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Tim Kidner "Hucklebrook Hound" (Salisbury, UK)

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Sunpak PF-30X Flash with i-TTL for Nikon
Sunpak PF-30X Flash with i-TTL for Nikon
Offered by AOT (UK VAT registered)
Price: £74.95

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For those who aspire to a Speedlite SB400..., 11 Jan. 2013
But have only half the money....

All the reviews I've read about this little gun have unaminously said that it was a great little flash for the amateur - and for those finding their way in photography. I'm approaching it from the other direction -

I've owned (& used - and broken) several Nikon Speedlights - and they do remain the ultimate gun for the Nikon enthusiast and professional. I do some pro work but this gun is not intended for that. I now use Sigma's flagship model, their £270 RRP (£165 on Amazon, now) for my main flash use and that's pitched somewhere between the SB700 & SB900, ideal and perfect for a multi-purpose and powerful gun. I've written a separate review of that, here, on Amazon.

Except I don't want to (& physically cannot) carry a gun that's the weight of a lens but often want an extra splash of light to pick out an object, or a face, not to illuminate a whole room and all the people in it. I often do environmental sort of shots where I pick out, say, a sign in a scrapyard or a macro shot. Like so many, the pop-up units on (I use FX D700 & DX D7000 Nikon DSLRs) have adequate light but are so physically close to the camera to be often unusable, with large diameter fast lenses causing big ugly shadows at the bottom of the pictures, even with their lens-hoods removed.

The obvious choice for me would have been Nikon's entry SB400 but as that is well over £100 (usually nearer £120), - which I could hardly justify. I was also a bit wary about the physical height of that unit, whether it would raise the light above where those vignetting problems occur. The 400 also has a fairly flimsy G.N. of 21. (GN - Guide Number - the comparative power output of flashguns), whilst this Sunpak is claimed as a GN of 30 - almost 1/3rd more power.

I looked at Nissin units and there was some confusion as to which features were usable on different Nikon DSLRs and even their website didn't make this any clearer. There was some customer dissatisfaction as well. Having almost given up, this Sunpak came up for less than £50, new, on an alternative, auction style site and sourced from the UK. It came within 2 days, too. How could I go wrong?

It's incredibly light, the two rechargeable Uniross AA's I use seemingly doubling its overall weight. Yes, the plastic is quite thin and cheap-feeling but all the bits and parts you handle and use seem OK for their tasks. Start bashing it around or misusing it though and it might not last out its standard 1 year guarantee.

Pop in the two AA's - a good big opening but a rather fiddly catch to close (no flashgun maker that I've used has ever made a satisfactory one, either Nikon, nor the Sigma) - attach to the camera's hot-shoe, tightening the knurled wheel to clamp, switch the camera on and fire it up. This takes a fair few seconds from cold, with an audible signal increasing in pitch, which stops when full power is available. The gun is then immediately available for use.

Exposure is generally OK, but a bit bright and a bit flat, at least for my liking and compared to the Nikon units especially in the centre - I'm fussy and like darker, more saturated colours. So, I can use the manual EV override (a major feature over other budget guns) to underexpose by up to - 1.5 stops, in half stops increments. This is sheer simplicity itself, with LED lights appearing under how many .5 stops you're under (or over) exposing. Even better, especially for the beginner is that underexposure ones are red and + (over) are green.

Half a stop less sorts out the exposure for me, generally, but play around to find out - different cameras and situations - as well as personal preferences could all have an noticeable effect.

For those who want more control, exposure-wise, then there's the camera's own controls for flash, depending on model of course. Advanced snappers will be pleased to know that 'back-light' and the usual red-eye options are available, the 'back-light' working OK, but as this is designed to fill up a flash shot with ambient light, this is more a choice for pro's and bigger spaces and rooms.

Flash-lit pictures seem to be geared towards coverage and thus might have lower contrast, fairly easily altered in post-editing, for those who are adept at this. I was able to use an equivalent of 25mm focal length lens and it still covered well - Sunpak quote 28mm as the widest maximum. This would allow the popular 18 to something standard DX zooms to be used fully. I used a 17mm. There is no diffusing fresnel flap to pull down to allow for wider angles that is the norm with bigger, pricier guns but at this price and spec, such could not be expected.

Some say that a diffuser is needed with this gun - I'm not so sure but there again, I've not tried diffused flash for portraits but in any case plain kitchen paper roll might work just as well!

