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Sunday, May 31, 2020

After Almost a Decade, Americans Return to Space

For the first time in nearly a decade, the United States has launched astronauts into orbit without having to hitchhike a ride with, ironically of all people, the Russians.
A new era in the history of spaceflight began at 3:22pm yesterday as a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center carrying NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Benhken into orbit and to the International Space Station (ISS), becoming the first privately-owned spacecraft to carry astronauts into orbit. The Falcon launched from the historic 39A pad, which saw launches during both the Apollo and Space Shuttle programs.
What would have undoubtedly been a media and public frenzy in normal times was very subdued thanks to the ongoing China-originating COVID 19 Pandemic. Still, though, President Trump and Vice President Pence, who have spearheaded the effort to reassert America’s dominant place in space, were in attendance, with the president declaring “the decades of lost years and little action are officially over.”
To be perfectly honest, America’s space program of the 21st century to this point could be described as lost not in space, but on the ground.
With mounting calls for the retirement of the Space Shuttle following the 2003 Columbia disaster, then President George W. Bush announced the Constellation Program in 2005, which sought to return Americans to the Moon by 2020 via heavy lift rockets similar to the Saturn V. There were to be two versions of the new Aries rocket: one designed for manned launches and another designed for heavy cargo payloads.

By 2009, a study concluded that Constellation was grossly over budget. As a result, in early 2010, then President Obama announced that Constellation was going to be canceled and replaced with a single rocket: the Space Launch System (SLS), which could be built in multiple configurations while utilizing technology originally developed for Constellation.

Fast forward 9 years and it's more of the same.

The first SLS launch at the program’s 2010 announcement was targeted to be an unmanned capsule sent around the Moon in December, 2017. The first manned flight was targeted for mid 2021. Obviously, December, 2017 is years in the rear view mirror and the SLS has yet to leave the ground. The latest in an ever-slipping schedule has the SLS’s first unmanned launched, now officially titled Artemis 1, taking place in November, 2021.

However, manned American spaceflight has a new champion in President Trump, who has made it very clear that he intends to see to it that Americans will once again be able to not only fly themselves into space,
which we now have done, but to the Moon.

Last year, NASA announced that its Project Artemis (the twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology) seeks to land astronauts on the Moon again by 2024 with the long-term goal being the creation of a permanently manned lunar base that will serve as a stepping stone to Mars. Making the upcoming journey especially interesting is a new player in space that wasn't even imaginable in the 1960s: the private sector, which completely bypasses the shifting winds of party politics in Washington D.C..

While there are now numerous private companies involved in spaceflight, the far and away leader of the proverbial pack is SpaceX.

Looking at SpaceX and what it has achieved since its 2002 founding is like looking at a shopping list. SpaceX was the first private company to: launch a rocket into orbit (2008), orbit and then recover a spacecraft (2010), send a spacecraft to the International Space Station (2012), complete a propulsive landing of a rocket (2015), reuse a rocket (2017), launch a payload into solar orbit (2018), and now launch astronauts into orbit as of yesterday.

The most intriguing possibility, however, is that offered by SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket. First launched in February, 2018, according to NASA, the Falcon Heavy is capable of launching astronauts to the Moon, although the SLS is the preferred option. With the SLS falling ever farther behind schedule, there is a very real possibility that the Falcon Heavy could be NASA's ticket to the Moon by 2024 if the SLS is not ready to go in time.

Yes, these are not the 1960s when manned spaceflight was a matter of national priority and pride, but the possibilities offered by the private sector are undoubtedly exciting, too. NASA astronauts riding a privately-owned rocket to the Moon? The idea would have seemed crazy in 1969 but, come 2020, this could be the future of America in space.

The future of manned spaceflight may look different, but the possibilities are truly limitless and with the private sector coming on board, could do a lot to show the world that America’s ingenuity and industry are far and away the best in the world.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Find Your Old Examiner.com Articles on the Wayback Machine

