The best travel daypack for Photographers. The Tom Bihn Synapse a review.

Wow this post has been getting a lot of hits so I thought I would expand my review and update it as time allows.

Old meets new the Tom Bihn Synapse backpack at work.

My search has finally ended. I have a huge collection of day packs which I use both day to day and more importantly when traveling. I have tried many dedicated photo day packs but have never been happy as they never have the room or pockets for the non photo gear I have with me.

My new Tom Binh Synapse day pack fits the bill perfectly. Small with a low profile and no external straps to get hung up on when in tight space like on crowded buses and planes. It allows me to carry all kinds of stuff and a DSLR and a compact camera with ease. Made in the USA with the highest quality materials this is one sweet bag. Apart from all it’s pockets that are so easy to access, I love that the bag is fully lined with Dyneema Ripstop fabric in a contrasting colour making it simple to find things.

Note this is not a padded camera day pack. I have over the years tried Crumpler, Lowepro and Kata and they have all been bulky and never had the room for all the other goodies that one travels with. If you are a pro and need such a beastie so be it but this is a bag for the serious traveler who also carries a camera or two.

What’s great about this bag:

  • Highest quality fabrics and zippers
  • Completely lined with Dyneema waterproof and durable fabric
  • Multiple pockets that are easily accessed
  • Quiet YKK splash proof zippers
  • Front water bottle pocket has room for a compact camera such as the x100 or MFT system
  • Main compartment has room for a raincoat, lunch, water bottle and a DSLR with lens attached
  • Bottom pocket has room for a compact umbrella or cables or gorilla pod
  • Small front pocket is perfect for a smartphone or batteries and memory cards
  • Two side pockets, one has pouch for glasses the other slots for pens, lip balm, sunscreen etc.. even a waterbottle
  • It has no external straps which means it will not get caught up on anything
  • Lean clean design
  • Comfortable for carrying all day long
  • No fancy logo

Oh and did I mention that it is super compact! Displayed here on my 5 foot friend Ly Nay.

I carried this bag for four weeks in Vietnam from days around the city to a few weeks in the mountains and found it to be a great companion. If you travel with a camera and all the other stuff that travel involves then you should check this bag out. If you are worried about your camera’s protection in an un padded bag such as this, well I crashed and burned ( still have the scars and bruised ribs to show) on a motorbike in the mountains on the same trip and all my gear was fine.

What’s not to like:

  • Only available from Tom Bihn’s website

It really is a powerhouse of a bag that rocks it’s comfortable and compact… plus it has heaps of add ons available for a tablet,laptop or even for organizing your travel documents. I give it 6 stars out of 5!!! Check out the whole Tom Bihn range here.

Here is a video overview of the Synapse from Tom Bihn by Maverick a total Tom Bihn fan. It really is amazing what you can fit in it. Yes Maverick like you I am a convert now!

P.Lynn Miller revists the Nokton 1.1 50mm Lens 1 year later…

And discovers it takes time to form a long term relationship… This is a story about a man, a lens, and photography that we can all learn something from.

P.Lynn Miller writes:

The announcement of the Voigtländer Nokton 50mm f1.1 was one the most exciting moments in my photographic memory. I had been actively pursuing a Noctilux for almost 2 years, and while I had finally saved up the funds for a Noctilux, I was more than happy to put the extra few thousand dollars toward film and my retirement when the Nokton was announced at a price of 1/4 of a used Noctilux.

I pre-ordered my Nokton 50/1.1 the same day from Mainline Photographics and was one of the first to receive the Nokton in Australia. And I was sure the Nokton 50/1.1 was going to be a lens that I would never put down, a body cap for the M5.

Well… I have never been so disappointed in a lens… ever. The Nokton 50/1.1 simply left me cold and emotionless. I felt like I had a big lump of coal attached to the front of the M5, it was the biggest let-down in my photographic career. It came as such a shock since I connected instantly with the Nokton 35/1.2 and the Nokton 50/1.5 is a gem of a lens. The Nokton 50/1.1 lens was sharp, very flare resistant with plenty of contrast… so it was a technical marvel… but seemingly without a soul. Maybe I had over-hyped the Nokton 50/1.1, maybe I was expecting miracles, maybe the lens was just a dud, maybe all the rumours and gossip about the Noctilux was true… there really is no inspiration beyond f1.2. I put the Nokton 50/1.1 on the shelf.

And it sat on the shelf unused for almost 12 months. I even gave my M5 to a friend on long-term loan for nearly 6 months. I returned to using my trusty Nikon F’s and Nikkors. I had given up on Noktons and M5.

I decided about a month ago that I was selling all my M-mount gear including the Nokton 50/1.1. I collected all my M-mount gear from friends and boxes to sell.

But something kept bugging me… the Nokton 50/1.1. I had to give it another chance. So I decided that I would treat the Nokton as I would any other 50mm lens. Forget about the magical f1.1, and simply shoot it… at any f-stop that I wanted, f1.4, f2.0, maybe even f8.0, just like I would use any of my fast Nikkor’s. Just use it… and let the lens speak for itself.

So I shot it in the dark,

Then straight into the scorching Aussie sun,

Took candids with it,

Even shot the girls one more time,

Yep… it is a rangefinder lens… a very capable, predictable lens. The Nokton 50/1.1 has delivered sparkling negatives no matter what I have thrown at it. Flare is very well controlled, resolution is high across the field at all apertures. Contrast is maybe a touch higher than I normally prefer, but not overwhelming. Shadow detail is exceptional with this lens even when pushing the contrast up deliberately with film and developer choice.

The Nokton 50/1.1 is a quiet performer. It does not impose itself on every photo, like the Noctilux or 35/1.2. Thus it is not a ‘magical’ lens, but this dull and sterile attribute, allows for far more creativity than I first imagined since the lens does not limit the ‘look’. By not trying to force the lens into some preconceived look, rendition or signature, just concentrating on the images, not the lens or f1.1, I was able to actually learn how to use the lens as another fine tool in my photographic toolbox.

So in the end, the Nokton 50mm f1.1 is exactly what I needed(wanted), an all-purpose, dependable 50mm lens with extra speed. Sort of a like a family station wagon with a big V8, not flash or trendy, but reliable and dependable for daily use.

And my Nokton 50mm f1.1 is not for sale!

P.Lynn Miller

Photographer Sydney Australia

Soapnuts as a detergent replacement. A review.

Never heard of Soapnuts? Well neither had I until the last issue of New Internationalist magazine arrived. Featured in the flyer with the magazine were these Soapnuts sold as an organic replacement for laundry detergent. They made all kinds of claims about these things and I must admit I was skeptical, but I went ahead and ordered some. When they arrived Monica was even more skeptical than I was, ” what these things will replace nearly a years washing detergent”. I pointed out that not only are they good for the environment but we would save at least a couple of hundred dollars… if they worked.

So this brought out the Scientist in me. I decided to put them to the test.  We had saved a whole weeks washing both human and ferret for this. First I followed the directions and placed 8 half shells into an old sock. Using medium size loads in our top loader with warm water I first washed regular clothes. Peeking into the machine mid cycle I saw no suds ( as they say there will be none) but did see little swirls of white bubbly trails, these are the Saponins that Soapnuts are extremely high in.

First load complete and drying I dumped in the bath towels next, then another load of regular clothes and last… the test of all tests the Ferret bedding! Well… well were we surprised! All of the clothes smelled clean without any hint of fragrance just clean and soft. Ditto the bath towels. The big surprise was the ferret bedding which even when washed in normal detergents still retains some of the musky odor… there was none!

Not only are you doing yourself good but the environment and your wallet also!

I would still keep a bottle of detergent handy for really soiled or stain removal but for everything else these Soapnuts get two thumbs up. I bought mine here at the New Internationalist online shop.

Movie Review ” The Cove”

This weekend we watched the ” The Cove”, I honestly rented it thinking it was a thriller of some type… but it turned out to be a documentary about the secret cove in Japan where each year 23000 dolphins are killed and sold as whale meat to the unsuspecting public! This is hands down not only the saddest film we have seen but the best produced documentary ever. Quite simply you have to get your hands on a copy and watch it… then tell all your friends and family.

Click on the image above to go the movie website.

This is one of those doco’s that will make your blood boil! While watching you will vow to never buy anything Japanese again but… then you find out that this up until now was going on without the public’s knowledge.

Personally this really hit a cord with me as when I was studying my degree in Zoology I worked as a research assistant for a PHD project on Tiger snakes. I ended up with 17 tanks of reptiles and a couple of ex research snakes in my house. I became obsessed with keeping reptiles. Then one day I had an Epiphany after watching a program on conservation in Peru. These animals had more value in the wild so I released all my snakes and lizards back into the wild where they truly belonged. I have never looked back… best thing I have ever done.

Shopping for a new monitor on a budget? Forget the Nec and Ezio or Apple!

I was looking for a new monitor for home and I did a lot of research into the topic before buying. I wanted a monitor that would be good for gaming ( ok I’m a WOW addict) and for photographic work… and midsized, without breaking the bank. Sure companies like NEC and EIZO produce the best monitors for imaging work but they cost a bomb. Anyway to cut a really long story short I came across several very good reviews for the Dell 2208WA… which kind of hinted that good old Dell had hit the big time and produced a high quality screen at a reasonable price. After reading these reviews  I hopped over to their website and it just happened to be on offer! So having just built my new gaming computer, I sprung for it. This little gem is hidden in the Business section on Dell’s website.