The bounce flash action snaps up in the usual 45, 60, 75 and 90 degree angles, which it does reassuringly and unlike some units, there's no separate button to depress in order to do this. The gun was quite effective here and made a lot of difference in some situations. I used it at several focal length settings on my 18-200mm Nikkor lens and at different bounce angles and it provided really good and even coverage in moderately confined areas, at 18mm, including a totally dark largish garage - coverage and exposure of the car was spot on, though from the audible signal recharging, it had taken a whole chunk of power to take the shot, but I was impressed with the result.

There is no swivel movement at all, though if desperate hold a piece of card (anything) at one side, to push the flash in the direction of where you want it. As the exposure's all TTL (through-the-lens metering), it should still give correct exposures. The gun doesn't have zoom settings for longer focal lengths and so there's some light wasted if you zoom out to beyond 150mm, say, but with a little EV compensation, I got a shot of spring daffodils in a vase several feet across a room very nicely exposed, with good colour.

I also used the gun with a 1:1 life-size macro lens, no fuss, the head looking straight down at the subject, where the results were fairly flat and uniformly lit but fairly well exposed, which again, is not bad. I could also use any lens, whatever its diameter without those horrible vignetting problems re-occurring.

To put this little gun into perspective - I sold on Ebay my ten year Nikon SB600 speedlight, that no longer worked and was clearly labelled 'for spares or repair' for more money than what this brand new, warranted unit cost. Many may have a problem with it if their expectations are too high and possibly it is their only flashgun. For me (it doesn't come with either a case or even a pouch) it's something small and very light that I can keep in a pocket, or rucksack, for when I would have wanted and used the camera's pop up unit.

For that and in particular the very little money involved - plus the fact it works easily from the box must make this Sunpak a real contender, especially when it is (claimed) to be almost 1/3 more powerful than that ultimate entry-level SB400 Nikon.

Fuji Compact Flash USB Card Reader
Fuji Compact Flash USB Card Reader
Offered by Promediasupplies
Price: £7.60

5.0 out of 5 stars Fine, especially for the price..., 7 Jan. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Fuji Compact Flash USB Card Reader
Better than I thought it was going to be, looking at some of the reviews here.

For past 3.5 years, have always downloaded from my Nikon D700 direct from the camera, using the lead, which leaves the both camera and foot long cable vulnerable and possible loss of data if that connection is interrupted. Feeling I should look after the slightly battered D700 better, now, I thought it was high time to get a proper card reader.

Didn't want £2 ones, nor did I want, or afford £30 ones from Lexar etc. Something, honest and simple and that'd do the job, no more, no less.

I've a couple of CF cards made by Fuji - this is only relevant in that I know of the brand a bit better than other makes and their cards are really pretty good, at that. On putting my Sandisk Extreme Pro 16gb 90mbs in the slot - snug, fitted well - in the USB, the PC took about half a minute to recognise and install - it should be almost instant in future - and I was really pleased that it opened up the picture download window almost immediately. No 'searching for contents' that I get when direct from the camera and even better, it recognised the device as being 'Nikon D700' - this is important as I have a SD carded D7000, too. A red LED blinks during transfer showing that's in operation.

About one (pretty large) RAW +jpeg per second download might not sound fast but in practice it is - at least compared to using the usual lead. I didn't buy the reader for speed anyway but it's good that it is quicker, easier and tidier. Also, I can take the reader with me in the bag as no PC's I know of have CF sockets and I've had cases before, at music festivals etc where it would have been handy to download them to the organiser's laptop etc. A neat reader looks more pro than a snaking black lead, anyway.

Whilst basic and made from hard and shiny black plastic that won't ever win design awards, it seems solid enough, though I won't try treading on it, which could well be its fate anyway, knowing me and my size 10's!

So, a neat little product that ticks all the boxes, of which, value, gets the big red one.

Lynx Excite Duo Gift Set
Lynx Excite Duo Gift Set
Offered by EveryThing4You Global
Price: £16.51

5.0 out of 5 stars Good for ALL ages...., 7 Jan. 2013
According to the extensive TV advertising, a mere whiff of any Lynx product will have the girls absolutely (not just literally) throwing themselves at you, if you're a man.

I'm in late 40's and always used their 'Africa' one, when I used Lynx. My older brother gave me Lynx 'Twist' for my birthday and now for Christmas, this gift set of 'Excite', which he uses himself. He's a real social party animal and spends a lot of time in Spain, where it's hot, so he should know what's "in" and what's effective.

Twist has a citrussy edge which is fine but Excite is even better, a more deeply musky scent that is even an improvement on that old favourite, 'Africa' - even my elderly aunt thought it really 'nice'.

As a deodorant, the Lynx's Bodysprays are not quite as effective, or long lasting as say, Right Guard's Total Defence 5, which is more suited to physically active people but which scent is far more clinical and almost harsh in comparison. For the majority and for going out socially, then this Lynx Excite is the best yet, possibly (it is for me) and is thus recommended, matching hip advertising with a universal yet fairly sexy, almost (OK, bloody lovely) scent that'll suit almost everybody.

The shower gels have always been good to use, with a thick, creamy consistency, if often rather garishly coloured and this Excite is no different. As a packaged gift-set, it makes for a fairly low cost and safe present though I doubt if it would ever offer better value for money than buying separately, afterwards.

1.5 Metre Metal Plug, Gold Plated, OFC Scart Cable 1.5M Shielded Lead
1.5 Metre Metal Plug, Gold Plated, OFC Scart Cable 1.5M Shielded Lead
Offered by Cable Mountain
Price: £7.95

4.0 out of 5 stars Good Price..., 7 Jan. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The Scart sockets either end here are chunky, fit well and are reassuring. They are also really rather gaudy, but stuck behind the TV, that hardly matters.

It is debatable as to how much of an improvement using gold plated Scart leads there actually is, somewhere between none and noticeable and you're somewhere there... vague, I know, but does depend on source quality, the equipment used and even the actual type of film. The shielded wrap around the cable should, in theory, make the signal less susceptible to outside pulses from your mobile or electrical switches, though I'd never suffered from this problem before.

I've been using a much thicker cabled Scart lead with gold-plated ends between my DVD recorder and Virgin V+ box for a long while. I can't remember who made it or where I got it from but it's reassuring to have and in use. When I replaced my normal DVD player, the flimsy piece of plastic rope (in comparison) that came with it seemed so inadequate that I looked online for a better one. I went for 1.5 metre instead of standard 1m, as the price wasn't much more but would allow, say a VHS recorder that was away from the rest of the stack, to be used.

Argos had Bush gold-plated leads for £8.99 - that brand sends shivers of poor quality through me and at least this one seemed to have been made by a manufacturer that makes them for a living, not sourced from someone else as a sideline. At the time of ordering, these were post-free, too. There was no packaging, apart from plastic covers over the plugs.

The all-metal chunky plugs do feel a whole lot more convincing than any plastic one will. Whether or not my DVDs will appear considerably better is still up for debate but the reassurance that they should makes them money well spent. In comparison to the competition, I'd say that they are well made and very good value.

Ring Micro Cyba-Lite Led Keyring Black
Ring Micro Cyba-Lite Led Keyring Black
Offered by whybee-ltd
Price: £9.88

5.0 out of 5 stars Always have a torch!, 7 Jan. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
For almost all conditions and situations, the light put out by one of these little jobs is enough to see the path ahead of you, the keyhole, inside the glove apartment, under the bonnet and for getting the cat in. Not bright, but quite adequate.

You don't always need (or want!) tons of bright light that'll upset others or reveal yourself to others. Myself, I've had the good fortune of only ever having had this make and model and not suffered lesser ones. You can usually get them in all Oswald Bailey's for £6.99 but they had run out just before Christmas, so I went through Amazon.

I'm on my fourth, or fifth, in as many years, probably. With the battery cells costing almost as much as the entire product and still having to dissemble it, insert and new one and then putting it back together, well, it might seem lazy and/or a waste...but they really do last a long time. I have mine on my keyring, on my belt so always have it, at this time of year, you'd be a bit of a fool to not to have something, though I know folk tend to now use mobile phones for an instant light.

That's all very well, but if you need to hold it for more than a few seconds, well, this one is easy to hold between thumb and forefinger, with a soft-ish rubber-like texture and is easy to point. The switch does require a firm and definite squeeze and it does catch you out sometimes with one side being 'on' and the other 'off' - the amount of times I've tried to switch it off with the ON button!

Also, if you drop it, it doesn't go out, there aren't normal batteries that get dislodged, or a phone that goes out to save power. If you tread on it, at least on softish ground or gravel, it'll just get squashed into the dirt and will be fine, they're quite robust. Personal experience on many occasion enforce this.

They also come in a few different colours - I've tended to for blue, for a boy but this black one, here was a bit cheaper - the light is exactly the same so common sense steered me to to it.

