it at least a dozen years ago - a couple of new shops and a small collection of new houses being built, but it was a real relief to find the village much unchanged. Grasmere is incredibly popular with walkers as it is essentially surrounded by mountains - Easedale tarn has a waterfall with a lake at the top, and if you don't think you can make it up a mountain then the village has a good sized lake of its own down at 'ground level'. Even if you're not a keen walker the views are stunning every way you look so there are loads of photo opportunities or you can just sit back and relax at a coffee shop and enjoy the scenery. As the village is so popular with tourists, there are an awful lot of B&B's, hotels and self catering accommodation to hand, so you shouldn't be short of somewhere to stay. On my trips this year I stayed at Chestnut villa on the main road out the village - lovely B&B, great host (Mike) and definitely recommended. There is a small village green and a larger park close to hand which has a play area for small children. Shops wise there are a fair number of gift shops, a large newsagents called Barney's (with a huge range of puzzles and model cars in stock), a lovely garden centre, plenty of walking gear shops, a book shop that's over 100 years old and plenty of places to eat. One particularly famous shop is located next to the church and is Sarah Nelson's Grasmere Gingerbread - it's a long established business, run from a tiny quaint building where they sell delicious gingerbread and a few other ginger related items. Even if you don't like ginger, it's worth a quick peak inside and the smell wafting out is heavenly. Pub wise you have The Travellers Rest which is a short walk out of town (see my review on this place - it's ok but nothing special), The Lamb which is attached to the Red Lion hotel and serves decent 'pub' food at normal prices, or you have Tweedies which is a little more expensive, but the food is absolutely delicious (best fish and chips I've ever had and worth the £14.50, wild boar burger was scrummy too). The village church has a little bit of a tourist attraction - it's home to the Wordsworth family graves, including William himself. The graves are ringed my a small iron fence and there is a small informational plaque nearby. If you'd like you can also visit Wordsworth's home 'Dove cottage' - it's not owned by the National Trust and does cost about £7.50 per person to get in though. Many of the buildings are traditionally stone built and beautiful to look at - they really give you a sense of place quite different from many other areas I've been to and make it easier to imagine what it must have been like living here many years ago, whilst still retaining all the modern comforts (mobile phone signal tends to be fairly good and consistent for one). As far as parking is concerned there are a number of car parks in which you should be able to find a place with relative ease, however these are fairly expensive. There is a small amount of free parking on the stretch of road opposite Barney's and down one side of the green - these are both free, but restricted to an hours stay and you'd be lucky to find a space most days. If you do decide to walk into the village in the evening then you may wish to take a torch with you as there aren't a huge number of street lights and you have to be careful where you place your steps. For needs that outweigh those the village can provide (the only chain shop I can think of that isn't walking related is a small Co-op) then Ambleside is a short drive away and both Windermere and Keswick aren't too far. While good weather certainly makes any stay more pleasant, the village oozes charm whatever the weather may bring - when we last arrived it was pouring with rain and mist was shrouding many of the mountains - far from being annoying, I thought it was incredibly atmospheric and beautiful. Overall I can't recommend Grasmere highly enough - I always held a soft spot for it in my heart due to my childhood connections, but though the years have worn on the allure of this stunning village has never waned. I'd move there in a heart beat were it possible. If you're staying nearby in Cumbria, you should certainly put this on your list of places to visit and if you're planning a holiday up there, but haven't yet picked a 'base' then go for it because you won't regret it.
I've cut many small animal claws in the past - hamsters, mice, rats, ferrets etc. usually with normal 'human' nail scissors, but they didn't make the job as easy as I felt it could be, so I decided to pick up some specially designed with small pets in mind. The 'Options claw trimmer' comes in a small vacuum formed pack and looks, at first glace, much like you'd expect normal nail scissors to. The main design feature that marks this product out for use on pets is the shape of the blades, which have corresponding nail shaped notches, rather than a slender pointed end. The handles are plastic with a little 'flick' on one end which acts as a finger rest and the finger holes (do they have a name?) are of a good size - any bigger and I don't think they'd be steady enough in your hands. Little rubber inserts are there presumably to provide some cushioning and they're perfectly comfortable to use, however these little inserts aren't glued into place and I find they regularly pop out which is a little irritating. In use these work very well - it opens as wide as anyone would need and the blades are nice and sharp, but due to their shape you'd be hard pressed to accidentally cut yourself. The notches are about 5mm long which means they're likely to be inadequate for larger household pets, but should be fine for pretty much all caged animals up to guinea pigs and rabbits. I've used these clippers on rats and ferrets and they work just as well on both - the trimmers provide a quick clean cut and you can see with ease just how much of the claw you're cutting (which helps avoid accidentally cutting a vein). The only trouble is how squirmy your pet is - I find rats tend to be much more compliant when it comes to claw trimming, whereas ferrets squirm like there's no tomorrow and are hard to do even with help. I picked mine up from Pets at home where they tend to be displayed alongside the other small animal accessories and toys. At a shade under £4 they aren't the cheapest thing you'll ever buy, but they aren't exactly expensive either - they should last a long time and save you paying out for any more costly vet bills. Overall I would recommend these for use with small animals - they can be used with accuracy for a quick, pain free cut and avoid potentially stressful (and more expensive) trips to the vets. That said you do need to be confident and swift in your actions - the slower you are, the more likely your pet is to struggle, so if you're at all nervous you'd probably be better leaving this to the professionals.
Last August I won this phone, directly from Sony themselves, exactly 2 weeks after getting a new HTC phone on my contract - oh well! Initially I decided to stick with my HTC as I was used to how everything was laid out with that brand, but the looks of the Sony really appealed to me, so I kept it in a draw rather than selling it on. A couple of times when I knew I was going on a long and important photography shoot (wedding) with no access to a charger all day, I even charged it up and took it with me just in case the battery on my HTC died. Anyway fast forward to now and I recently decided that I was bored of my HTC, plus it was looking a little tatty round the edges where I dropped it so many times. So to that end I decided to have a change for free by digging out that Sony. As I did the initial set up almost a year ago, I can't remember the exact process, but as someone who is fairly easily confused and frustrated by computers and phones, I do remember the process to be fairly easy and not at all daunting. I have to say I think that appearance wise the Xperia ray is on to a real winner - it's slim, sleek and stylish. Personally I find most modern 'smart' phones are a bit on the ugly side and always wistfully remember my Motorola K1 (still tucked away in a cupboard as I can't bring myself to get rid of it) - that was a lovely looking flip phone, and while obviously this phone is not of the flipping variety, it's stylish sleek lines put me very much in mind of my past favourites. It's slimmer than most phone on the market and personally I find it sits much better in my hands than the more common and cumbersome models out there. Obviously smaller phone also equals smaller screen, this may present and problem for some and at first I did wonder how much impact it would have on use for something that's touchscreen, but it really hasn't presented an issue. The screen is still plenty big enough to see what you're doing and read any text. The widescreen format also allows you to watch videos with ease when held on its side. When used vertically the onscreen keyboard reverts to the style we were used to of old - a numeric keypad where each number controls 3 or 4 letters. It took me no time at all to get back into the swing of things with this and indeed I find it just as quick, if not quicker to type on. If you prefer individual keys for your letters, then turning the phone on its side will bring up a fully fledged keyboard for your use. The whole front of the phone has the same gloss finish - there is no textural distinction where the LCD panel ends and the rest of the phone carries on. I've found the widescreen shape made it difficult to find appropriate screen protector - they're all to short and wide. In the end I trimmed down the side of a conventional 3" one which left the top and bottom exposed. This solution didn't last long either and it soon peeled off, I haven't bothered replacing it and will just put up with the inevitable little scratches it will accumulate from being in my pocket or handbag (there are a couple of tiny marks on there already). I have just seen some exact fit screen protectors available for it on amazon which may be worth it for some, but too late for me now. I find the phone to be very touch responsive while remaining not over sensitive, with just a couple of exceptions - I sometimes find the facebook app has a slight delay when you press the menu and sometimes I end up pressing twice and accidentally entering the search facility (not sure if this might be an app problem rather than a phone one as it also crashes fairly frequently which nothing else installed on the phone does). Also the camera is a little slow to start up when activating the feature at times ie. I just pressed on it, certainly for the first time today, and nothing happened for about 5 seconds before it popped up, however if I now go to access it, then it comes up right away. Sometimes this is a bit of a pain if there's an unexpected moment you're trying to capture, it might be gone before you get the camera up and running. Also the 'crop' feature on the gallery can be very frustrating by frequently springing to different shapes and sizes you didn't ask it to. Going off on a slight tangent - I did some modelling a few years back, but I find most people can't get a good photo of me (except the pro photographers of course) - I have one of those faces where the slightest change in angle can make the difference between a lovely portrait and one fit for nothing but the bin. Now call me vain but I was happy to find that this camera came equipped with a front facing camera - yay! Now I don't have to plague people with taking endless shots of me before I can find one I'm reasonably happy with, now I can see exactly what it will look like before the photo is taken myself. Makes it much easier to take 'couple' snaps of me and my boyfriend on days out - he doesn't like photos at the best of times, so the quicker I can make the process the better. Of course the camera quality for the front facing one is fairly poor - it's 2mp (enough to print probably 8x6, maybe A4 at a push) and is a bit soft, but as it's only for silly, self serving snaps this isn't an issue for me. The 'main' camera on the rear is 8mp at maximum resolution and produces visibly better quality results - they're much superior to any images I've taken on past phones (clearer, brighter and sharper in general), but not quite as good as my boyfriends Samsung Galaxy S2. At the end of the day I don't expect much in terms of picture quality from a camera phone and I'm more than happy with what it's capable of doing. Charging the phone is done as expected through a mini USB port - this is the same USB as used by my HTC, boyfriends Samsung and my Kindle, so it's quite universal which is a big plus (comes with cable and wall plug in the box). Unlike any other phone I've had the USB port is located at the top left of the camera and at first I didn't think of the implications of USB positioning, but in practice I've found that its location means the phone is still easy to hold and use while being on charge - got to give Sony some points for sensible design there. On that note, the battery life is as reasonable as can be expected for this type of phone - I usually charge once a day (at night) with reasonably heavy use ie. internet and a few silly little games. Apps wise I've downloaded a couple of games (anyone want to play with Pou?!) which work well, for some reason most games I tried to download on my HTC wouldn't play properly, they would judder and hang, despite (in theory) there being plenty of available 'space' to accomodate them. You can also expand the memory with varying sizes of micro SD card which fit in a slot inside the rear cover - I currently have an 8gb in mine which is sufficient for my needs. It's also quicker to pop this out to transfer files to something else, than it is trying to blue tooth them, but you do have to take out the battery to remove the card which is a slight pain. In the box you're also provided with a small set of headphones - I can't comment on these as I have no music on my phone (while I love music, I have absolutely no desire to listen to it while walking about). My headphones have a much shorter wire for the left ear piece than the right and I have no idea if this is a fault or intentional design! Overall I think that this phone has done a good job of swaying me away from HTC (the only brand of smart phone I've previously owned) and when the time comes for another I'll certainly consider Sony's latest offerings. At the time I won this, the phone was selling for around the £200 mark and a quick look on amazon shows me you can pick one up new to the tune of £155+ or £70+ secondhand.
As a professional photographer I've never really had much of an interest in video - until last year I still owned a Sony Hi8 camcorder that used to be my mum's and hadn't been put to use for about 4 years. If ever the urge took me to video anything I'd do it on my little compact camera or more recently my Nikon D7000 SLR, however I don't find cameras sit comfortably in my hand for using when panning and zooming on video. When I was due to visit family in Cornwall I decided it was finally time to bite the bullet and buy a camcorder - my mum lives in Australia so she likes to see little clips of my life and (without being to morbid) my Grandad is 97 and I don't want him to be gone from my life with nothing to help me remember his voice (I came to this sad realisation when I realised that 7 years since my nan's death I can't recall the sound of her voice, even though I know I'd recognise her if I heard it now). Working in a camera shop has many benefits, especially as we deal in second hand - I wasn't overly fussed about having the latest technology and didn't want to spend a fortune as it would neither be used a lot or for professional work. At the time we had two models in - this one and I think the other was an SD10. They had virtually the same specifications, but a major difference is this one was physcially slightly bigger - to be entirely honest I bought this one because the larger size and shaping to the side meant it sat much more comfortably in my hand, it was nothing to do with the word Leica on the lens! LCD: Unlike camcorders of old, this one has no viewfinder so you rely on the LCD for recording (located on the side and with a rotate/flip mechanism). It's touch screen which is not essential for all controls, but is for some, such as selecting which clip you want to play back. You are provided with an odd looking pointer to use with the screen, but I found it too irritating so just use my finger and put up with the fingerprints. The screen has really good clarity and is a reasonable size to see what you're doing, so in this respect I'm very impressed. Zooming: The zoom is a 16x optical with additional digital (which decreases quality) - while 16x is not huge, it's more than big enough for most people and you'll probably struggle to hold it steady at that sort of zoom anyway! Certainly even with the stabilisation I can't avoid significant shake at 16x, but neither did I expect to. If you move the zoom toggle lightly enough you can get a good slow zoom action which is smooth and enables the retention of autofocus, however it is quite easy to push just that little bit too hard and zoom much faster than intended. Storage: Your images are stored on an SD card (not provided) which sits in a little slot that is revealed when the screen is opened. I currently have a 16gb class 10 (the speed at which the card can read/write) card in mine, which according the the camcorder, has enough space for just over 2 hours of video. Battery: Batteries are of the lithium ion rechargeable variety and it comes with a fairly small capacity one - bigger (both physically and in terms of recording time) batteries are available separately and luckily mine also came with a much bigger battery - the VW-VBG260 which can record for almost 4 hours or playback for 7 hours before it needs charging. I started off on my holiday using the small battery and it lasted for most of the week with me taking numerous clips from a few seconds to a couple of minutes in length, but it was nice to know I had the bigger battery to hand when the time came. Software: While I did get a software disc with my purchase I have been unable to use it as it's not compatible with Windows 7. I assume it will be ok with XP and Vista as I believe the model was released in 2009. I wasn't particularly upset by this as I very rarely use manufacturer provided software, but as this was my first proper venture into video I thought I'd give it a go. As that hasn't been possible, I have instead been using Windows live movie maker (which I think is causing more problems than it solves - it frequently crashes and video playback is a bit juddery, I know this isn't a problem with the card used as the speed is more than fast enough and I don't think it's a problem with the camcorder either due to the high resolution and the smooth playback in the camcorder itself) and soon hope to invest in Adobe Premiere elements which I hope will solve all my problems. Extras: There is a small light located on the front of the camcorder, underneath the lens - this is designed to be used in low light to enable you to carry on recording when you may otherwise have to stop. In reality it's not that great - range is very short, it gives harsh and unattractive colouration and light distribution is not even. This model has 5.1 channel surround sound built in - now if you ask me it's very hard to get surround sound when all the mics are located in such a confined area (there's no way to attach an additional mic) so I wasn't expecting anything amazing and you shouldn't either - this is never going to have the sound quality of a film or TV programme. None the less it is superior to my slightly more modern compact and is as clear as you need so I'm perfectly satisfied. Photos: It probably won't come as a surprise that you can also take photographs with this. Like every other camcorder I've ever seen the photos are nothing special - they're fine as little record shots and snap shots where quality isn't overly important, but really that's as far as it goes. Generally speaking the images are a bit on the soft side and the camcorder is overly fond of deploying its 'light' feature. General useability: I think coming from a photographic background has helped me when it comes to using other similar gadgetry - I probably pick it up quicker than most, however I so think this is fairly user friendly. Buttons are well marked and it's generally pretty obvious what you need to do to activate what feature. For the most part I'm not a fan of touch screens, but I have to say it does work fairly well here, although a would have welcomed the addition of a joystick control option so you wouldn't have to use the touch screen if you didn't want to - this would lessen wear and tear. Quality of results: This depends on a variety of factors - you need to make sure your memory card is fast enough to keep up with the speeds at which this records, if so you should have nice smooth results, but if your editing software is not up to scratch then you can find the quality ends up being degraded. When playing back through the camcorder itself, the quality is very pleasing and stacks up the the current models on the market. There is a useful back light feature, but personally I found this swings the exposure a little too far the other way and my foreground subjects were a little over exposed. Price: I managed to pick mine up for the absolute bargain price of £85, but at the moment I'd expect you to pick one of these up more in the range of £140-200 depending on condition and supplied accessories. When new these sold for around the £500 mark, which is not a price I would consider paying for an item like this. I do think £200 or under represents good value for money. Overall: I would recommend this camcorder - it sits nicely in your hand, is easy to use and produces good quality results. What more could you want? If you like to keep your cameras and camcorders separate then this could provide the solution your looking for - while it's not high end, it's more than adequate at recording your holidays and all those little memories you'll treasure looking back on in the years to come.
Falmouth in Cornwall, has a real reputation among artists for having brilliant quality light and incidentally the town has a very well known photography department at the university (which I nearly went to in 2007, but that's another story). The town itself has undergone some regeneration in recent years and various sections of the town have different feels to them. Entertainment: Last year my boyfriend and I wanted to go to the cinema to see the latest Batman film - we spent ages driving around trying to find the blasted place as its location wasn't obvious and is fairly distant from the main part of the town. The area around the cinema does look a little run down compared to other parts of the town, but the cinema itself is equipped with a luxury screen - this is apparently complete with sofas and a waiter service (at no extra cost), but unfortunately I've never seen it as our film was being shown in a different screen. Down by the waters edge you have a fairly modern development, complete with car park, that houses a small number of eateries and the Cornwall maritime museum. Sadly I haven't been able to visit the museum myself yet but I've heard good things about it so a trip there, combined with lunch and a good view could make a nice day out. It's also one of the more wheelchair/disabled access friendly areas of the town which in general is on the hilly side. Shopping: The high street itself manages to be very attractive - it looks very much the typically English/Cornish town with a mix of interesting and attractive old architecture. There's a variety of shops that nicely cover most bases - you have the national chain stores like WHSmiths, Boots etc and a good number of independent shops including 2 camera shops and plenty of places to buy pasties. At the end of the high street is 'Trago Mills' - effectively a large department store full of lots of cheap things. I went on my first visit there yesterday and it was amazing - the shop itself does look a little run down in places but it's huge with so many useful departments and some brilliantly priced things. I particularly liked the art and frame departments - I could easily have spent a small fortune in there. One delightful place my Dad introduced me to (a set slightly back from the high street) was 'Beerwolf' - it's a pub and a book shop combined! As I'm a non drinker, you wouldn't think pubs are my thing, but I love the atmosphere in them. This one is in a lovely old building - not wheelchair friendly as it's upstairs but décor is quite eclectic with a nice big bar and a room full of books for sale. Another plus is the books are significantly below RRP price, for example one was for sale at £8 (RRP £25). I definitely suggest a visit if you're in the area. Food: 'The chain locker' is a big pub down by the waters edge that's just undergone refurbishment. It's a fairly large establishment with an interesting interior and decent sized outside area which sits right on the water. I've not eaten in there but it has an excellent reputation for food as well as being reasonably priced. We picked up a couple of pasties from 'Pasty Presto' on the high street for lunch, but a bold seagull stole my step mums before she got the chance to eat more than one mouthful! I had a traditional filling one which was reasonably priced and well flavoured. Down near the maritime museum there's also a fish and chip shop owned by the famous chef Rick Stein, if you fancy eating at some high class chippy! Parking: There are car parks dotted all over the town - none of them huge and in the summer they're usually all pretty full. Parking can be rather restricted on the roads so you'll either need to find a car park or make use of the park and ride system. If you do choose the car park then make sure you're back before the ticket runs out as I've heard the traffic wardens are not the most generous. Recommendation: I'd say Falmouth is definitely worth a visit as there's plenty to do. In places it's a pretty town, shopping is diverse and plentiful, there's numerous places to eat and there's a museum. It's a good place to have as a base when on holiday or worth a day trip if you're staying elsewhere in Cornwall. The only real downsides are the occasional difficulty with parking and the general access is not brilliant for those who struggle with walking due to the hilly nature of the town.
My first ever car was a 1994 Volkswagen Golf MkIII 1.6 CL version, which was given to me by my mum when I passed my test as she was emigrating - I love that car as it had been in the family for a decade already so I felt I knew it well. In fact I still own the car and although off the road at the moment, it will be back to fight another day once some work has been done to it. My boyfriend and I both have classic cars and like to share a 'sensible' car between us so we've had a 1997 BMW 318i SE (which we sold when it developed a battery drain and the handbrake cable snapped, then the person who bought it managed to crash it) and a 1993 Jap import Toyota MR2 G limited (excellent car, but my boyfriend broke the engine) and so our most recent purchase was a MkII Golf. So why did we go back to a Volkswagen and why specifically a MkII Golf? As I've already said, I adore my MKIII - it just refuses to die and has never failed to get me anywhere. Our forays into slightly more modern/higher end cars hadn't gone so well as the technology in them meant they were/are much more complicated to fix when things invariably go wrong. The MKII Golf is of an age where things that break are generally easy to fix yourself, we already like Golf's, they're not expensive, known to be relaible and they have retro appeal etc. We bought the 1.8 GTI 8 valve version as I have to admit we do like fast cars! Looks: The MkII is very similar to the MkI in appearance and much squarer than any later models, which gives it a real retro appearance that appeals to a great many people. As a hatchback it's fairly small on the outside but quite spacious on the inside. Our particular car is dark grey (recommended for hiding dirt the best!) and I have noticed that the bright red ones seem to command the higher prices, although I'm not sure why. Interior: Our interior is grey material (as opposed to leather) which matches the exterior of the car. The dash continues the retro feel - everything is quite blocky! For a 23 year old car the interior has held up well with no cracks to the plastic parts and only one tear on the seats, which is situated on the right bolster of the drivers seat. Size wise the inside does feel quite spacious given the overall size of the car - VW definitely did a good job of maximising the useable space. You could fit 4 to 5 people in this car fairly comfortably and with better leg space than you can expect in a economy plane seat. The boot is more than large enough for a big food shop or well packed holiday luggage for a small family (or at least it was until my boyfriend installed a big sound system in there - we're not chavs I promise!) Comfort: I find most cars have uncomfortable seats on long journeys and these are the same - they're ok for a couple of hours, but after that the seats start to feel a little hard and I don't feel like my lower back is supported as well as it could be. Certainly our BMW seats were more comfortable as a passenger and the MR2 was better as a driver. They're certainly not bad seats, they're just not the best, but if you're a front passenger fancying a sleep, they do recline quite well! Drive: When we purchased ours the accelerator pedal was stupidly heavy and some investigation showed it was blocked by a lot of crud - a good clean out had it working like normal. Gears are easy to change, although ours does have some wear which means second makes a crunch when gearing up until the car is warm - this isn't a problem per se but does mean you sound like you don't know how to use a clutch to any passers by! Speed wise the 1.8 GTI is nice and nippy, even though ours isn't the 16 valve version - it certainly picks up speed quicker than our BMW, but it can't match the MR2 (but granted that was a 2l mid engine sports car!) I feel comfortable in picking up the pace enough to over take with ease in places where my MkIII CL would take a bit longer and I just wouldn't attempt it in my MkI capri. Obviously speed isn't the only important thing when it comes to a good drive - handling round bends is pretty good, there isn't much body roll evident as the later models seem to suffer from. There is one issue I do have with this car and that's reversing - I feel like I'm quite a good parker, but I despise reversing this car when it comes to fairly small spaces. The shape of the car and positioning of the windows means that when I line myself up to parallel park in a space I know the car can fit in, I soon feel like I'm wrestling with the impossible. Why? Well when you're attempting to get in the space it soon looks like you've half eaten the car behind - whether you look in the mirror or out the window, the front of the vehicle behind looks like it has been swallowed by your car. It's just impossible to see where theirs starts, yours ends and how much space is between you. You end up making silly little movements back and forth as it seems like you're in a really tight space, only to get out and find there's a good metre or so of space at either end! I never had this problem with my MkIII and even with the tiny rear window of the MR2 it was a breeze to park in any space. Another thing that comes into play when parking or doing 3 point turns etc. is the lack of power steering. The car does feel heavy when making small manoeuvres, although this isn't something you notice when normally driving - due to my much heavier classic which doesn't have power steering either, this isn't an issue that bothers me, although it might be something others should take into consideration. Community spirit: There aren't many cars of this age that generate a feeling of community on the roads - most people just scowl at each other as they drive, but old VW drivers look out for each other. I've lost count of the number of times I've got a thumbs up or a wave from other old VW drivers I don't know and it always makes me happy, it makes driving a much more pleasant experience when there are so many idiots on the road. It's something that just doesn't happen when I drive my MkIII. MPG: On the dash you can monitor your supposed MPG - given the age of the car I don't know just how accurate this is (and I haven't got around to doing any calculations to check), but I have to admit I enjoy watching it and seeing how high I can get it to go! When buying this sort of car of this sort of age, you can't expect anything fabulous in the MPG stakes - that's not what it was designed for and it just won't compete with the MPG's on many of todays cars. That said it seems to me to be half decent for its age - it seems to sit around 39-43mpg on average while I'm driving and at one point I had it up to 46mpg. Cost: I don't know how much these retailed at when new, but we purchased ours earlier this year (needing the cooling system fixing, without tax, but with MOT) for just £425 which I think was an absolute bargain. Looking at some I've seen a few go for over £1k, but £800ish seems a fairly normal price at the moment. We managed to get all the parts we needed to get her running well from local auto factors, cheaply and quickly. Of course purchase cost isn't the only one you need to consider - tax and insurance are the other two big ones. Given the age and engine size the tax is in the higher bracket, currently coming in at over £200 a year. Unfortunately as a GTI insurance won't necessarily be all that cheap either - especially if you're young. I managed to get my boyfriend and I insured on it for £550 which was by far the cheapest quote we got (some wanted a grand, which was ridiculous in my opinion), that price was about £200-250 more than the cost would have been if I insured my MkIII at the same time and to get the price we did we had to put it on a classic policy. Obviously the price you pay will depend a lot on you and where you live. Recommendation: Overall I do like this car a lot - I love the way it looks, the drive (for the most part), availability of parts, ease to fix, reliability etc. The main downsides are the visibility for parking and insurance (not the cars fault). If you want that retro feel without spending a fortune and getting a reliable every day car, this is definitely one I would recommend. *Edit* I've just remembered that when we first got the car my housemate went round it opening and closing each door and saying 'sounds just like a Golf' before getting in his own car and later texting me to say 'My doors are s**t' - Golf doors honestly do make a very satisfying noise!
I don't use a tripod for the vast majority of my work, but there are times when it's essential and for most of my interior property work I do employ the use of one. Very early on in my career I realised the benefits of a decent quality tripod over a cheap plastic one and I purchased a Manfrotto 190 which came with a 390 rc2 (pan and tilt type) head. This was fine when I had a Nikon D80 and no hefty 2.8 zoom lenses, but over time my kit has upgraded substantially and the head just couldn't quite cope with the weight of my new equipment - one particular irritant was that it was impossible to keep the head on a horizontal level, it would always dip a couple of degrees to the side. Now this doesn't seem like much of a hard ship, but with everything on a slight tilt, it meant I had to do correction work in retouching later on that I should never have to do. Money being something I certainly don't have an abundance of, I put up with this for quite some time, until I got the chance to buy a new camera very cheap so I chopped my old head in as part exchange and had no use of a tripod at all for a couple of weeks, until I was lucky enough to grab one coming in second hand at work. Ideally I'd wanted a strong fluid or joystick head, but both of these types are on the expensive side so I hadn't been holding out much hope of finding one in my budget, however luck was on my side and I ended up with the 322RC2 which is a joystick type. It's important to note that as this is not a fluid head, it wouldn't really be suitable for use when panning with video - the results would be on the jerky side. The 322 is an older model now, but as a consequence is slightly cheaper than the current ones available, indeed even the 'new' prices for this model tend to be cheaper than those for the current joystick head with a lower maximum weight load. New prices seem to be around the £120 mark (its RRP) and a quick look on ebay shows several auctions and one particularly cheap buy it now of £55. I managed to get hold of mine for the bargain price of £45. One of the great benefits to a joystick design head is that it can be easily and completely controlled by one hand (the right one ideally), leaving your other free for something else (like keeping a grip on the tripod body or holding a remote shutter release etc.) It's also fairly compact in size when compared to others that support the same sort of weight. I keep mentioning that this head can securely hold a lot of equipment - well the maximum supported weight comes in at 5kg, which should be more than enough for most people, even bird watchers with extreme telephoto lenses. It weighs in at 650g itself so it isn't a particularly light product and something that you may need to consider (in conjunction with the weight of your tripod), especially if you're going to be walking around a lot with it or going travelling, with limited weight allowances. That said there aren't any massively lighter alternative heads that I know of that can compete in the supported weight stakes so I'd have to say match the head you buy to the weight of equipment you use at any one time, and the weight of future equipment you are likely to purchase. Finish wise the head has a black matt finish coating all over which is great from a grip perspective - this is unlikely to slip out of even the sweatiest of grips! I have to say though that I personally liken the feeling of this to people scraping fingers down a blackboard and it always makes me cringe when I touch it (which isn't brilliant), it's not just Manfrotto though - Canon have used a similar feeling plastic on many of their new cameras and I hate touching them, but I haven't come across anyone who feels the same way about it as me! There is a friction adjustment wheel which I pretty much always leave to the minimum friction level as I find it easier to use this way. The plate for attaching to the base of your camera is the standard Manfrotto one, so replacements or spares can be purchased with relative ease, which is always handy to know. The main potential downside I can think of is that, like many cameras and camera equipment, this isn't the most practical product for anyone who relies on their left hand - you could just about use it, but there are plenty of other tripod heads that would be easier for left handers to adjust. Overall I'd have to say that I think this is an excellent head - it's strong, practical and can sometimes be picked up for a bargain second hand. I think this is a case of buy good, buy once.
I got given this camera earlier in the year by someone who decided to upgrade to a more modern compact, never one to turn down a camera I was quite happy to have a new gadget, even if it is an old one! Having never had any kind of Samsung camera before this was a bit of a new experience as it's like no other camera I've ever used. A bit of specification... I believe this particular camera was released sometime in 2007 and at the time was a fairly decent specification camera with 10 megapixels, 2.5" LCD screen and a lithium ion battery. The flash pops up on the top when needed, there is a bulged grip on the side for easier handling and there is no viewfinder. Unlike many Samsung's this uses standard SD, not the micro varient - from my experiments at home the camera does not seem to like any of my larger capacity cards, so I've stuck to standard SD ones which are 2gb and below (a 2gb card on here gives me almost 400 photos at full resolution which is more than enough). Looks... I'd say this has aged better than many other digital compacts of the same era - from looks alone I don't think many people would be able to place is as a non current model, indeed it's fairly slim line and stylish, so top marks from this perspective. Ease of use... As a professional photographer and camera shop employee, I usually find it very easy to get to grips with the basics of any camera, but this Samsung is unlike anything I've ever used before. There's a mode dial on the top which is nice and simple, neither is the toggle zoom complicated, but what I did find confusing is the square buttons lined up all the way along the bottom and right of the LCD screen. These are touch sensitive and do not need to be depressed in order to have a function ie. when reviewing images taken you run your finger across the base buttons to scroll though the images, when you actually want to select a specific function you press the button that lines up with the display on the screen. It's more stylish looking I suppose, but certainly not the easiest to use or most practical option and seems not to have been a concept that caught on as other manufacturers have shied away from such a design. Quality of photos and video... For me the photos are so so - they look excellent on the back of the screen with nice accurate colours and contrast, but when viewed at 100% they're very soft (in my opinion). That said this camera wasn't exactly designed for professional use or exhibition display etc - I've used mine on nights out with friends where I'd be upset if my 'nice' compact was broken or stolen, but wouldn't be fussed about this one and the quality is more than adequate for that purpose. I wouldn't bother using the higher ISO's available - they make the image much 'noisier' while seeming to have little overall added light gathering capacity, I'd advise just using the flash instead. Video wise the resoluation is just 480x640 pixels, which was standard at the time (no HD here) so when viewed on a large screen for playback the results are on the fuzzy side but on youtube at the like it's just fine, with sound quality being fairly decent too. Durability... When the camera was given to me the battery was on its way out - it still worked, but lost charge quickly, however for something 5+ years old this isn't unexpected so I just purchased another. There does seem to be a problem with the flash pop up mechanism - sometimes it comes up just fine, other times the camera is saying it needs\wants flash but it doesn't pop up so I have to coax it along a bit. Half the time it moves with just a light nudge from my finger, other times it needs a good yank! I don't believe the camera to have been dropped so it seems more likely to have been some age related issue with the hinge/spring. Price... Obviously I got mine for free, but I've had a quick look on amazon marketplace where they currently start from £70, on ebay there aren't many but the ones on there you should be able to pick up for £30 odd complete in box.
I have to confess I was against the idea of e readers from the moment they were first introduced - I LOVE real books, the way they look, feel and even smell is all part of the reading experience which completely get taken away by reading on some sort of electronic device. I love real books so much I have three big bookcases full of the things and it's still not enough! How does any anti e-reader like me end up with a kindle of all things? Anyway I was browsing books (funnily enough) on amazon one day and noticed that there were some free kindle ones that looked interesting, but were on the expensive side to buy physical copies of. Being one who finds it hard to resist a freebie, the cogs in my mind started turning - I get vouchers through work, I can pick Tesco vouchers, Tesco sell Kindle, I could buy a kindle with vouchers ergo free kindle, free books... So after acquiring myself some Tesco gift cards I set off to my local large Tesco to have a look at the available options. Initially I was just planning to buy the basic model for just shy of £70, however this didn't seem to have a light on and my boyfriend always whinges about my reading in bed keeping him up so I looked up the scale and noticed the Kindle fire allows you to do all sorts of things including having a photo section. As a photographer this appealed as it means I can have an extensive portfolio on me at all times (incase of last minute or impromptu meetings) or even just my most recent images that I haven't yet printed out to show any potential clients. There was the Kindle fire HD above this at £159, but as I just had £100 in Tesco gift cards a kindle was looking like less and less of a 'free' purchase and HD seemed like a bit of an unnecessary extra. Why a kindle and not an alternative e reader? The answer is as simple as the fact that I know kindle will be compatible with whatever I download from amazon, and it seemed much simpler to buy one of them then any possible faffing about with other brands to get everything to sync up, especially when technology frustrates me so easily. Is it all in the looks? I have to say the Kindle fire is rather attractive - black all over with a matt finish rear and gloss black 'framing' to the front, the whole thing is quite shiny and screams new and modern. At the base you have a small power button next to the USB connection and a small jack I'm guessing is for headphones. Nice shiny screen ay? As the Kindle fire range are a gloss screen as opposed to the 'lower' models from the instant I saw them I thought it would damage easily and as there's no screen protector provided I bought a case for it there and then - I'd recommend everyone do this right away or you'll kick yourself when you get a nice big scratch right down the middle of the screen. One other point about the gloss finish screen - yes it looks lovely but the damn things drive me mad with finger prints, from the instant you first touch it there are nasty greasy finger smears regardless of how clean your hands are. Why on earth can't they make a good quality colour screen with a matt finish?! It just seems so backwards and it's maddening. What's in the box? Not a lot! Honestly I can't remember the last time I bought a product with less in it - there's basically just the kindle itself and a USB cable. I have to say I think it's pretty stingy of amazon not to give you any sort of mains adaptor, as it comes you can't charge it away from a computer. Luckily my phone charger has a USB plug so I just use mine for that purpose. Furthermore there were no instructions! No instructions? A travesty! Whatever shall we do? Ok so it's not the most complicated thing to get up and running, you just turn it on and follow the set up process on screen but there are things I'd have liked to have known like a) does it come fully charged? (still not sure if it did or not, I just plugged it in anyway), b) how do you get the screen to flip (I'm assuming it does this as otherwise annoying viewing landscape photos in a portrait orientation and it would be useful for web browsing, either way I can't find anything in the settings) and c) can you delete things already loaded on the kindle? (I have no interest in reading 'The New Oxford American dictionary' but can't for the life of me figure out how to get rid of it). Any other irritating niggles? Unless I've missed it entirely, the screen doesn't seem capable of auto adjusting brightness, I've got so used to this feature on mobiles that I find it irritating having to do this manually according to changing lighting conditions. Another glaring (quite literally) problem with the screen is that in bright sunlight you can see your own reflection really strongly, regardless of the brightness settings. I found this so distracting while reading in the car (don't worry I was the passenger) that I kept finding instead of concentrating on reading I kept looking at the reflection of my nose and thinking how horrible it looked from that angle! When it comes to photos the colour and contrast reproductions are very good, but all the pictures look soft even though in reality they are bitingly sharp, this is fine at a distance but no good for close scrutiny and I guess is something the HD varient deals with better. For all other purposes the screen is more than sharp enough. Battery life, in my opinion, is nothing to shout home about, infact I think it's pretty poor - if you're going somewhere with no access to mains electricity then take a real book, you'll need it if you like reading and are away more than a day! I took this with me to cumbria for the weekend, charged it up before I left (which takes a good few hours) and read for maybe 6 hours before the battery died on me, at least we were nearly home again by that point (and I had taken a real book too). I believe the cheaper/e reader only kindles, have much better battery life as they're less power intensive. So what's good about it? As the fire is evolved from other e readers you'd expect the book reading experience to be simple and it is. Pages fill the whole screen, text is easy to read (size adjustable), flicking pages is quick, you can keep track of percentage read, easy to book mark, you can change the colour of the 'paper' etc. Books are also organised in order of what you last downloaded/looked at so you shouldn't have to keep scrolling through a huge mass to find your current read. Web browsing is easy with the keyboard easy to type on, which leads me nicely onto my next point - the touchscreen on which responsiveness is excellent. The kindle store is generally easy to use to, if you know what you're looking for you can find books quickly and downloading is just a simple click and takes meer seconds, my only problem with the store is you can't seem to refine the sort order by free/price. Wifi connections are quick to set up and once you've logged into one it seems to automatically connect when you're in range. You paid how much?! At £129 this is far from the cheapest e-reader on the market, however as a tablet computer it would be considered cheap. The HD version is currently retailing for £30 more. So should you buy one? Despite all the pitfalls I'm still fairly happy with my purchase and wouldn't say it's a bad product. If you just want to read on it I'd suggest buying one of the cheaper priced kindles - they should have better battery life and not suffer from fingerprints or glare issues. If you want to display photos or watch videos, consider pushing the budget up to the HD one to get that sharpness this model is lacking.