find examiner.com articles wayback machine

Did you once write for examiner.com? Are you seeking a way to link to and recover your examiner.com articles? Well, it’s possible courtesy of the Wayback Machine.
After seeing a surge in traffic here over the last month or so, many new visitors to the site may have been seeing my anything but subtle plugs to follow various links to my work on examiner.com in order to, as the text plainly says, help me pay my bills. Well, for anyone curious enough to follow the links, they landed on a website that was clearly not the expected destination. So, what gives?
For many people looking to break into writing professionally 10-15 years ago, examiner.com and other similar websites built on user-generated content offered a promising gateway. While not able to speak for the other websites that I didn’t write for, I can say that Examiner was very up front with prospective writers about what they were getting into. Pay was per click, a penny per click, which wasn’t much. Examiner was open about the fact that its writers probably wouldn’t even be able to entertain the idea of quitting their regular jobs for writing, but that writing for Examiner was more of a way to supplement one’s income.
As for me, I was looking for a way to cover my health insurance costs, or at least part of it. This was in 2009, long before Obamacare drove premiums through the roof. As for the application process, it was quite simple: look for the largest market city nearest to you, look for open titles, click on one you were interested in writing about, write a sample article for that title, and send it in along with some of the usual job application stuff.
I heard back pretty quickly from the editorial staff and, after I filled out a few forms and opened a Paypal account, I became the Cleveland Photography Examiner.
After plugging away around a month or so, I realized that this was, at least to me, pretty decent money, enough to cover my health insurance and then some (back when a healthy young adult could get a policy with a monthly premium under $100!).
The real eureka moment came when I logged on one morning to see my previous day’s click/earnings total and was shocked to see that I had over 8,000 hits the previous day and was going to be getting over $80 for that one article. The topic, you ask? Remember the viral photo of then-president Obama looking at a girl’s butt? Yep. Since it was a hot topic at the time and was related to photography, I did an article on it, posted it, and got picked up by Google News. It was at this point that I read up on search engine optimization (SEO) and how to achieve it. Since my pay was per click, learning about SEO was something worthwhile to do and would quickly come to be very profitable.
Over the next year or so, I would add three more columns, Cleveland Astronomy, National Photography, and National Space News to my plate, often cranking out at least one article per column per day. Using my newly earned SEO knowledge, I became pretty good at wording my headlines and opening paragraphs all while looking for topics that either were already or looking to become hot in my chosen areas. Astronomy and Space News? Major celestial events like eclipses, meteor showers and new scientific discoveries made good fodder. On the photography side, new cameras, camera side by side (camera A vs. camera B) comparisons, hot photo industry rumors, and how-to articles on photographing big celestial events (think cross-marketing) often led to big hits, and money. A couple of times, I made over $200 on just a single article that got picked up by and placed at the top of search results in Google.
Did I ever make enough to live on? Absolutely not, but who wouldn’t mind having, on average, an extra $500 a month or so from writing about topics they were already interested in? I sure didn’t!
Unfortunately, after a few years, the examiner.com gravy train came to a screeching halt. Search engines (most notably Google) decided that examiner.com was a ‘content farm’ and that the articles offered on such websites were low quality ‘click bait’ and that such websites’ search results should get pushed to the bottom of the proverbial barrel. Come 2020, people who are urging Big Tech and, even worse, government, to regulate the spread of ‘fake news’ and ‘misinfornation’ need to think about this: who are Big Tech and government to determine what online content is of quality and what is not? Do you really want other people deciding this for you? Do you think people are too stupid to think for themselves? Well, it already happened when sites like examiner.com were blacklisted by search engines. As a writer, I will say that SEO was a big part of being successful on examiner.com but, on the other hand, using attention-grabbing openings doesn’t equate to junk articles and besides, what established media outlet doesn’t use such tactics?
Long story short, the hits really dried up. In fact, they all but evaporated. Many writers left. Me? I kept plugging away at it for awhile, especially when a big astronomical event was coming or when a hot new camera was first announced. Eventually, on the Cleveland edition at least, I would often occupy multiple slots on the most popular article list but have only a few bucks to show for it when, in the past, I could have been earning tenfold. Eventually, the effort wasn’t worth the reward and I gave up on it, too. Come 2016, so did examiner.com itself. The site went offline and all content, at least in published form, was lost.
Or was it? Enter the Wayback Machine.
Started in 2001, the Wayback Machine is a web archive of cached web sites/pages that looks to serve as a digital repository for as much of the Internet as is possible. Getting curious upon learning of it, I started plugging in websites that I knew were long gone and, as if by magic, there they were again, often complete with working links. This is when I decided to search myself and my long thought lost 4 columns on examiner.com.
Did you write for Examiner and want to find your old stuff in its published context? Well, to do that, simply go to the Wayback Machine and plug in your old Examiner URL into the search bar at the top. Don’t remember your URL? No problem. The start of all the Examiner URLs will be http://www.examiner.com/. After the slash, simply plug in your title in all lowercase letters with hyphens between the words, then another slash followed by your name with a hyphen between first and last. Example: “photography-in-cleveland/dennis-bodzash” for my Cleveland Photography column. That done, hit the “Browse History” button.
This is where things will get different for everyone as the amount of saved links will vary. If your column was popular, expect a lot of links. If you weren’t popular or came in late by which point Examiner’s traffic was next to nothing, don’t expect a lot.
Your site archived, start clicking on things. If you were like me and listed recent articles at the bottom of every article you wrote and/or linked to previous articles or ones in your other columns if you wrote under multiple titles, there could be a lot of clicking involved. Not all links will lead to an old article but, hopefully, many will take you to an archived web page where you can see your work in its original context rather than as a Word file.

