Renting cameras from borrowlenses.com

I had a huge video project land on my desk a few weeks ago, and I knew I was going to need more artillery than what I usually carry in my camera bag.

I decided to try borrowlenses.com for this project. I have no connection to the company whatsoever. I ordered three Sony A7 cameras, two Sony FE 28-70mm f3.5-5.6 OSS lenses, a Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f1.8 ZA lens, and three extra batteries for 25 days.

I got a message the day before the cameras were supposed to arrive telling me that they did not have the Sony A7 cameras I had ordered in stock, so they were upgrading my order to the newer A7II model for no extra charge.

On the date promised, two packages arrived via UPS.

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A small box contained the three lenses and three extra batteries as well as the return labels for sending the lenses back.

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The second box had a nice Pelican case and the return labels.

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Inside the Pelican case were the three camera bodies, three batteries, and three battery chargers.

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They also provided a packing guide with a photo of how to put it all back in the case to mail it back

All of the cameras had clean sensors and functioned perfectly.

Since we were going to be working outdoors in a shipyard I purchased the insurance, but we thankfully did not have to make any claims.

Total cost for the 25-day rental of the equipment was $1,390.15, less than purchasing one Sony A7II body.

I don’t get jobs this large very often, but I’m very impressed with the service from borrowlenses.com and will not hesitate to use them again in the future.

 

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The cheapest way to add Wi-Fi to any camera (or your boat)

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When you’re boating or backpacking, it’s not so easy to just pull out your camera’s memory card and dump the photos onto a computer. Half the time I have the camera sealed in a dive case or wrapped up in plastic to protect it from the elements, and most of the time I don’t even have a computer with me.

When we were in the Spanish Virgin Islands I really appreciated the fact that my Sony had built-in Wi-Fi. I could climb back on the boat, towel off, then turn on the Wi-Fi to send all my snorkeling photos to my iPad for review without ever having to take the camera out of the dive case. I could then Instagram a good one and hop right back in the water to dive some more. I didn’t have to worry about unsealing and resealing the dive case, defogging the lens again, or any of that rigmarole.

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Unfortunately, not all cameras come with Wi-Fi. However, Wi-Fi SD cards have been around for a few years now and are getting better all the time. You might have heard of Eye-Fi. They were the pioneers of Wi-Fi SD cards, but an Eyefi Mobi Pro card still runs about $99. There’s also the Transcend Wi-Fi option.

I was almost ready to spend the money on an Eye-Fi when I came across the Toshiba Flashair. Apparently, the FlashAir has never been too popular, and the iPhone and Android apps were downright terrible when it first came out. However, a 32GB FlashAir SD card is now only $30 (I ordered mine on eBay). At that price, I decided to give it a try.

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Setup of the card was easy. You just pop it in the camera and download the free FlashAir app to your phone. Each time you launch it after the card has been formatted, it gives you the option to change the Wi-Fi name and password. This is a nice feature if you were shooting a professional event where lots of people might be using Wi-Fi, however, it has one major flaw. Every time you format the SD card in the camera, it resets the SSID and Password to the factory default. I might format the card three times a day when I’m working, so I gave up on setting a custom Wi-Fi name.

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Once the app is launched, your phone or tablet will automatically connect to the Wi-Fi generated by the SD card and allow you to browse the photos on the card. (I found Android devices are much faster at connecting than iOS devices, which sometimes need help finding the network.)

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Just select the photos you want to download to your phone, and it beams them right over. But here’s the cool part, the FlashAir app doesn’t just work for photos. It also does music and movie files, so you can use it in other devices like a Zoom recorder or a video camera.

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Perhaps you do have a computer, but you don’t have an SD card reader available, or maybe you just hate installing apps on your phone. If you connect the computer or a phone to the FlashAir Wi-Fi and then open the web browser, it reads the card in the web browser and lets you browse and download the photos that way as well.

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But wait, that’s not all! If you stick the FlashAir in an SD card reader, it still generates Wi-Fi. That means, if you need Wi-Fi on your boat, you could grab one of these FlashAir cards and a card reader, stick it in an SD slot on your chartplotter or even a 12 volt DC plug and suddenly have a portable Wi-Fi network for all the devices on your boat.

Now don’t get too excited. It won’t give you Internet, just a Wi-Fi network that allows all of your devices to connect to each other. For instance, if you have an AIS system that needs Wi-Fi to send info to your chartplotter, this $30 SD card will allow that. It can connect up to six devices. (However, if you do have an Internet connection, it also allows Internet pass through.)

So what’s the downside to a Wi-Fi SD card you ask? Well, although the transmitter has a very low power draw, it still drains the battery faster. Cameras with built-in Wi-Fi like the Sony are able to turn it on and off to conserve battery, but with the FlashAir, from what I can tell the Wi-Fi is on all the time. However, in use I can’t say I’ve seen a noticeable change in battery life.

Yes, the FlashAir app does transfer RAW files. I shoot everything in RAW, but I honestly don’t know why anyone would want to transfer a 45 MB file over Wi-Fi. I shoot RAW + 1.2 MB JPG Small. The RAW is for my photo archives and for making prints. I download those files when I get home. The JPG small file saves space on the SD card and my phone or tablet but has plenty of resolution for social media. Here’s a few examples straight out of the camera via the FlashAir card.

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So there you have it, the Toshiba Flashair 3 Wi-Fi SD card, the $30 solution to adding Wi-Fi to any camera.

Improving the ONA Bowery camera bag

I’m always looking for the perfect camera bag. While big padded Lowepro bags and backpacks are great, they kind of scream, “HEY, I’M A TOURIST AND THIS IS MY CAMERA THAT YOU SHOULD STEAL!” For a very long time I was looking for something small and light that could still handle a camera body and one or two lenses when I’m traveling or hiking.

Then last Christmas my lovely wife bought me this beautiful ONA Bowery leather camera bag.

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In the past two years this bag has transversed the United States and crossed the Atlantic twice. However, the more I’ve carried it, the more I’ve noticed it has a few problems.

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On the inside, it has only one padded divider. That means you get one camera with a mounted lens on one side, and one lens or flash crammed into the other with a charger.

Those two small front pockets and two small side pockets can each hold one, and only one, of the following: a spare battery, a passport, a lens filter, or a USB cable.

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ONA touted this rear pocket as being for an iPad Mini or other small tablet. Well, I happened to have an iPad Mini, so I stuck it in there. However, it slid out twice in my car and once at Charles de Gaulle airport, so I decided sticking anything in the open back pocket was just asking for it to be lost or stolen.

ONA sells large padded dividers for the briefcase size bags and small padded dividers like what came with the Bowery, but for some reason they don’t sell a divider the width of the Bowery to create an internal iPad sleeve. However, my very lovely and talented wife, who was thoughtful enough to buy me the bag in the first place, can sew.

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For $15 I ordered two large padded dividers, and after about 30 minutes of work, Mary had downsized one of them to the interior size of the Bowery. (Thank you, honey!)

I now have a secure interior slot for the iPad, a notepad, or a battery charger.

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I really don’t know why ONA doesn’t sell the bags like this in the first place. The padded dividers are just cardboard wrapped in packing foam. (And they are a serious pain to cut through with old scissors!) If they can sell two for $15 at a profit, they could definitely add one to each bag without increasing production costs enough to raise the cost of the bag.

And now with the interior padded pocket for tablets, why not add a zipper to the rear outside pocket, so it’s actually usable?

Are you listening ONA?!!!

Shortly after I received this bag, ONA released the Berlin, which if I could do it all again, I’d probably choose that slightly larger model. However, being a gift from Mary, I’ll stick with the Bowery. It is a very tough bag, and it keeps me packing light when we’re doing lots of walking.