Well I can tell you that we have not being disappointed with our purchase at all. No need for a personal review of the Dell 2209WA as the experts have pretty well covered it all here.

dell 2209wa

For the money this is one hell of a monitor especially if you don’t want or do not have the space for a bigger one. My friend Mark has a 28 inch Samsung monitor which he has finally admitted is just too big and too bright to sit and work at for hours on end! If you are a gamer or photographer then I wholeheartedly recommend this screen. Right out of the box it preforms. If you wish you can spend a bit of time calibrating it which I did and it is sharp and renders colours perfectly. All in all fo$369 it was a steal.


Our Home work station


World of Warcraft displays beautifully.

If you are in the market for a mid size widescreen monitor then…Just go buy one!

Bessa III review by Ed Dale

Mainline Customer and recent Bessa III purchaser is so delighted with his camera that he has sent through this personal hands on review.

Ed writes:

Is this camera worth the expense?. Does it take a good photo? Does it work? Does it make sense?

The Short Review – This camera is superb.

But I suspect you might want a few more details…

Out of the box…

Typical spartan rangefinder packaging with a decent manual. The first thing I notice is how light it feels. Sitting to the left of me I have a Leica M7 with the 50mm 1.4 lens. It’s heavier than the Bessa III.

Loading film is a breeze and the workmanship on the camera is excellent – It feels really solid. Selecting 6×6 or 6×7 is simple and the flexibility of 120 or 220 is nice.

Bessa 3 D

Straight up real world focus test… very nice.

I travel a lot and I’ll have no hesitation taking the Bessa with me.

I’m a tad obsessed by quality of picture v weight of equipment.

The Bessa gives me the chance to get awesome medium format quality – with point and shoot convenience.

But does the Lens stand up? Does the camera take a photo worthy of the format…

Before we talk photo quality. Let’s talk about the viewfinder. As any rangefinder enthusiast knows – if the viewfinder is awful the camera will be to!

To cut to the chase – This is the best viewfinder I have had the pleasure to look through on a Rangefinder and I have looked through them all.

I have a Zeiss Ikon – which is a great camera, the viewfinder is bright, it’s easy to focus BUT the shutter speed readout is colored blue and can be really hard to see. I was really worried the Bessa III would have this same issue.

Bessa 3 C

Accurate colours… easy focusing…

It doesn’t – it uses the same system as the Ikon BUT the shutter speed scale is on the left hand side of the viewfinder, it’s a BRIGHT red and in a weekend of shooting wearing glasses was easily readable.

The folding mechanism is really solid and well constructed and if you open it as described in the manual you can be ready to shoot in a second or two.

There has been some commentary on the web that when folding the Bessa back in you need to set the focus ring to infinity. This is true and becomes instinctive with about 10 minutes of use.

I have to say I’m not much of a specs man so I was eager to get out in the field and try it.

Melbourne delivered an overcast first weekend. And as a father of three girls under seven was going to have my work cut out for me!

I was really worried about two things with this camera.

First, was the folding mechanism dodgy and would it cause focus shift.

My second issue was would the 80mm 3.5 lens would lack character and resolving power and with a wide open Aperture of 3.5 would not be fast enough for those street/all-rounder situations that you find yourself in if you carry the camera with you everywhere.

Bessa 3 A

Stunning bokeh… taken at f3.5

If your after a lot of focus cards and measurements the rest of the review will disappoint. If your after a real world pressure test – then read on.

The Challenge I set myself with was this.

Trust the meter – was it any good, how did it cope with tricky lighting.

Handheld – No tripod allowed. Did I mention it was a very grey weekend. For me, the whole point of this camera is to get exquisite medium format quality without the whole tripod and lighting set-up experience. Could I handhold this sucker and get a decent shot…

The final rule was to abuse the rangefinder – I took this camera to subjects and situations where Rangefinders fear to tread – An indoor children’s party, taking shots of children at the playground. If this is going to be a bring everywhere camera – let’s give it the worst possible rangefinder subjects!

So how did we go.

The first time I operated the shutter mechanism I was floored. They have out Leica’d Leica. It’s the quietest and most importantly for handholding, softest shutter I have ever heard/felt on a camera.


In fact, when your anywhere with even a modicum of noise – your going to have to trust you have taken the shot – you will not hear it or feel it.

The Curious disengaging camera…

Children of photographers can become relatively unwilling subjects…

When I pulled out the Bessa and unfolded it for the first time – the kids loved it and where happy to pose for the “Transformer” camera.

Three weeks later it still has that effect. When I was taking photos in the street, the folder is completely disarming.

For the type of work I do – this is a godsend. In this Facebook age, a quaint folding camera sparks curiosity and intrigue, not fear.

This was brilliant.

Bessa 3 B

Ed I have to say this is a really great shot!!! … Scott

I shot Ilford 3200 Black and White (I was terrified of slow shutter speeds indoors with the 3.5 lens) and I used Ektar 100 for the color


So i spent the weekend pointing the camera at bright objects, low light, Make shift focus tests. You tend to get a gut feel with a camera for how low you can go with shutter speed. I was trying 1/4, 1/8, 1/2! The gorgeous shutter mechanism was giving me a confidence to attempt shots I would not dream of normally.

The experience of having it in my little Crumpler bag with me at all times and use the Bessa III as a, dare I say it, a medium format point and shoot was a dream.

Changing film was very quick and fiddle free, the winding mechanism is excellent, all very straight forward.

But how would the pictures look….

I got everything back from the lab… and I flicked through the proofs I was thrilled.

Everything I focused on was in focus, the lens had a real sharpness at

3.5 and the bokeh/character was everything I would expect of a medium format camera.

I used to haul round a Hasselblad 503cx with an 80mm lens. That’s going on ebay.

I have put up my favorite/useful images are here on my Flickr Bessa III gallery

I have added commentary on what I was trying to test.

There was no processing or cropping at all (which is a shame because some of the composition is embarrassing!)

You might get the feeling that I’m pretty chuffed with the Bessa III and you would be right. The best camera is the one you have with you and the ability to have the Bessa III around all the time to capture a decisive moment in Medium Format is exciting.

Negatives – you can’t change the lens and I would not mind that extra half a stop But as i said, the Rolls Royce shutter mechanism MORE than makes up for this.

Price – there has been much debate about the price of this camera and I have to say a lot of it makes me raise an eyebrow. This a brand new medium format folder with Aperture Priority and lock, Modern centre- weighted metering, top line construction (and trust me I’m up there in the Leica snob category), excellent lens and the BEST shutter mechanism I have ever encountered.

Comparing this to a vintage folder in my view is crazy, A Hasselblad 503cx with and 80mm 2.8 lens, film back, and PME45 for metering and a shutter that kicks like Bruce Lee will set you back WAY more. A LeicaM7 and a new 50mm lens again – way more expensive.

The Mamiya m7 and 80mm lens is probably the best comparison. It’s a great camera but it’s not a camera that you take everywhere. It’s heavier and the shutter mechanism is not going to allow the handholding that the Bessa III allows. You can pick up a Mamiya 7 for less than the Bessa and if you do a lot of tripod work might be fine for you.

For me the Bessa is exactly what I was looking for. Having a medium format camera with you for that once in a lifetime sunset is worth every penny.

Ed Dale is an acomplished Amateur Photographer who’s day job is teaching people around the planet about Internet Marketing at

Film Review. Altiplano by Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth.

Breathtaking, expansive and emotional. Altiplano is a film set in the Peruvian Andes that really portrays the region as it is. This is not a Peru that the tourist sees. It is a film that covers in a way too many topics about Peru that many will be lost on the viewer and most reviewers it seems, but it redeems itself in other ways. With faith, belief and redemption as it’s main theme it delves deeply into Andean culture like no other film or documentary that I have seen has. From the opening scene when the statue of the Virgin Mary crashes to the ground and the locals take it as a bad omen, to the Virgins rebirth at the end the mood is set.  Altiplano is a film that will have you captivated and enthralled,  loosely based on the Mercury contamination by a mining company in a small Peruvian village which had tragic consequences. This is not a documentary or a travel film far from it. Having lived among these people and experienced first hand many of the rituals in the film, I found it both enlightening and disturbing at the same time you become part of a different culture for it’s duration and that is what a  good film should do.


“Saturnina”  Magaly Solier  is wonderful as the lead actress.

First rate cinematography and it’s  setting make you feel as you are there among  the locals living their reality in a barren and harsh land that god seems to have forgotten about. The acting is first rate, dialog is kept to a minimum and each of the main characters are seen to be both emotionally hard and soft. I realise that Brosens has tried to show us the Andes as he has seen it but in many ways the film fails to do this… you can not understand it unless you have seen it first hand. There is far too much symbolism, ritual and realism that the average westerner will go yeah right… sure thing they don’t do that! (Warning spoiler!) Well folks they do and I can guarantee you that everything in this film is 100% accurate right down to when the lead actress commits revenge suicide and then at her funeral they throw the dice to see if she goes to heaven or hell. I came away from this film with one thought pessimism. Co director Brosens talked after the film and I understood his point of view that all this is an everyday occurrence there… life goes on there can only be faith and hope. Yet for me it is more about who cares and who… if anybody is doing anything about these things happening in the poor parts of the world. That is the unanswered question here.  Highly recommended, if you get the chance to see it then do! The trailer can be seen here Altiplano