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Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Nikon Announces D780 With Stunning Long Exposure Capabilities

Nikon D780 astrophotography 900 seconds 15 minutes
The Nikon D780: It can go up to 900 seconds (15 minutes) and may just be the best new camera for astrophotography.
Nikon just announced its new D780, which can do up to a 900 second (15 minute) long exposure via the manual mode in pre-programmed settings without the hassle of having to use an external remote timer. For astrophotographers who also like to take terrestrial photos, this may just have become the ideal astro cam as it offers the best of both worlds.
There have been digital cameras in the past targeted toward astrophotographers that offered shutter speeds as slow as 15 minutes, but there was a cost. The issue: these cameras were designed specifically for shooting deep sky objects, which often emit long-wavelength red light. In order to allow these cameras to capture the deep reds emitted by many deep sky objects, these cameras’ infrared filters (IR) were modified or removed entirely in order to allow the sensors to record at the 656 nm wavelength that a standard camera’s filter would block. Result: the camera would capture all of the deep reds emitted by deep sky objects but would be just about useless for regular photography because they were so red sensitive.

Let’s face it: photography/astrophotography is not a cheap hobby and a camera that can do everything is very desirable. To look at the dollars, take Canon’s EOS R and EOS Ra (for astronomy) variant. Both cameras are essentially the same thing except for the fact that the EOS Ra has exposure settings that can go up to 15 minutes (just like the D780) and that it can record those 656 nm wavelengths, which the EOS R can’t. Unfortunately, thanks to its modified IR filter, the EOS Ra is essentially useless as a traditional camera, which would necessitate having to buy another camera (let’s assume the EOS R) for traditional purposes.
Right now, the EOS R sells for around $1800 as a body. The EOS Ra? Well, Canon thinks that the cost to remove that pesky IR filter requires a $700 price premium as the EOS Ra is priced at $2500, a 30+% price premium over its standard cousin. Not to bash Canon, Nikon did the same exact thing a few years back when it launched its D810 variant: the D810A (for astronomy, naturally). Bottom line: for anyone wanting to do astro and traditional photography with Canon, you’re looking at $4300.
Cue the D780.
The D780 is not marketed as an astro cam as it has the standard infrared filter found on every other Nikon, which means that things that are truly deep red in the night sky will appear more pink/purple when shot with the D780 than they would with a dedicated astro cam (like the EOS Ra or D810A) because the D780 will not record the deep reds that a dedicated astro cam would. On the other hand, this means that the D780 can do double duty as a traditional camera!
Yes, the D780 will not hold a candle to the D810A or EOS Ra when it comes to recording those deep reds but, on the other hand, it will save you a lot of money at the cost of having to spend more time in Photoshop in order to fully bring out the reds that it will capture. For people who aren’t swimming in money and actually have to worry about this pesky thing called a budget, the Nikon D780 may just be your thing if you like to equally use your camera under both Sun and star light.

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Wednesday, January 1, 2020

New Year, New Updates to Old Articles

The Tokina 28-70 f2.6-2.8 ATX-PRO got an update . .. .

. . . As did the Sigma 100-300 f4 DG HSM APO
It's a new year, a new decade, and time to update some old stuff!

First of all, two lens reviews have been updated to include full-frame tests. Back in 2010-11, I reviewed both the Tokina 28-70 f2.6-2.8 ATX-PRO and Sigma 100-300 f4 DG HSM Apo when paired with my APS-C format Canon EOS 30D. In fact, the Tokina review was the first one that I did in an in-depth manner that has now become standard. Well, I liked these lenses so much that I tracked them down in Nikon mount and have updated these reviews to cover the full frame format offered by my Nikon D700. So, why not check them out to see how both lenses perform in a format that is becoming more affordable by the year (Nikon’s D750 is now selling for under $1000).

In Depth Reviews:

Tokina 28-70 f2.6-2.8 ATX PRO
Sigma 100-300 f4 DG HSM Apo

The list of weather-resistant Nikkors (never mind the picture) got a much-needed update, too.
Another page long in need of updating was my complete list of weather-resistant Nikkor lenses. Originally written shortly after buying the D700, this initially started as a personal quest to find out what lenses were weather-resistant and liable to make a good partner for my weather-resistant dSLR should I get into shooting in adverse conditions. Seeing that there was no concise list of the sort out there on the Internet (back in 2011), I decided to post the results of my research myself. Being the only one for quite some time, I racked up over 60,000 hits (as of this writing) on this article alone, no thanks to its high ranking on Google. Well, after a 2016 update (add 10,000 views for this article), I decided to update again to reflect Nikon’s 2020 lens lineup while adding clarifications over the past version.

So check it out . . . 

Updated for 2020 List Complete List of Weather Resistant Nikon Lenses
And if you don't have such an optic . . .
How to clean your camera's sensor yourself

Oh yes, and this spawned a list of weather-resistant Sigma lenses, too . . .
A Complete List of Weather-Resistant Sigma Lenses

As a last note, I decided to clean up my pages a bit, too. My astronomy page was getting really cluttered as a catch-all for all things, well, astronomy. Seeing a lot of articles that could be further categorized into their own pages owing to the large amount of articles on a broad topic, I created two new pages: so why not check them out?

New Pages

Historical astronomy

How-tos on using your gear

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Monday, December 16, 2019

The World's Best Camera Lens Focal Length Comparison Tool

camera lens focal length composite
17 to 600mm all in one shot.
There are tons of camera lens focal length simulator tools out there online today. They use varying degrees of sophistication in order to simulate the views offered by various lenses' focal lengths. Unfortunately, one important bit of information is often missing: scale. Sure, it's nice to play around with the fancy interactive simulators, zooming in and out in order to see what various focal lengths will look like but, without knowing scale, there is always a question of what a lens will do in a given situation, especially when shooting at long distances.

Recently, I was questioning how much I would gain by going over the 300mm in focal length offered by my Sigma 100-300 f4, which is, coincidentally, where most camera lenses commonly available at non-specialty retailers (think Best Buy or any other big box store that sells camera stuff) max out. In most basic form, lenses that go to 300mm (and typically start at 70/75mm) are a dime a dozen and can often be bought new for less than $200. Second hand, they can be had much cheaper. Want to go longer? Well, the price goes up a lot, which begs the question: are those extra millimeters worth the money?

As an example, let's look at Nikon and Canon, the world's largest interchangeable lens camera manufacturers.

Currently (December, 2019) Nikon's cheapest zoom lens maxing out at 300mm and usable on both sub and full frame models is the 70-300 f4-5.6G, which is selling for $170. Canon's closest comparable offering is the 75-300 f4-5.6 III model that sells for $180. Both lenses are easily in reach for someone who's willing to drop $500 for an entry-level camera kit.

Want more reach? Well, for an extra 100mm the price goes up-a lot!

Moving up to a zoom lens that maxes out at 400mm, there are a pair of 100-400mm lenses from third-party manufacturers Sigma and Tamron that have MSRPs of $800. Is that extra 100mm worth the extra $600? Well, ignoring the other factors that should go into making a lens purchase (optical performance, AF capabilities, build quality, weather-resistance, warranty), the jump in reach from 300 to 400mm really isn't all that much. How about 600mm? Both Sigma and Tamron make such optics, which provide a noticeable jump in reach, but which cost $1300 and $1400, respectively.

Think that's expensive? Keep reading.
Want to stick to name brand but keep roughly the same focal range? Well, you're looking at $2100 for Nikon's 80-400mm and $2200 for Canon's 100-400mm model. Paradoxically, Nikon makes a 200-500mm lens and sells it for a 'mere' $1400, which is perhaps the cost of losing 120mm of range (and a lot of flexibility) on the short end.

As for me, not seeing a focal length simulator anywhere that had known scales for both size and distance, I decided to create one for myself.

To start with, I knew that I had a way to get up to an equivalent 600mm focal length. To start, I would begin with my Sigma 100-300f4, the longest AF lens I currently own. On top of that, I also own a 200 f4 Ai Micro Nikkor, an old MF gem produced from the late 70s to early 80s before being updated to an Ai-s version. Having a native magnification ratio of 1:2, I bought a 2x teleconverter in order to boost my magnification to full 1:1 life size and the current standard for macro optics. 200mm doubled with the teleconverter becomes 400mm, which I could then take to 600mm by using the 1.5x crop DX mode available on my D700.

Focal lengths figured, I needed something to shoot. Walking down my driveway, I realized the answer was in front of me in both my street and the stop sign at the end of it. The standard American stop sign is 750mm (roughly 29 ½ inches) across, and there was one staring right back at me. As for finding distance, I was lucky in that my street is concrete with expansion joints cut at regular intervals. Measuring one section of street in feet and multiplying that times the number of sections all the way to the end resulted in a length of approximately 950 feet (290 meters), give or take a few feet.

Everything figured, I shot at 300, 400, and 600mm and then looked at everything on the camera. Realizing this was a good sequence, I decided to fill in the rest of the focal lengths offered by the rest of my other optics, which go all the way back to 17mm.

To use the gallery below, simply click on any of the pictures to open the gallery in a filmstrip view, then use the wheel on your mouse to scroll through the pictures, all of which have the focal length displayed in the upper left. Yes, this is nowhere near as sophisticated as most of the other lens focal length simulators out there but, on the other hand, it may be the only one on the web with known size and distance scales.

Oh yes, back to the 'are the extra millimeters worth the money' question. 300 vs 400mm? If you need to go long, skip the 400mm rip-offs as there's clearly not enough gain to justify the $600 premium over a 300mm optic for anyone on anything resembling a budget. Spend a little time and save a ton of cash by cropping your photos in the camera or on the computer as today's 20+Mp cameras have more than enough resolution to do so. If you really need reach via optics, go big or go home as there's nothing that can touch those zooms maxing out at 600mm from Sigma and Tamron and, as the pictures show, there is a ton of gain from 300 to 600mm. Yes, $1300-1400 is not cheap but it's a lot cheaper than buying a $800 lens that goes to 400mm, realizing that it's not enough, going back and dropping another $1400 on a lens that goes to 600mm, and then hoping to recoup as much as possible from your 400mm mistake.

Still not long enough for you? Well, it looks like you'll have to attach an astronomical telescope to your camera and use it an a lens.

In the end, though, only you can decide what's right for your specific needs.

Believe it or not, this 50mm shot is close to the field of view for most humans.

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Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Ohio University Professor Believes Bugs Are on Mars, is a Conspiracy Trying to Silence Him?

conspiracy to silence bugs on mars theory
Is this a tiny Martian?
Could there be life on Mars in the form of insects and could a government conspiracy be afoot to suppress it? At a November 19 meeting of the Entomological Society of America, William Romoser, emeritus professor of medical entomology at Ohio University, went so far to say that, based upon his findings, “there has been and still is life on Mars” based on pictures snapped from NASA's Mars rovers that seemed to show insect-like forms.

The overwhelming response, not surprisingly, was harsh and the official retraction quick, perhaps too quick. First, though, some background.

In science, reputation is no protection against criticism. Romoser's credentials are impressive. Having earned his doctorate in 1964, Romoser served at Ohio State University along with the Universities of Florida and Georgia for short stints before joining the Army's Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases, where he worked for 20 years before joining Ohio University as an emeritus professor of medical entomology. In that time, he published dozens of peer-reviewed papers and even wrote a textbook (since updated several times) on the subject.

As for the criticism from his peers, there is a common thread: pareidolia. What is pareidolia? It is the act of perceiving things that don't really exist. Common examples include seeing a face in the Moon and shapes in clouds. Yes, we all know that there is no Man in the Moon and that there really isn't a tree (or whatever else) in the clouds but, as we all know, we sure do perceive these things as being there. The most famous case of Martian pareidolia (among many) is the 'Face' on Mars, which was first seen during the Viking missions in the mid 1970s but that was later shown via higher resolution photographs to be nothing more than just the average hill hit with a convenient angle of sunlight. As for Romoser, many critics think that what he is seeing on Mars is nothing more than bits of rock that look like insects, which would be easy for him to notice after 50+ years spent looking at insects here on Earth.

As for NASA, the space agency has issued its own rebuttal to Rosomer's claims but says that its upcoming rover, set to land in February, 2021, will be equipped to look for evidence of ancient Martian life. Others even went so far to say that Romoser's idea could damage the search for alien life.

While the criticism was to be expected, an unexpected development (according to some) has also followed: many references to the story have disappeared from the Internet.

Many web pages about this story are now gone. The web page on Ohio University's website detailing Romoser's presentation has been removed, with the University later adding through its media relations department that Romoser no longer wishes to engage with the press. Additionally, an announcement on Eureka Alert, a press release platform operated by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, was also deleted “at the request of the submitter.” Phys Org also removed a web page dealing with the topic. Now for the kicker: Romoser's own website is now offline and listed as private.

So, could a conspiracy be afoot to suppress the idea that there are insects on Mars? Hardly.

Retractions in the scientific community are nothing new. There is now even an online database of retracted scientific papers. So far, there are over 18,000 unpublished papers now online and counting. When considering this whole series of events, one must remember that, at its core, science is a process of asking questions and drawing conclusions, which may or may not be correct. This is how science has operated since Ancient Greece and is how it will continue to (hopefully) operate centuries into the future. The real difference now is the advent of the Internet and now social media, which has allowed anyone to post anything without review, instantaneously.

Romoser's claim was sensational, no doubt. As a result, once it was initially picked up online, it spread like wildfire around online media, where both career scientists and the general public read about it. The observation of 'insects' on Mars being almost certainly wrong but explainable by other means (pareidolia), criticism was sure to come, which it did from both. In years past, the criticism would have come as a trickle as (mostly) scientists would have written personally to Romoser, Ohio University, or even the Entomological Society of America in order to question the findings in a professional manner.

Come 2019, things couldn't be more different. Now, instead of picking up a paper and pen, hand-writing a letter at a table/desk, and then putting it in a stamped (the horror of having to buy a stamp!) envelope, anyone can pick up their phone, tap out a message, and send it to its intended target electronically and instantaneously. These messages can come by way of email, social media, and even the comments sections of news outlets that have the function. Not having access to associated parties' email accounts and wanting to stay out of the sewer that is social media, I can only view the public comments sections on online news sites, many of which were pretty ugly and often of personal, not professional, nature when it came to Romoser himself.

In the end, it probably wasn't some conspiracy by NASA/the government that caused Romoser and Ohio University to backtrack in surprising haste. In all probability it was the social media lynch mob, which in itself can be dangerous to the very concept of a free society, that probably caused the quick retraction as Romoser and Ohio University were probably deluged with a tsunami of hate mail that neither wanted to deal with. This is ironic because the internet was supposed to encourage, not suppress, the willingness to speak openly.

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Sunday, November 24, 2019

Black Friday Shopping Advice: Stay Home

In less than a week it will be Black Friday and millions upon millions of shoppers will be hitting the stores before dawn in order to try and score deep discounts offered only once per year on all sorts of merchandise. For many people, waiting in long lines and fighting crowds seems smart because of the massive price cuts. Well, not really.

For people in the market for cameras (or any other expensive electronic gear), going out so far ahead of time may not be the best idea. Why? Return policies. A single store may have different return policies for different types of merchandise. When it comes to restrictive policies, electronics (photo gear included) lead the pack.

No matter where you shop, there is a good chance that any electronic gear will be subject to a restocking fee if it has been opened (unless the item is broken and the store employee determines that the device broke on its own due to manufacturer defect). That in itself can work against you when it comes to getting your money back or exchanging the item.

Next is the return window itself. While many stores will allow up to 90 days between the date of purchase and return of most items, when it comes to electronics, the time frame is often much tighter, sometimes as short as 14 days. Now it doesn't take a mathematician to figure this out: Black Friday is the last Friday of November and Christmas is December 25, that's a month. So if the return policy states that items can only be returned for 14 days from the time of purchase, by the time Christmas rolls around, it's too late to return a defective gift bought on Black Friday.

That stinks because people buy on Black Friday and store things away for Christmas. High tech gear with all its complexities has a lot of room for bugs. Personally, I bought a Canon 85mm f1.8 USM lens a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, it only worked right on my then-current Canon 30D camera and not my older 300D/Digital Rebel. I had a similar experience with a mis-focusing but otherwise excellent Sigma 100-300 f4 DG HSM Apo. Fortunately, as I bought the lenses for myself, I caught the problem right away and returned them without trouble. Now, if this had been a gift someone else bought and stored away, problem unknown, and then given to me for Christmas, I (or the gifter) could  have been out of luck thanks to the short return window.

So if you're going to go out on Black Friday or in the next two weeks to buy someone a high tech toy, read the return policy. Can't find the answers you're looking for? Then call and ask for specifics. In some cases, it may just be better to wait until later, especially if you're planning to give a gift to yourself. After all, there is the Internet.

See Also: More Smart Shopping Tips

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