At Home with Tech

It’s time to maximize the potential of all your gadgets.

Tag: Cyber Monday

Diary of a Frustrated Black Friday Cyber Shopper

Hitting the malls to purchase your favorite doorbusters is so yesteryear. This time, all I needed was my cup of Joe and my computer. Or so I thought…

Hitting the malls to purchase your favorite doorbusters is so yesteryear. This time, all I needed was my cup of Joe and my computer. Or so I thought…

10:00pm, Thanksgiving evening-
Go to sleep early.
(too much tryptophan)
Must be frosty for Black Friday!

6:00am, Black Friday-
Wake up. Make coffee. Sit down and boot up iMac.

Navigate to Apple’s big one-day sale.
No real discounts anywhere in sight.
Deep sigh…

This year, Apple only offered gift cards towards future Apple Store purchases… Their previous Black Friday discounts were never that great to begin with, but this ‘evolution’ was even less inspiring.

Next stop – Amazon
Review list of Lightning Sales. Nothing electrifies.

Out of frustration I did put an $11 Rayovac ‘head lamp’ into my cart.
(My old geeky REI head-mountable flashlight had stopped working recently.)
It’s useful to have one of these flashlights around when you need an extra directional light source in front of you, and you can’t hold it in your hands.

Great deal on a Blu-ray Disc of ‘Star Trek into Darkness’ for just $7.99 on Amazon.
(Complete with digital download for Road Warrior’s iPhone.)

I said to myself, “Make it so!”
But then I noticed a review warning the universe this version didn’t contain enough of the fun bonus material.

Delay purchase.

Up further research, I uncovered a raging Star Trek fan controversy a few months back when four different Blu-ray Disc versions were released to separate retailers.
This sales tactic effectively split up all the extra content outside of the movie itself.  So no one version contained it all.

And Amazon’s Blu-ray package seemed especially lacking…
So I put away my phaser and cancelled the mission.

Rayovac deal on Amazon expires in cart.

Head over to Target.
See the fans’ ‘preferred’ Star Trek Blu-ray version with more goodies.
Only $9!

After I completed my little happy dance, I took a closer look.
The online purchase button was grayed out.
You could only buy it in the store.


Little Lester wakes up.

Frustrated with all my shopping roadblocks, I put my computer to sleep and headed off to the family breakfast table…

Hunting and Gathering like our Ancestors
Later that morning, I ventured out of my cyber bubble to do a little brick and mortar shopping, and ironically found my old-school experience much more satisfying.

At Staples, I picked up a 32 GB SanDisk USB Flash Drive for just $10.
(not available online)

And I found a couple of good deals on Thomas Train Set accessories for my three year old at Toys”R”Us.
(also not online)

Yes, I know the day is called Black Friday and not Cyber Monday for a reason.
But I figured with all the cyber creep going on, there really wasn’t much of a difference anymore.

Apparently, the stores still want you to get off your tushies on Friday….
It seemed their best deals were still only available on sight.
(not on site)

Following my shopping adventure in the wild like my ancestors, I headed out to a family lunch gathering.
Additional cyber shopping would have to wait…

The Discount Gift Card Illusion
Later that night, I found one last window of opportunity to distribute some of my hard-earned money back to the Black Friday economy.

A few minutes in, I ran across what I thought was a genius idea:

  • Discount gift cards…for myself!

It was the inspired moment I’d been waiting for all day.

If I couldn’t find any online deals, why not buy discount gift cards to use at those very same stores…?

It’s like engineering your own discounted purchase.

So I checked out the usual suspects:

They claimed to offer deals up to 35% off store gift cards.
But the harsh reality was the discounts were substantially smaller for the better-known cards I was interested in.

More like 2%-9%.

Yes, that’s technically a savings, but it wasn’t enough of an incentive to keep me interested…
So I chalked up the wasted research to my ongoing education towards tech nirvana and moved on…

Canon to the Rescue
Wait! There’s a sale on the Canon PowerShot Elph 330 HS!

All along, I’ve been looking for a deal on a small pocket camera for my wife and me.

I’ve used the older Elph 300 and found it to be a fabulous little workhorse of a camera. The Elph 330 has been upgraded with a nifty 10X zoom and has been selling this year at a $179 price point..

