Tag Archives: smartphone

This is a travel writer’s most important tool on the road

2017-06-13

When any professional, for instance, a digital nomad or a remote worker, who is working while traveling, packs for the next assignment or destination, there is always the question if something could be dropped from the travel kit. The number of electronic devices seems to be gradually growing in my travel bag, at least. Which tools are the essential ones to get the job done, if the assignment is to write on the road?
digital nomad working at a terrace near fruit farms of Murcia

Here is the set of key tools for a travel writer according to my experience.

Maps.

Both digital and paper maps are crucial for planning. For navigation on the road I use offline digital maps, but I have good printed map books as a backup.

Laptop.

Most writers type their manuscripts on laptops, and so do I. Nonetheless, it is quite amazing how little laptops have developed if you compare them to tablets and smartphones that have gone so far in such a short time. Where is the touch screen in laptops? Decent battery life? Protective cases for taking them on the road?

Smartphone.

The ultimate communication tool for keeping in touch with collaborators or calling tourist information offices of the world. The camera on the phone is also a very useful and important tool for a writer.

Tablet.

I use tablet a lot for planning (maps, distances between distances, routing) and researching background information on destinations. On the road, it is the in-car navigation device instead of the dashboard GPS. Tablet is probably the first tool that many other travelers drop from their toolset, but in the future, I may even choose tablet and keyboard instead of a laptop.

prepaid SIM cards for internet access
Local prepaid SIM card.

Some travelers rely on Wi-Fi hotspots to get online, but the best way to have Internet access when you need it is to buy a local prepaid SIM card with data plan. Insert the SIM card to your smartphone, 3G/4G Wi-Fi router, tablet or laptop.

Backup disk.

The next backup disk I am going to get is a portable, wireless SSD disk. In the office, I can continue using USB hard drives that can store terabytes worth of data.

Camera.

I write and take photos for books, but even if you wouldn’t take pictures to be published in an upcoming book, camera is a vital tool for a writer. Photographs have many functions: they show how a place looks like, they help a writer to remember details of a place, and they can document objects.

I just realized that paper and pen are not included in the list of key tools. It is very rare that I use the trusted and reliable note taking technology, but occasionally I do. Pen and paper are usually somewhere near to make notes, for instance, during a phone conversation, but they are not vital tools anymore. Another thing I realized is that occasionally I need help. Hubstaff Talent is a service for finding remote talent.

mirrorless SLR digital camera with zoom lens
If I had to choose only one tool from the list above, which one would be the most important for a travel writer? Camera.

Yes, a camera. I am slightly surprised by my choice, but if I had to select only one thing I can take along for the next trip, it would be a camera. By taking a photo, I can document details of things I would have to write down. Overview photos of landscapes and city streets help me remember how a place really was. I can quickly document information boards that highlight the key points of a sight or a protected park. Video clips of local markets, main squares and pedestrian districts remind me of the buzz and feel of the place. A camera is also a handy note taking aid: I can record a video clip with a note to myself. If it is my job to take the photos for a book or an article, those images have to be taken as well.

Naturally, when the time comes to start actually writing, a camera won’t help anymore. But the photos and videos will.

DIY project: turn your smartphone into a scanner that converts paper books into ebooks

2017-04-29

People who read actively may have invested a significant amount of money in their book collections. Every time they have to move to a new place or want to take their library with them on a vacation, they have to ask themselves the inevitable question: why can’t I have all my books in digital format on my tablet, ereader, phone or laptop? Well, now you can. If you have any do-it-yourself spirit in you, it is possible to build a pretty fast scanning system for digitizing your whole home library.

Tiflic book scanner by Mohib
Anyone who has ever tried to scan a paper book one page at a time on an ordinary home scanner knows how hopelessly time-consuming effort it is. In practice, it is impossible to scan a home library consisting of more than a few books this way. If you have seen a video how, for instance, the very fast Google book scanning system works, it is impressive, but very expensive and requires pages to be ripped from the books.

Canadian book lover (and obviously a talented tinkerer) Mohib has spent a long time building a book scanner that is fast enough for mass scanning of books, but economical and easy to build at home. Now, Mohib’s Tiflic Book Scanner has reached a milestone where the system can scan 900-1100 book pages per hour. This is achieved without having to destroy the books. In effect, you are able to scan 2 – 5 books an hour. After the initial investment, you get that many ebooks for free every hour you have time to flip pages on the system.

How does the Tiflic Book Scanner work? It is not a fully automatic system, but you have to flip the next page for the scanner. But maybe you can read a book, listen to music or watch a movie while flipping pages. Other than, the system operates autonomously once it is set up.

The best way to get an idea how the scanner works is to watch this video:

If you want a Tiflic scanner, you have to build it yourself. Mohib has shared very detailed instructions how to build a Tiflic scanner here (a PDF document). Plenty of information and questions and answers have been posted on this forum page.

The main components of the book scanner are:
– A smartphone with a decent camera. Mohib used an Apple iPhone 4.
– Hardware that holds the camera.
– Page flip mechanism.
– Application for the smartphone to take photos.
– Bluetooth trigger for the smartphone for taking the photos at the right moment.
– Software for processing the photos, and perhaps an OCR application that converts images of pages into text.

Let us and Mohib know if you have managed to build a Tiflic scanner yourself. Maybe we fetch our paper books from a warehouse and build one for the Klaava office as well.

Via ActuaLitte.


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Here is how you can turn your smartphone into a 360-degree camera

2017-01-20

Often, the best ideas are so simple that you ponder why didn’t I think of it. Dunkam 360-degree camera is exactly like that: a small, low cost product that you attach to your smartphone and start shooting 360 photos and videos.
Dunkam 360 degree camera
This is how the Dunkam 360 works:
– Download Dunkam application to your smartphone
– Plug the Dunkam camera into the USB port on your smartphone
– Open the app and take 360 photos or shoot 360 video.
– You can share your videos directly from the app to YouTube and social media.
– The app also features some special effects if you want to spice up your videos.

When you are done, unplug the Dunkam camera and continue using your smartphone as usual. The Dunkam camera is so small that it is quite easy to carry it in a pocket or purse – even just in case you would happen to need it.

The Dunkam 360 camera requires two things: you must have an Android smartphone (Apple version should be available later), and the USB port on your phone must be OTG (On-The-Go) capable. If you don’t know if the USB port can act as a host device for the camera, there is an app for that in the Play Store.

Since the image processing takes place on the smartphone – using the memory and processor of the phone – it is a good idea to clean the phone from unnecessary apps and data so that there is as much free RAM and storage space for the 360 images as possible.

The Dunkam camera is a beta product at the moment, but it can be purchased for 99 Euros/USD directly from the company that is behind it.

A tech reporter of El Pais met with the inventor of the product Julián Beltrán who demonstrated how it works. Here is a video (in Spanish) where you can see the Dunkam camera in action.
Dunkam 360 camera for smartphone

Technical specifications for Dunkam 360

– Two 8 megapixel cameras
– For smartphones with USB OTG connection
– Android only at the moment, Apple version under development.
– Resolution 1920×960
– Streaming HD 1080p
– Filters, tiny planet mode, exposure control
– Size 2.6 x 2.2 inches
– Weight 63 grams.


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Travel photography application shows where to take that perfect tourist postcard picture

2017-01-11

Accidental travel photographers tend to take photos at the same places where everyone else is taking pictures. If you want your travel pictures to look better than 99% of all photos taken in that same spot, you may want a little help from an expert. The travel photography expert is called Snapfindr, an app that runs on your smartphone or tablet.
snapfindr app screen shot
Snapfindr is a free application that shows you the exact locations of major sights in the most popular travel destinations where to take that perfect postcard image. At the moment, the application covers the top sights of Barcelona, London, New York, Paris, Prague, and Sydney.

Let’s say you are exploring Paris. You find the famous Notre Dame cathedral, and want to take a memorable photograph of the place. Snapfindr shows you exactly where to stand and which direction to point your camera. If you have a camera where you can adjust the settings, the application gives you tips on them as well. Notre Dame is only one of the locations in Paris the app covers. You can navigate from destination to destination using an online map or embedded sample images.

All right, that is what Snapfindr can do. Then, there is only a question of how and for what you use it for. Maybe you don’t want to take the same images as everyone else is taking during sightseeing tours. Perhaps there are even better ways to use Snapfindr?

One of the best use cases for this application is learning travel photography. The persons who have taken the images included in the app and written the notes for camera settings and related remarks are very skilled photographers. Anyone who wants to learn the first steps in classic travel photography can get many valuable lessons in Snapfindr:

– How to position yourself and your camera.
– How to frame the subject.
– Timing: what is the time of the day when you get the most spectacular images.
– Camera settings for that perfect picture.

Snapfindr even features sample images taken on the spot for you to compare your snapshot with the teacher’s mastershot.

For more travel photography, take a look at our writers’ galleries.

Snapfindr screen shots:
screen capture of snapfindr application

screen capture of snapfindr application

screen capture of snapfindr application

Quick and easy tips for street photography

2016-11-17

After I saw a large exhibition of works of Henri Cartier-Bresson two years ago, I realized that there are so many techniques for taking photos on city streets. It looked like Cartier-Bresson had agreed with some people that they are being photographed. They should continue whatever they were doing without having to pose, the photographer may have told them. It was obvious, however, that Cartier-Bresson had taken many pictures without subjects noticing what was going on.

That’s the art of street photography – snapping frames without disturbing the flow of life and work on the streets.
tavira, portugal
Crowded places, sights, any places with lots of activity tend to be the easiest places to take authentic photos of people minding their own business. Experienced street photographers, like Eric Kim, have learned a few tricks how to take candid shots almost anywhere. He has shared 10 tips for street photographers in his blog here.

For instance, the video camera technique is something that I never thought of, but is an excellent tip. The idea is to move with the camera (for instance, rotate yourself like you were taking a 360 degree video) as many tourist camcorder shooters do. You, of course, only need to frame the true subject that you want to frame.

I have also noticed that taking photos with a smartphone is less intrusive than pointing a large lens of a SLR to a subject. When you frame someone with a smartphone, the subject tends to believe that he or she is not the centerpiece of your picture but it is something behind, above, or near him or her. It is also quicker to point and shoot with a smartphone – assuming you have the camera app already on, and you are looking at the screen like you were reading messages or looking at a map. From that position, it is very quick to raise the phone and snap a photo.

What about the situation when the photographer becomes the subject? Last year, in Lapland, I was being photographed from a distance. I noticed it because it was a noisy group of Chinese tourists, and at least one cameraman wanted to capture someone hiking. I posed, and other Chinese photographers joined the fun. As I walked closer, the photographer who started the whole thing wanted to take a selfie with me. It was an honor I couldn’t refuse.

sao bras de alportel, PortugalSao Bras de Alportel, Portugal.

Ebook news digest: best reading apps, tips from The Atlantic, unique travel photography

2016-06-12

Ebook News Digest June 12th, 2016

Google Word Lens Translator, a Swedish map translated to Spanish
Five e-reader apps for smartphones and tablets: from Wattpad to Scribd (EveningStandard)

– We would like to add FBReader and Kindle to the list of ereading apps as well.

Lemonade and Sketches of Spain: The Week in Pop Culture Writing (The Atlantic)

– Tips for fine nonfiction reads.

Best eReaders 2016: What’s the best eReader? The 8 best e-book readers you can buy in the UK today: Best eReader reviews (TechAdvisor)

– 4 out of 8 are Kindles, but the other 4 ereaders are fine products as well.

The amazing world of Kiwi photojournalist Amos Chapple (Stuff)

– Intriguing travel photography.

Technology – 6 excellent e-book reading apps for your smartphone (Mid-day)

– Try Google Play or Bluefire reading app as well.

Non-fiction ebooks for your smartphone, tablet, ereader or PC: download here.

Close-up photography on smartphone is fun and easy with an affordable clip-on macro lens

2015-12-13

The image quality on smartphone cameras has developed so high that even professional photographers take pictures with their smartphones, because it is always at hand. Obvious limitations in camera phone photography – lack of manual controls and a fixed lens – simply have to be overcome through creativity. There are, however, some useful accessories that can help anyone take new kind of images on a smartphone, such as clip-on lenses.
clip-on macro lens on LG smartphone
We accidentally discovered a macro lens kit for camera phones at an electronics store. The price was low enough (10 euros) to justify trying it out even if it proved to be a useless piece of plastics. After testing the two lenses included in the kit, our conclusion is that the low-cost clip-on lenses are useful and definitely good value for the money. Image quality suffers a little, but the fun factor is so high that it justifies the slight loss in quality.
macro lens kit with fisheye lens
The lens kit we happened to find includes a macro lens and a fisheye lens. Protective caps for both lenses, a tiny pouch, and the clip comprise the kit.

No instructions whatsoever on how the kit was designed to be used were included in the package. It took awhile to figure out how the lenses were attached to the clip. The macro lens is directly screwed on to the clip. The fish eye lens is attached to a collar, and the collar is screwed on to the clip.

Once the clip-on lens has been placed on top of the camera phone lens, snapping close-up pictures can begin. The clip-on lens must be carefully positioned at the center of the phone lens. The macro lens fits on any camera phone or tablet. The only problem can be if the phone or tablet lens is so close to the edge that the clip may not stay put. On the Apple iPad, the camera lens is at the edge, but the clip-on lens manages to hold its grip.
Appke iPad, macro lens attached
It is as simple as that. A whole new world opens up to a smartphone photographer who can now get really close to subjects. The macro lens in our kit is handy for photographing many types of subjects. The fisheye lens is a fun way to shoot video and take photos of pets and, of course, selfies.

Pets tend to be difficult to photograph: they move when they should be still and they come too close to the camera. The fisheye lens solves the problem of close-up photos for pets and for selfies.

The image quality slightly degrades when an additional lens is added on top of the existing camera phone lens. The image sensor also needs more light: some images taken on a clip-on lens are not as bright as without it. Blurriness around the edges can be quite strong, but since the whole idea of macro photography is to get close to specific subject, it doesn’t matter that much.

All and all, we are happy on our small investment in the macro lens kit. The only thing we worry is how to carry the lenses with us without losing them.

Here are a few side-by-side comparison pictures. The image on the left was taken with the macro or fisheye lens, and the image on the right without additional lens. Photos were taken so that the camera phone was on the same position for both shots.

snow on table, fisheye lens comparison

Fish eye lens on the left.


old trains, macro lens comparison

Macro lens picture on the left.


stonewall, smartphone lens comparison

The best smartphones for serious photography according to lab tests

2015-10-15

Every smartphone manufacturer believes the camera on the company’s high-end product is the best in the market. Image quality is, however, very difficult to prove. Countless camera tests among the top smartphone brands have been published, but because people tend to favor different attributes in images, tests conducted by asking viewers’ opinions don’t produce an unambiguous winner. When image quality is technically measured in a lab, we get some interesting results.

sony xperia z5 camera

Sony Xperia Z5

At the moment (in the second half of 2015) the best smartphone for photography is the Sony Xperia Z5. The Samsung S6 Edge is the second best and the Google Nexus 6P the third. The tests have been conducted by DXO in a laboratory using measuring instruments.

Here is the top 20 list for the best smartphone cameras:
1. Sony Xperia Z5
2. Samsung S6 Edge
3. Google Nexus 6P
4. LG G4
5. Samsung Note 4
6. Moto X Style
7. Sony Xperia Z3+
8. Apple iPhone 6Plus
9. Apple iPhone 6
10. Apple iPhone 6s

samsung s6 edge camera

Samsung S6 Edge


11. Samsung S5
12. Sony Xperia Z3
13. Sony Xperia Z2
14. Google Nexus 6
15. Nokia 808 Pureview
16. Sony Xperia Z1
17. Apple iPhone 5S
18. Samsung S4
19. Lumia 1020
20. Nokia Lumia 925

Sony and Samsung have a large selection of smartphones, and these two brands performed well in the tests. Sony acquired Konica Minolta camera business in 2006, so it is not a surprise that its camera know-how shows in smartphones as well. Apple and Nokia have performed well in camera tests where human eye has determined the result, but DXO test system gives different results.

google nexus 6p camera

Google Nexus 6P by Huawei


Years ago, when tv monitors still were CRT tubes, a tv manufacturer advertised that it has the most natural colors. Lab tests showed that it was not the case, but it didn’t matter: people bought the product anyhow. The tv monitors were adjusted to please the human eye. Who knows if Apple and Nokia have adjusted their imaging algorithms to please the human eye?

In a digital camera, multiple components, like the lens, image sensor (that captures the light), software algorithm (that transforms the light into image data), stabilization mechanism and speed of hardware affect the image quality. The company behind the lab tests, DXO, has developed a system known as DxoMark for testing and ranking camera test results. DxOMark measures camera sensors for:
– ISO sensitivity (speed)
– Noise (standard deviation, signal-to-noise ratio, dynamic range, and tonal range)
– Color sensitivity
DxOMark measures lenses (mounted on cameras) for:
– Resolution, derived from the MTF (Modulation Transfer Function) measurement
– Distortion
– Vignetting
– Light transmission (T-stop)
– Chromatic aberrations

A video from DXO lab shows how a smartphone test is carried out:

Tips for landscape photography on a smartphone

2015-09-12

Camera technology on modern smartphones is, in fact, amazingly good. Wisely, smartphone manufacturers are not anymore competing for the number of megapixels the camera can capture, but they are competing for the quality of images. Selfies maybe the most common type of photo captured on a smartphone, but many photographers – even professionals – use their phones for landscape photography as well. Here are tips for snapping beautiful sceneries on a smartphone.

Scenery near Narvik, Norway

A scenery in Lapland, Norway.

The following eight tips were shared by David Hayes on Enlight App blog.
1. Go old school. Study great photos and paintings created by masters.
2. Give your landscape a focal point. Something that leads the viewer into the world the image portrays.
3. Pay attention to the foreground of the frame. An object in the foreground gets attention.
4. Leading lines. A line – a road, path or similar – is a proven technique to implement the tip 2 or 3.
5. What is in your horizon? Decide if the sky has a dominant role in your picture or the earth, and follow the rule of thirds.
#6: Watch your light. Shadows create contrast and sometimes, drama. An hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset have magical light.
7. Capture movement. This is difficult in a still image, but an experienced photographer can capture movement.
8. Perspective. Find new angles for your landscape images.

smartphone holder on a tripod
Two additional tips that we have found useful:
1. Get a phone holder that you can attach to a tripod. It lets you take selfies with the timer on your phone camera and if you shoot video, you get better quality video clips.
2. In some places, the landscape should be captured as a panorama image. Check the features of your camera if it allows taking panorama photos. If it doesn’t, the panorama image can be created afterwards, but it tends to be tedious work.

saariselka kaunispaa, Lapland, panorama

Mountain scenery in Lapland captured on a smartphone as a 180 degree panorama.

Check out tips from a professional photographer for landscape photography on a smartphone.

Don’t forget to shoot video. Here is an example how a smartphone video camera captured exactly the right moment when the sun was setting over the sea. The only camera that was around at the moment happened to be a phone, and it did a great job.

Books that feature landscape photography are, for instance, a travel guide to Provence and a guide to Sweden.

Analyzed: the best travel apps for smartphones

2015-08-24

Travel related activities are dramatically changing thanks to innovations in digital technology. GPS-assisted maps on a smartphone or travel guidebooks on a tablet are essential tools for all travelers today. A new wave of travel applications has disrupted established industries, like lodging and car rental. Probably because of the phase of change at the moment, however, only few travel apps are truly useful and easy to use.
booking.com screen shot
Applause, an enterprise that tests and evaluates mobile apps, analyzed travel apps that had been rated more than 150 times on Apple App Store or on Google Play Store. Only 8 of those apps earned high quality scores according to Applause’s own rating system. 8 high quality travel apps were:

Booking.com – hotel reservations and reviews.
Alaska Airlines – flights.
Kayak – hotels, flights, car rentals.
TripAdvisor – hotels, vacation rentals, flights, restaurant reviews.
TripIt – travel organizer.
Hotels.com – hotel booking.
Zipcar – car sharing.
Orbitz – hotels, flights, cars.

All these applications have been developed by established organizations. A large number of startup businesses that have entered travel business recently may need more time and effort to finetune their great ideas and vision into truly usable apps.

One thing we hope travel app developers should really take seriously is offline use. Recently, we made a tour in a remote area where mobile network connectivity was patchy at best, sometimes we couldn’t connect to a network at all for most of the day. None of the apps from big brands, like Here, Google Sheets or Google Docs, that had offline functionality actually worked in offline mode. We used them on a smartphone and on a tablet. Naturally, an app that makes hotel room reservations requires it is connected to a network, but many other apps should work when the mobile device is offline.

How a Professional Photographer Frames Landscapes with a Smartphone

2015-05-05

Millions of people around the world take billions of photos on their smartphones every day. Professional photographers are proud to use their digital SLR cameras, but tend to look down on smartphone cameras. Julian Calverley is an exception. He shoots images for advertisements with a professional camera, but uses his Apple iPhone for landscape photos. How does he do it?

smartphone holder on a tripod

Here is a tip from our smartphone photographer: purchase a mini-size tripod and a phone holder that can be attached to the tripod.

For many travelers, landscape photography is the most difficult genre in photography. You see a stunning scenery in front of you, grab your camera, take a few pictures and can’t wait to view them on a large screen in your hotel room. Often, even if you have a good camera, landscape photos are disappointments because they didn’t capture the beauty of the scenery at all.

Cnet’s Andrew Hoyle got an interview from Julian Calverley who makes some very good points on photography, and shares a few tips for taking landscape images on a smartphone.

Why smartphone?
“It was a new-found freedom really. This thing was always in my pocket — in the past, everything was thought about. I had to think, ‘OK, I’m going to take my camera out, I’m going to take X amount of gear with me.’

“The downside is that people think anyone can take a picture now. Because software and camera equipment has dumbed the process down so much it’s easier to get a good result. Obviously, you can’t ‘buy’ composition and lighting.”

Tips for camera phone photographers:
1. “Avoid things that are really contrasty, because of the dynamic range of the phone.”

2. “I tend to go for simple scenes, simple compositions. The nice thing is, because you’re doing it on a phone, you have a reasonable sized preview — if an image works at that size, you’re onto something.”

3. “It’s very easy for the lens to get dirty when you’re taking it out of your pocket, so make sure you give it a wipe with a cloth — that’s basic, but it’s important.

4. “Always keep the horizons horizontal. You can correct that in apps, but you’ll lose quality to crop in.”

5. “You still need to have an eye for a good shot. That will never change.”

Julian Calverley has published a book #iphoneonly of his best landscape photos. His photo collection on Instagram features both digital SLR and smartphone photos.

Ereaders, Tablets and Smartphones Are Adopting Solar Power

2015-03-05

Ereader devices that come with greyscale E ink displays are so energy-efficient that they can go without recharge for weeks. If you are trekking in wilderness or staying in a remote village without electricity, you can still read ebooks on an ereader. Tablets and smartphones, however, need a recharge after a couple of days of moderate use. Solar energy would be the obvious solution for charging our mobile devices even in remote areas, but affordable solutions have been missing until now.

worldreader solar panels, charging station
Two new solar energy solutions have been introduced recently: Bboxx solar panel and Wysips Crystal display technology for mobile devices.

Bboxx solar panel is a product package that includes two panels and a USB hub. The solar panels can stand on the ground where they catch sun rays. The USB hub is connected to the panels, and mobile devices can charge their batteries simply by plugging in to the hub.

Worldreader organization that provides ebooks and reading devices to regions with low literacy rate has adopted Bboxx system as their solar power solution for ereaders.
bboxx bb17 solar power product package
Wysips Crystal display technology that can be used in ereaders, tablets and smartphones has been developed by SunPartner. In this solution, the solar charging capability is built in to the display. The technology adds a transparent layer into a display that catches solar rays, and converts them into electricity that charges the device battery.
bookeen muse ereader
Ereader manufacturer Bookeen and electronics company Kyocera have announced that they are going to use Wysips Crystal displays in their future products. Bookeen will create an ereader that can charge itself via its own display (in 2016) and Kyocera has demonstrated a smartphone that can charge itself from light.

Here is a video where Kyocera’s solar-powered smartphone is demonstrated.