Saturday, June 3, 2023

Starkou combines tripod and selfie stick

When I shoot video at an event, I take along two important items. One is an extendable selfie stick, to get my cell phone camera above a crowd. The other is a tripod to get a steady view of the action, often using a second camera. 

The Starkou Tripod Selfie Stick is a highly-portable device that can do either job well. And you get a wireless remote shutter trigger with the package.

The Starkou stick is made to be carried in a backpack or shoulder bag. It's too big and heavy to put in a pocket on your jacket or jeans. When fully collapsed it weights a little under 1 pound in an 11.5-inch tube. But that heft is one of its advantages. I've used cheap selfie sticks that can't hold at full extension and flimsy tripods that easily fall over. This one stands firm.

Using the Starkou required a bit of practice. To unlock the tripod legs, you first press button at the base of the tube. And it has to be pretty hard press to get the legs to slide down an interior tube and snap into place like an umbrella.

The clamp that hold a phone is made of strong plastic with rubber cushions at each end of the clamp. It rotates between vertical and wide-screen positions and holds each position without lock nuts. And the outer caps of the clamp each have a cold shoe mount where you can attack a microphone or fill light.

I was most impressed with the extension tubing that emerges in eight segments to a full 60 inches - almost to my chin. The segments are tucked snugly inside each other, so some muscle is required to get them out. But they stayed firm without any twisting or locking maneuver on my part.

Attached to the outer shell of the Starkou is a thumb-sized Bluetooth remote. Once paired with my phone, I could take single photos or start and stop video recording without touching the phone. I snapped several shots of birds dining at my back porch feeder while I was inside the house peeking out a window.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

A pro-level rig for phone videography

A few years ago, I ordered an inexpensive cage-style phone video rig after my iPhone slipped out of my hand several times during a video shoot. The rectangular holder provided side grips that put an end to the dropsies and I expanded it using velcro strips and twisty wires to add a charging block, a light box and a microphone. 

It was an ugly kludge, but it worked.

I would have much preferred this this ULANZI Universal Phone Video Rig Kit if it had been available back then. It's made of aluminum with threaded holes for standard attachments like lights and mics plus a second set of jaws to hold a USB charger. No velcro or rubber bands required. 

And just about everything on this rig is adjustable. There are 12 threaded holes and four cold shoe slots on all four sides of the center cage, giving you a variety of location options to mount  multiple gadgets above below the cage with more holes and shoes on the handles. You can build your own custom rig with the phone mounted for horizontal or vertical shooting. 

While the handles let you chase the action, a fully-loaded rig will weigh almost 3 lbs. That's enough to wear out both arms and put one-handed use out of reach for most people. I think it's a better fit for use with a tripod where it could hold larger light bars and a heavier mic.  

My other concern is the clip for the charging block. I have several chargers and only one will work with this rig. The others are too small or too wide. But that's a minor gripe and one that won't stop me from consistently using what is clearly a professional-level cage.

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Folding 3-in1 charger is a good traveller

When I travel, I take along my main Apple devices: an iPhone 14 Pro, AirPods 2 and an Apple Watch. And that usually meant taking along a tangle of charging cables and power plugs.

That changed when I got the Yellami charging platform. It offers a far less complicated solution: a fold-out gadget that takes up a minimal amount of travel space while charging all three items from a single cable.

The travel charger had no trouble juicing iPhone in its Apple Magsafe case, boosting the phone from 70% to 98% in about 45 minutes. And it recharged all of my devices overnight. I might note that the phone platform gets warm to the tough while charging.   

The design of the charging platform, with magnets in each segment tied together by rubber connectors, lets you fold the charge to accommodate one or two devices if you choose. The charger can be laid flat, with each segment in a row, or folded into a pyramid shape that could provide a better view of the phone face while it’s charging. But I couldn’t make that setup work. Either the phone is too heavy or the magnets are too weak to keep the triangle from collapsing. 

But that's not important to me. I’m just glad that the charger does its job and that I have a better single cable option for travel charging.    

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Momax GaN charger offers speed and power

By now I’ve learned that not all device chargers are created equal. Use the wrong base and my iPhone will sit for hours before it’s fully charged or my iPad won’t charge at all. The problem lies in the amount of power that is delivered through the charger, the little block that you plug into the wall or the strip of USB outlets. 

The Momax USB C Charging Station promises to fix that by pumping up to 100 watts through a compact case with outlets for four cables. The charger is among a new group of charging units that use gallium nitride in place of the more common silicon. GaN chargers are faster and more powerful that ordinary chargers. And they’re able to refuel multiple devices, including Apple laptops.

Charging times for an iPhone 14 vary according to the power of the charging device: about 2 hours for a 30-watt charger, 3 hours for a 20-watt charger and 4 hours for the old 5-watt chargers that we all have around the house. 

To see just how fast the Momax charger is, I drained the batteries in my iPhone 14 Pro and a 2019 iPad Air, then plugged both into the USB-C ports. After just 10 minutes, the phone had a 25% charge and the tablet was up to 14%. Forty-five minutes later, the phone had 82% power and the tablet 63%. Both were fully charged after about an hour and a half. 

I like the performance of the Momax and I like its price: $49.99 on Amazon. Apple sells a GaN charger on its website that is configured just like the Momax - two USB-C ports and two USB-A ports - but its price is more than twice the cost of the Momax. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

A multi-charger-power bank combo

When I travel, all my Apple gears comes with me, including an iPhone 14, Apple Watch, iPad and Airpods Pro. Now I have a device that will charge all of those gadgets at the same time, even when I'm not plugged into AC power.

It's called the VanSmaGo Magsafe Charging Station.  It's designed to be both an every day charging station for your desk or bedside table or a wireless battery pack when you're the road. 

The VanSmaGo charger has a pleasant and efficient design. The panel that contains the Magsafe charging ring can be used when it's fully horizontal or tilted up to display the phone's face and reveal the earpod charging spot underneath. A rotating arm behind the phone panel pops out to hold and charge an Apple Watch. 

And what about the iPad? You can charge it by plugging a cable into the USB outlet on the side of the charger. Just be sure you use an Apple-approved cable. A couple of cheap cables that I tried would charge my iPad Mini but not a full-sized iPad Air. In all, the VanSmaGo can charge five different devices at once, even if it's not connected to AC power.

A display panel on the front of the charger lights up to show icons for each of the devices that are      drawing power from the internal battery. It also displays a number that tell the pwecentage of available battery power. Using just the battery, the VanSmaGo took my iPhone from 86% to 99% in 40 minutes while drawing the battery down from a full charge to 55%. I think that's a pretty decent performance. 

The charger also has a USB-C port that's labelled IN/OUT. It takes incoming power as the front display ticks off the percentage of stored energy on its way to 100. As an output source, the C port charged my phone and iPad but not the tray that charges batteries for my action cam.

My primary complaint about the charger is the precarious way that it holds my phone when the MagSafe panel is in its near vertical position. If the phone does not have a case, the MagSafe ring has enough magnetic pull to keep the phone in place. But with my Apple-brand MagSafe case, the phone has to rest on the lower lip of the ridge around the camera array. And while it will charge in that position, if the phone is slightly jostled, it breaks the connection. 

Nevertheless, I am impressed enough to make this charger my new go-to travel device.

Monday, December 5, 2022

The right cable for my second monitor

I assumed one video cable would be just as good as another. That’s what I was thinking when I connected two monitors to my new M1 Mac Mini. 

I plugged my main monitor, a 32-inch curved Dell, into the Mini’s HDMI output and all was good. Then I connected a second monitor using the Mini’s USB-C port and all was not close to good.

The second monitor lit up, but only after nearly a full minute of blinking and struggling to make a connection. 

Must be a faulty cable, I thought, so I tried a couple of other HDMI cables. Same result. Then I bought a new HDMI to USB-C cable -- yes, a cheap one - and the monitor still had the jitters. 