And now I saw that Best Buy was selling it for only $129!!
(Including an 8 GB memory card and camera case)


Truthfully, I’m not sure how much of a Black Friday moment this was.
Multiple retailers were selling it at the same price point, because Canon was offering the $50 discount.

So the only real deal was how many ‘extras’ the retailers would throw in on top of the Canon mark down.

I did a little more research and noticed that Adorama had a slightly sweeter offer.
They included a larger 16 GB memory card along with the camera case.

So I took the Adorama deal.

Shopping Endorphins Released
I had finally found my Black Friday moment!
(I would not be denied my annual Black Friday endorphin surge.
Though I have to admit this time around, I had my eyes wide shut.)

Honestly, this annual ‘hunt’ is a lot of work, and I’m not sure if the payoff justified the effort this year.

What does all this say about me?

Coincidentally, The New York Times just ran a Black Friday story
talking about how retail marketers are targeting ‘self-gifters.’

The article identified this shopping group as a ‘special demographic niche’ and then identified a poster child by featuring an ‘incurable self-gifting’ man from North Carolina.

They included a photo of him happily sitting in his living room, working his laptop while his wife stood by.
As I looked at the smile on his face, his hyper-focused eyes looking for bargains…
…he actually appeared a bit maniacal.

Could that be me?

Should I be worried?
(pregnant pause)

I say, “NO!!!”

Look, we all end up buying ourselves things from time to time.
Is it so wrong to buy yourself a gift or two on Black Friday?

And isn’t that the day you’re supposed to find better prices?

Why should all this be such a surprise?

So I’m a self-gifter from time to time…
I know I’m low-hanging fruit.
I’m good with that.

The Truth is Out There
So another disappointing Black Friday has come and gone.
Yes, I bought a cheap flash drive and got a couple train deals for my son.
And, I’m relatively happy with my Canon Elph purchase.

But it’s hard for Black Friday to live up to all the hype.
Especially if you’re not heading out to the malls at 12am to stalk your ‘doorbusters.’
(This year, stores actually opened on Thursday!)

The good news is you get to avoid all that madness if you stay close to home.

And if you can distance yourself a bit, a simple truth permeates through all the holiday advertising Kool-Aid.

The act of pounding the pavement may still be the way retailers reward you on Black Friday.
But finding all your holiday shopping deals is not a one-day sprint.
It never was…

It’s more like a marathon.
You’ve got Cyber Monday,
and then most of December ahead of you.

Take a breath.
Pace yourself.

Then you may find your Tech Zen.

Good luck!
I’ll see you at the finish line.
(or somewhere close!)

Best Digital Cameras to Capture Your Speedy Toddler

My Canon PowerShot Elph 300 is no longer up to the task of keeping pace with my action-packed son. Time to upgrade and look for holiday shopping deals.

My two-year-old son moves fast.
He runs everywhere.
Unless he’s marching.

Sometimes he’s not moving forward.
But then he’s bouncing.

The good news is I can still keep up.
The bad news is my digital camera gear can’t.

Why Your Camera Isn’t Good Enough
Any of your child’s various activities present you the opportunity to take amazing photographs. But the action is often hard to capture.
Here are two reasons why:

  • If you’re trying to use natural light at home, your pictures can end up looking blurry. Unless you’re shooting outdoors, most pocket cameras don’t have lenses that let in enough light or big enough CCD (charge-coupled device) image sensors to freeze the action.
  • And if you use your camera’s flash, then you’ve only got one shot at the shot. (unless you’ve got a DSLR)
    In the few seconds it takes for your pocket camera to prep for the next photo, your child is already in the next room.

Look, I’m no pro photographer, but I know enough that one camera cannot possibly meet the needs of all situations. So I’ve got more than one.
The problem is I feel I’m still not getting it done.
Sure, people tell me what great shots I take of my son, and I do get some.
But only I see the many shots I still can’t get right.

And as we pass through Black Friday and Cyber Monday and all the other ‘shopping deals’ through the end of the year, I got the itch to upgrade my camera arsenal, which covers three main categories:

Point-and-Shoot Pocket Cameras
Those magic photo moments present themselves when you least expect it.
You need a camera you can whip out, quickly turn on and snap.
The pocket camera I’m currently using is a
2011 Canon PowerShot Elph 300 HS.
(The new model on the market is the Elph 320 HS.)