As a photographer, I no longer carry a torch in my kit bag. The light here is plenty enough to light up the controls on my camera when I do time exposures at night and with just enough illumination to let me walk safely to my location, the softish light not scaring off all the wildlife. When close up, it's ready to read maps and such by.

I consider this key-ring light as an essential - in so many ways - plus for peace of mind and convenience, too.

Spartacus [DVD] [1960]
Spartacus [DVD] [1960]
Dvd ~ Kirk Douglas
Price: £5.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Not in any of the Box Sets..., 31 Dec. 2012
This review is from: Spartacus [DVD] [1960] (DVD)
Amongst the plethora of Roman epics that graced/disgraced Hollywood in the 50s and 60s, it's all too easy to overlook Spartacus. But why? and why isn't it considered to be Kubrick enough to be better known as one of his and indeed, as my title suggests, a quick check through the best-selling Kubrick box-sets, none includes Spartacus.

Firstly, Anthony Mann was the original director and started off with the project, he's still accredited as co-director in some listings. His set-pieces include the early scenes set in Libyan desert. Star and executive producer Kirk Douglas fired Mann and enrolled Kubrick, from then on. It has been said that Kubrick since disowned the film as he considered himself a hired hand, finishing off someone else's project.

Kirk Douglas, does actually have too much control over this movie, to me, the elongated speeches and lingering slushy romance with (admittedly with the very attractive) Jean Simmons bloat both the film's already long length and but also Douglas' ego, a bit. Having said that, like in his role in the excellent The Vikings, he is perfect for the role, physically - like Charlton Heston in Ben Hur, he towers above everybody and everything and takes the film by the scruff of the neck and drags us all the way through.

There's more than a whiff of Gladiator in this - more ponderous and talky but the action really does shine - instead of some over-pampered American superstar getting stunt doubles Douglas really does seem to relish the hand-on-hand combats that epitomises what we conceive today as being the Romans at their best - and worst - the Gladiatorial fight to the death, in the ring.

For many my age, it's the seeing the greats such as Laurence Olivier, Tony Curtis (as a willowy magician) Peter Ustinov, whose part is almost perfectly replicated by the late (great) Oliver Reed aforementioned Gladiator, that of a slave dealer, who first sees the potential of Spartacus, the slave and how he can fight to save himself from his inevitable plight. But mainly, for Charles Laughton, with his chubby cheeks and curly locks - look at any Roman coin or actual Roman artefact and we have the epitome of the well-fed, pleasure-seeking Roman aristocrat.

A rousing musical score by Alex North sounds great in the stereo we now enjoy but obviously did not get when seeing this on our parent's TV. The battle-scenes toward the end are exciting and well choreographed, long before CGI trickery, of course. The rolling flames down the hill are particularly effective and whilst being PG certificate, it is often really quite violent - not for small children, this.

So, a lot better than many of the Roman epics that Hollywood churned out but not necessarily one for Kubrick fans wanting actual Kubrick. Yes, he did his job supremely well and no-one could have asked more from him, but William Wyler (who directed Ben Hur) could have done it equally well. That it's not in the Kubrick boxed sets is less of a hardship when you consider that I bought my copy for £4, brand new, in HMV, last Christmas.

Life In A Beautiful Light
Life In A Beautiful Light
Price: £5.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This Is the Life too hard an album to follow...., 28 Dec. 2012
Amy's beautiful debut album This Is the Life is one of my all-time favourites from any artist, certainly in the relative recent past, always left on the Ipod, even when I have to remove the Beatles and the like !, to make room for new stuff.

This has made both her second A Curious Thing and now this Life In a Beautiful Light seem like second best, which is rather unfortunate, as they'd both be really good albums by anybody else's standards. A Curious Thing remains pretty well unplayed and I'm afraid I feel that this third outing will be going to go the same way.

Having bought the CD for the same price as currently here on Amazon, as a 2 for £10 at the local (struggling - and tax paying!) HMV store I looked forward to it immensely and sure, there was absolutely nothing much too wrong with it. However, for all its well-sung, well-written and well-produced set of dozen songs it just doesn't hold the magic that I (unfairly?) ask of it.

However, I won't ever sell it and I will play the CD again and maybe I'll get more out of it, but for the moment, it's a solid four stars, but alas, not the five I'd have dearly loved to have given.

Exit ... Stage Left
Exit ... Stage Left
Price: £5.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My first Rush album - and it's still played (a lot), 28 Dec. 2012
This review is from: Exit ... Stage Left (Audio CD)
Though I have this live Rush now on just the one CD, the original LP and from which I got into Rush to fair extent, I still prefer much of it to either the original studio tracks the originals are from or the other live album I have of theirs.

I recall vividly being transported (teleported?) when I fed the sequence of Jacob's Ladder, Broon's Bane, The Trees and finally the utterly majestic and incredulous Xanadu, through my big headphones, as a teenager, taking up as it did the entire side 3 of the 4 LP set. It's one of those journeys that I still like to indulge in from time to time, the acoustic echoey multi-layered guitars of Broon's Bane, set against the crystal clear and enthusiastic crowd, which then gives in to the gut-churning bass from Geddy Lee on The Trees. The superbly recorded spatial openness of the sound attained by producer Terry Brown gives a great feeling of controlled power and of 'being there' yet retaining the tightness we know this threesome to have as their trademark.

I do play the rest of the CD, too, of course, though I don't think this version of The Spirit of Radio, which opens the CD is the best version around and - to my ears, at least - the music gets better as the album progresses, so the final 'side' of Freewill/Tom Sawyer and La Villa Strangiato reaches a truly great climax.

Yes, I am a bit biased toward Exit Stage...Left, with its great memories but it still passes muster and as it covers essential, classic Rush ground and for only a fiver, now, is a no-frills rocking and superbly recorded live album, which I can heartily recommend to anyone thinking of getting into Rush.

The Best Of Barber, Ball & Bilk
The Best Of Barber, Ball & Bilk
Price: £5.99

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a blast!, 28 Dec. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I listened to tapes of Acker Bilk as a kid (I was learning clarinet at Grammar school but hated the mandatory classical dirge) and now 30 (+!) years later - and long given up on the clarinet - I wanted some jazz that I knew.

There are so many styles and trends in jazz, and with the hip cool new crooners around today, often endorsed by our favourite TV presenters, where does one begin when choosing a jazz compilation? My still rather sparse jazz CD collection does have more respected and regarded names on original albums now on CD and which are undoubtedly ultimately more rewarding listening but just now, when I am full up with a stinking cold and just want want some no-frills trad jazz to hopefully blast some mucus away, then the best of clarinettist Acker Bilk, trumpeter Kenny Ball and trombone of Chris Barber and their bands simply does that, cleanly and efficiently.

What I like best is that they're all recorded relatively recently, in good, bright and wide stereo, great if they're on the i-pod and so you don't suddenly get a tinny lump of sound in the middle of your head. Utter purists will hate both this aspect and the relative popularity of Bilk and Ball, who (how dare they??) even had hits in the charts! I even had a family friend who reckons himself as a jazz fan almost spit at me for even admitting I had this boxed-set....

Yes, there are the few cheesy numbers and yes, these are largely those corny hits but these don't last long and almost get lost amongst the two and a half hour run-time. In value-for-money terms too, this is spot-on.

ThermoCafé Stainless Steel Flask, 500 ml
ThermoCafé Stainless Steel Flask, 500 ml
Price: £7.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When others fail, you have to go for the Best..., 14 Dec. 2012
So fed-up with lukewarm coffee after only an hour from the £4 flask I'd got from Ikea that I left it at my Dad's for my brother to 'dispose of'.

Being a photographer who thinks nothing of wandering around the landscape in winter - at night - for hours on end getting shots and frankly, a flask is (almost) a life-saver.

Being out of touch with the world of flasks - is anybody? - I was rather shocked that this Thermos was the only one being sold in my local Sainsburys - at 9pm was the only place open, apart from Tesco's, who don't stock flasks - that it was £9, but I needed it for the next (early) morning and knew that I would regret not buying it.

Getting home and immediately checking on Amazon I was rather comforted that the price here isn't much different - so if you need to get one locally - and quickly - you know where you need to go.

I did have a 1 litre version of this flask a while ago but it fell off the back of my bike, whilst cycling to the Stonehenge winter Solstice and as it rolled down the hill in a cloud of steam, you know just how much these flasks can/not withstand. So, I do know that these flasks are as good as they come and that it probably will be the best £9 I ever spent, especially when you consider that that's just 4 Americanos at many coffee shops.

One slight annoyance - I had to use tongs to get the instruction pamphlet out of the inside of the flask, it being pushed too far down its narrow neck for me to use fingers.

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