At that point, I decided the problem must be in the monitor and I would just have to live with it. So I did, for more than a year.

Then I saw the TECHTOBOX cable and decided to try a cable that was advertised as being actually designed to handle high-speed 4K content. Now I have a secondary monitor that springs to life maybe two seconds after the main screen, and with no blinking or flashing. I also tried it with my MacBook Air and again got an instant display of a crisp, clear image that mirrored the built-in screen.

The cable appears to be well constructed with braided shielding, gold-plated connectors and metal tips with rubber protector sleeves. I don't know what's inside the cable that allows it to deliver a signal that doesn't cause my monitor to sputter and hiccup and, frankly, I don't care all that much. I'm just glad it works as advertised.  

And now that I have a second monitor that no longer acts like it’s about the die, I'm thinking of getting another one of these cables to use with my portable gear.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

This monitor riser falls short

After several months with a 32-inch curved monitor, I thought I needed a monitor stand. Raising the monitor by a few inches would put it in slightly better eye position and the stand would pair it with a second monitor that I like to use in a vertical orientation. But the Yaohuoo riser that I ordered on Amazon fell a bit short of my goal. 

My first surprise came when I saw the number of pieces I would need to assemble this dual stand: 10 wood veneer panels, four metal connecting plates and more than 40 screws, pegs, locking posts and their companion discs. I’m an IKEA fan, so complicated assembly tasks don’t really bother me but this seemed like overkill for such a simple item.

If you look closely at the images on the riser’s sales page, you will see that the center part of each surface has a different color. Turns out that’s because those accent pieces are separate segments that must be attached using the four metal plates and 24 screws. I ignored the little allen wrench that Yaohuoo provided and grabbed my cordless drill. Otherwise the work might have taken all day.

When I finally got all the pieces connected, it was time to set up my Mac Mini and its two monitors. It was not a good choice for my 32-inch curved monitor. I could clearly see that bolted-on center panel begin to sag under the weight of a 20-pound monitor.

So call it my fault for choosing a square peg for a round hole. In my defense, the product page shows the stand being used with a pair of Apple monitors which can also be pretty heavy. On the plus side, this double riser can be deployed in several different arrangements. I expect it would work just fine for a laptop and maybe a 24-inch companion monitor but it wasn’t right for my setup.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

COLBOR delivers a blast of light for video shoots

After a frustrating couple of years trying to light my indoor video scenes with underpowered LCD lights or clip-on work lights from the hardware store, I finally decided to get my hands on a good pro-level studio light. 

I picked the COLBOR CL60. It's a lightweight and affordably-priced LCD light that delivers far more illumination than the cheap alternatives I was trying or the low-wattage ring lights I've seen pitched to YouTubers.  

The lamp in the CL60 can produce a color temperature raging from 2700K to 6500K with variable brightness. That was all the I needed to shoot a couple of product videos in an indoor setting.  The primary job of the CL60 is to be the key light, the main lighting source for the star of the show, whether it's a person or a product. Let's say your star is a cook positioned behind a kitchen island, ready to demonstrate a recipe. A single CL60 would provide adequate lighting for that type of video. 

The light comes with a horn-shaped reflector which is good for directing light on a specific spot. I tried the light for a scene that involved several people in my living room. The COLBOR light focused on people in the center of the group, leaving those on the margins in the shade. 

The shot would likely have come out better if I had used a diffuser attachment in place of the reflector. Making that switch would have been easy as the CL60 comes with a Bowens mount adapter to hold the reflector. The mount is a ring that lets you snap in a variety of other attachments including diffusers and other light-shaping tools. 

Judging by the photos on the sales page for the CL60, you might think that the light is a portable unit with it's own power supply. It's not. The light needs a external power source, either the USB-C charger that comes wit the gear or your own charging brick. 

The light comes with a nicely-designed carrying case. The only item I had to purchase was a metal screw adapter that I needed to mount the light on a tripod. Overall, the COLBOR CL60 turned out to be just what I was looking for: a versatile and affordable first step into pro-level video lighting. 

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