I like my tiny Elph.
It takes great pictures and has a nice 24mm wide-angle lens, which lets me capture more of my son, when he’s playing right next to me.
(It’s also great for group self portraits of up to four by simply stretching your arm out while holding the camera in reverse.)

But it can’t handle that action moment unless you’re outdoors.

The Camera in Your Smartphone
Sure, like much of the planet, you’ve also got a smartphone in your pocket that can take pictures. So you may feel like you don’t need another bulge in your pocket, but your phone is even less capable at capturing action shots.

It’s good for taking a posed photo, and that’s about it.

DSLR Cameras
I know. I know.
Doesn’t everyone understand if you’re serious about getting great photos of your kids, you’re going to need a Digital SLR with a big CCD sensor and a decent lens?

Sure it’s going to cost you some coin, but the price of entry into the DSLR world isn’t as high as it used to be.
Consumer DSLRs these days start at only a few hundred dollars more than their point-and-shoot cousins.
(Prosumer models still live in the $1-2K range.)

I’m currently using a 2009 Canon EOS Rebel T1i.
(The new model out there is the T41)

But the big problem with a big DSLR is…
It’s big!

It’s tough to carry around all the time.
And when you’re schlepping the diaper bag, the toy bag and the stroller, you end up leaving your DSLR behind more often than you’d like.

But it remains your only hope to consistently capturing great low-light action photos.

The Bundled Kit Lens
One reason why entry-level DSLRs are so affordable is they typically come bundled with inexpensive kit lenses that are simply not that great.
Still, these lenses are better than the lenses in your little pocket camera.

So it’s still a decent choice for the price-conscious consumer who wants to take better pictures, right?

Up to a point.

Any article you read about these bundled kit lenses say they’re good to learn with. After a while, some photographers see the limitations and find themselves wanting more.

And I’ve reached that point.

Married to Canon
I’ve been using Canon cameras for years and have been generally happy with my compact point-and-shoot cameras and my DSLR.
My frustrations have surrounded the elusive toddler photo, and as I documented above, this problem simply lies with the limitations of the tools I’ve chosen.

And as I look to expand my photographic capabilities, it’s a hard move to choose another partner.

There’s a certain coziness that has set in by using a common Canon user interface. Each camera generally operates the same way.

Plus, it’s just about the only camera maker that’s using QuickTime H.264 files for capturing movie clips. (which I also shoot a lot of!)
I like H.264 movie files, because they are better to edit with in Final Cut Pro.
And in Final Cut Pro X, you don’t have to first transcode these movies to a friendlier codec like ProRes to edit with.
FCP X will work natively with the H.264 files, saving me tons of time, duplicated media and extra file storage.

You can’t go wrong sticking with Canon.

Sony Rocks Your World
But in studying recent reviews of Canon’s non-DSLR camera line up, Canon has slipped from grace a bit against the competition.

Currently, The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 is universally regarded as the best compact point and shoot out there.
A major reason for that is the large, one-inch DSLR sensor they’ve somehow crammed into it.

Yes, it’s really expensive at $650, but everyone is absolutely crazy about it:
CNET loves it.
Gizmodo says it’s a “significant achievement.”
David Pogue calls it “the best pocket camera ever made.”

I would leave Canon in a heartbeat for this.
The RX100 shoots movies with the silly HVCHD codec, which won’t work with Final Cut Pro.
So I would have to return to transcoding my movie files, which I simply can’t bear, now that I’ve tasted freedom from that unspoken tech burden.

Sony- please call me when your movie codec starts to play nice with Apple.
I’m be waiting…

The Choice in Canon Cameras
So what’s a demanding amateur photographer to do if he wants to go with a Canon?
There are thirty-five options, which can quickly get confusing.
One way to sort through all the choices is on, which allows you to compare the specs and reviews between two cameras.

But by my count, there are really only five ways to go in attempting to
capture your child’s elusive low-light highlights.
(And they’re not inexpensive!)

Canon PowerShot G15 ($500)

The G series is a tank of a camera. (I used to use the G9.)
Reviews agree that this camera is a solid choice and does well in low light.
But tanks are big. You’re never going to stuff this one in your pants pocket. Maybe your jacket…
However, it’s no longer the darling it once was with Sony’s RX100 out there.

Canon PowerShot S110 ($450)

This is a newer version of the S95 and S100, both of which are still on the market.
It’s the best pocket camera Canon has, but it’s not as good as the G15.
So you’ve got a dilemma. Should you go with the better, bulkier camera you’re not going to take with you all the time, or keep something not quite as good with you all the time in your pocket?

Canon PowerShot SX260 HS ($200)

This has a 20x super zoom lens, which I once thought would solve all my problems.
I bought the Canon PowerShot SX230 during the summer of 2011, and quickly realized that zooming into the action from far away doesn’t necessarily make the action any clearer.
Then, the flash stopped working, and the battery wouldn’t hold a charge.
Maybe it didn’t help that the camera took a nasty four-foot spill onto a cement sidewalk on its maiden voyage.
(Let’s speak no more of this.)

I haven’t repaired the SX230, because I’d rather put that money towards my toddler action-shot solution.
And the SX260 probably isn’t going to help there.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens ($339)

So none of the above choices really attack my problem sufficiently.
(And by the way, if you’re thinking about Canon’s new PowerShot G1 X for a whopping $800, put your wallet away.
All the reviews agree it’s not worth it. That’s DSLR pricing!)

And speaking of DSLRs, my older Canon T1i can’t even do the job the way I want.  Is it time to buy the brand new model- EOS T4i? (drool)

Nope. That’s just putting money in the wrong place.
I need to graduate to the prosumer camera world, and just buy a better lens for my old T1i.

I have a friend I work with who is also a professional still photographer.
When I told him my story, he suggested I buy the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens.
This professional 50mm lens would be a good first glass purchase outside the kit lens world.
(‘Glass’ is what the pros call their lenses.)

It’s a prime lens, which means it doesn’t zoom.
But prime lenses generally give you a better picture for the price.
He said this 50mm lens would give me a little bit of reach… so I wouldn’t have to be on top of my toddler. My feet would have to do the rest.

Glass Isn’t Cheap
This lens costs $339, including a $60 Canon discount as I write this.
Good zoom lenses easily go into the thousands!

Do professional photographers spend more money on their glass than their cameras sometimes?

At these price points, you can see why the typical amateur photographer isn’t playing in this sandbox.

All I know is when my toddler is happily playing in his sandbox, I just want to take a good picture!

Buy Last Year’s Model!

By now, digital camera technology has reached a certain maturity. Buying last year’s model of a good camera is a great idea, because by now it’s heavily discounted.

Don’t feel like spending $820 on the new Canon T4i DSLR, with 18-55mm kit lens? (drool)
Buy the Canon T3i. (some drool)
Amazon had it on sale over Black Friday weekend for $500 with the 18-55mm lens. And don’t fret on missed discounts. There’s always another Amazon or other web deal waiting in the wings. Just keep looking…

My Decision
So there’s really no perfect solution.
The G15 is too big for your pocket.
The S110 isn’t as good as the G15.
The big zoom of the SX260 isn’t going to make the blurs go away.
Buying last year’s DSLR at a discount is a deal, but I need glass.
And good glass is expensive!

So what did I do?

I pulled the trigger and bought the Canon 50mm lens.
I bought it online from Adorama, because they threw in a lens UV filter and cleaning kit for the same price.

But I wasn’t done…
Option #5 came in particularly handy on Black Friday at the Lester household.

It just so happens that Amazon was offering the Canon PowerShot S100 as a ‘Gold Box’ daily deal for only $229. (That’s almost half the price of the slightly newer S110.)

The S100 would do a much better job in my pocket than my still decent Elph 300.
I couldn’t resist.


I know it seems like an indulgence, since the new glass is my solution.
But I quickly created a bulletproof rationale to back up my impulse purchase-

After replacing my Elph 300 with the new S100 in my pocket, I would move the Elph into the kitchen for the rest of my family to use, replacing our old Canon SD960 from 2009.

This retiring PowerShot is the Dorean Grey of my camera fleet.
It’s really taken a beating over the years and has kept on ticking, although its photos now look kind of muddy.
Plus, its faceplate is being held on with duct tape!
(My son has taken a few self-portraits with it.)

Ready for Action!
So there you have it.
I bought some glass and upgraded my pocket camera.
It’s a win-win. Yes?

Now, there’s always a sharp picture around the corner…
No matter how fast he’s moving!
Problem solved.

But I’ve clearly blown my holiday shopping budget on tech gear for myself.

Time to focus on my son, and the rest of my family!

%d bloggers like this: