Three Lenses (and a Family) Go to Disney World

I brought a Canon T5i, cropped-sensor camera on our Disney World trip last month. In addition to my zooming kit lens (Canon EF-S 18-135mm, f/3.5-5.6, IS STM), I brought two others with me: a wide-angle zoom (Canon EF-S 10-18mm, f/4.5-5.6 IS STM) and a fixed focal length (or prime) (Canon 40mm f/2.8 STM). I thought about this a lot before the trip: Should I bring the extra lenses? Wouldn’t the kit lens be good enough to get all the shots I would ever really want on a trip like this? It’s not like I was going out into the mountains somewhere to shoot large vistas, or walking around a city street looking at people. Why bring the other lenses?

Eventually, I decided to bring them because of the challenge. I’m not good at photography, but I love taking pictures. I love it when they look good (mostly by accident), and I want to make them look good on purpose. Bringing the other lenses with me would, I hoped, force me to think more about how I wanted the pictures to look before I took them. And not only right before I took them: I also told myself I’d only bring one lens per day, leaving the others behind at the hotel, so I’d have to think carefully about the locations themselves, and the most likely conditions, before leaving the room. Actively thinking about these things would help me improve as a photographer, especially if I made the wrong choice. I would have to live with that choice all day, and work harder to make the most of it, which would, again, help me improve as a photographer. Having more than one lens available on the trip would also provide me with a bigger variety pictures I could potentially have: I looked forward, minimally, to my pictures not all looking the same as each other, and possibly not the same as the pictures everyone else takes at Disney World.

The Takeaway

Let me save you a little time: If I could have only brought one lens with me, the one I would have packed would have been the wide-angle, 10-18mm, lens. It’s not great for ordinary portrait-style pictures, but overall my photo collection would not have missed those very much, since I’m not good at conveying location with a tight shot (as in a portrait), and making the location of Disney World obvious would be important if most of the pictures were to evoke the trip. I would not have missed my 18-135mm zoom lens much, though I did take some nice pictures with it, because many of the shots I liked happened to be at its widest angle (18mm), which you will notice the wide-angle lens also covers. I would have missed it for its long reach, especially at shows or at the Animal Kingdom, where photo subjects are often in the distance, but if I had to choose either pictures of my family nearby with a lot of background, or pictures of a rhino in the distance with no background, I’ll take the pictures of my family. So if I could only choose one, it would be the wide-angle lens. It took my favourite pictures, for the most part.

Disclaimer: I don’t know how to use PhotoShop or Gimp or Lightroom to process photos, so these are all straight out of the camera (with the exception of one picture that I leveled, because I’m not a good photographer, and sometimes I take crooked pictures).

The Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM Goes to the Magic Kingdom

When we arrived in Orlando, we had a few hours left in the day, time to enjoy some part of one park, and we chose the Magic Kingdom. Since I knew it would be dark, with not much to see in the distance (because of the nature of the park itself, and because of the time of day), I decided I didn’t need the reach of my zoom lens, and the wide-angle lens is too slow (dark) for night time shots of people. We were meeting up with family and friends, and I knew I’d want pictures with them as soon as possible, and as soon as possible meant at night. So, I brought my 40mm lens, which offers a wider aperture than my other lenses, to make it easier to take pictures at night. On a Canon T5i body, that 40mm is around 64mm on a full-frame camera, which is slightly zoomed on subjects, but not like a real portrait lens. I have also enjoyed just walking around with it on my camera and taking the occasional extra step back when I needed it, rather than using the heavier 18-135mm as a daily lens.

I also brought the 40mm with me on another day we spent at the Magic Kingdom. Again, even in daylight, that park didn’t seem to require a really long reach, so I didn’t miss the 18-135mm there. I think you could have a lot of fun walking around the Magic Kingdom all day with a 40mm lens, and you wouldn’t miss out on much except for really nice, wide shots (which I did take later with my wide-angle lens).

(From Flickr)

 

The Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM Goes Everywhere Except the Magic Kingdom

As I said, I didn’t really think I’d ever need the long zoom at the Magic Kingdom: you can get pretty close to just about everything there just by walking up to it. Considering that it’s the heaviest of the three lenses, any chance to not bring it was worth taking. However, I did bring it to more of the parks than any other lens, because it has such a versatile range. If you are going to a park with lots of shows where you have to sit far away (Hollywood Studios) or a park with lots of things you shouldn’t get close to (Animal Kingdom), you want the zoom lens. Neither of those situations really hold for Epcot or the Magic Kingdom. I brought it to Epcot, but I didn’t end up taking advantage of its reach there, and the pictures I like are either at the wide end, or portrait-style pictures that could have been taken almost anywhere. The zoom didn’t add anything special at Epcot.

(From Flickr)

 

The Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM Goes to Epcot, the Magic Kingdom, and Environs

If I could have only brought one lens (of the three I have, not of any of all time anywhere), it would have been this wide-angle lens. On our first full day at Disney World, we went to Epcot. Knowing what Epcot generally looks like, I knew the architectural design and the layout of the park lent itself to wide angles, because you could get right up close to things and there was always something on the periphery to look at too. I could live with the distortion in pictures of people (I know and love these people and I have hundreds, if not thousands, of pictures of them already), but if my primary goal was to take accurate or flattering pictures of faces, I would have used the 40mm. This lens is not great in the dark (though with Image Stabilization, you get a little help), but Epcot is not much of an evening park anyway. There is a fireworks show on the lake at night, but it’s not like the Magic Kingdom, with its late night parades.

I had the wide-angle lens with me after Epcot closed for the night. We went to dinner at the Wilderness Lodge, so I took a couple of pictures there, then some on a ferry across the lake, and then some at the Magic Kingdom at night before it closed.

On our last day at Disney World, we had some time before our flight to go to one park for a couple of hours. We chose the Magic Kingdom again (because it has the most rides). Since I knew it would be nice and bright out, and that I’d already used the 40mm there, and that I didn’t need the reach of the 18-135mm, I decided to use the wide-angle lens for these last pictures. I was not disappointed, since some of my very favourite pictures from the trip are in that batch (the tea cups and King Arthur’s Carousel in particular).

(From Flickr)

Conclusion

I had a lot of fun playing with these lenses at Disney World, and I don’t regret bringing all three. Each one has its strengths, and they can all be taken advantage of at a place like Disney World, with its endless variety of subjects and locations and lighting conditions. If I were to recommend only one of the three to bring for the entire trip, it would be the EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM, the wide-angle lens. It was the most fun to use. If I were to recommend on lens per park, it would be: Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, the 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM, the zoom lens; Epcot, the 10-18mm wide-angle zoom; and for the Magic Kingdom, the 40mm f/2.8 STM. I’d recommend the zoom at the Animal Kingdom and Hollywood studios because of the shows and animals. I’d recommend the 40mm at the Magic Kingdom because of the proximity of everything, and the opportunities to take pictures of things at night, or on dark rides. I’d use the wide-angle at Epcot, where you don’t need a long reach, and there isn’t much to see in the dark anyway.

I’m still not good at photography, and I likely won’t ever be really good. But I think I’m a little better now, and I love the pictures I have, even if some, or most, of them are only good by accident.

You Just Tap It In. Tappity Tappity. Nukotoys and the Interaction of Real Space and Virtual Space

A while ago, I, along with some other Bay Area (and beyond) parent and tech bloggers, went to meet with the NukoToys team in San Francisco. We were brought in as consultants for the new game they were developing, Monsterology. How do kids interact with technology? What are the worries parents have about exposing their kids to games, technology, and online socializing? How can having an active parent community online help or hinder the acceptance of the game? These were some of the questions the NukoToys team had, and the having of them inspired this invitation to bloggers.

After meeting with them, talking with them for hours, exploring the game, learning about the technology, and hearing about the plans for further games (either in development or in hopes and dreams), I had no reservations at all about joining the NukoToys “Parents at Play” team.

The Monsterology game is based on the series of “-ology” books that have been out for a while now: Wizardology, Dragonology, Monsterology, etc….These books are incredibly detailed encyclopedias of mythology and fantasy, with all sorts of little extras (pop outs, flips-ups, journals…they’re intense) and beautiful illustrations.

Adrian, back when I first learned about the books and games. He was so little!

So, NukoToys has taken these books and designed a whole bunch of trading cards with various Monsters and Traps (to catch the monsters) to sell in stores. The cards are full of information themselves, and beautiful to look at.

For some people, that might be enough all on its own: “Hey, let’s to a Pokemon-style thing and sell trading cards, but base them on the Ology books.” Fine. And, in fact, one of the advisors for NukoToys is Peter Adkinson, the man behind Pokemon’s world domination and Magic: The Gathering. The cards are good at being what trading cards are for.

There is a game you can play just with the trading cards. Erin tried it out an event in the Fall.

CAM00496

But NukoToys isn’t just making trading card games: They’re making mobile games, something you can play on an iPad, iPod, or iPhone.

First, “Monsterology”:

http://youtu.be/Lyrzi9dHhf8

The game is a turn-based fantasy strategy game that has players capturing towers, out-maneuvering their opponent’s monsters to capture control points, towers, treasure chests. There are ten individual maps to play on, with graphics inspired by the books all linked from a central overmap that you play through in order to beat the game.

Fine. So it’s a turn-based strategy game that looks beautiful (and the game play itself is pretty awesome, but I am someone who plays games from 1993 on a laptop from 2006, so I may not be the best judge) and is based on the same books as the trading cards, featuring Monsters and Traps from the same line. What is different about it?

NukoToys has embedded the trading cards with chips that allow them to be tapped into the game. I mean that literally. You get a trading card, you tap your iPad, iPod, or iPhone, and that tells the game that you own that Monster or Trap, and inserts it into the game, into your arsenal/stable/collection.  This was jaw-dropping for me: The interaction of virtual and physical, the potential to expand into areas that will not just enhance the virtual world with physical objects, but also the physical world with virtual objects, blew my mind. I’m not even doing justice to the impact seeing this thing had on me. Since I first saw this demonstrated, there have been other games released that also take advantage of interactivity between real and virtual objects, but Nukotoys was the first I had ever seen.

Trading-wise, when you give the card to a friend, he gets the virtual item as well, so you are trading actually and virtually. You can buy packs of cards, or you can buy virtual cards in the game.

The team at NukoToys was thinking the target age range for this would be something like 9-13. I looked at this game and immediately thought “Oh my god, I’m about to spend a crapton of money on trading cards so I can play this.”

What I was utterly floored by was that Doug and Rodger (co-founders of NukoToys with some unbelievable experience) wanted to offer Monsterology, the game, for free. They want everyone to have the app on their iPad, obviously, and that will make the trading cards or in-game purchases the only cost. And they include a number of virtual cards with the app itself, so no one would ever need to spend money at all in order to play the game. The hope, of course, is that people will want to keep upgrading and collecting and trading, but I urged them both repeatedly to charge for the game itself. $0.99? Would you spent that much on a game with this much content and design behind it? I would. I’ve spent way more money on games that weren’t half as good (old-time PC gamer here, folks).

And I haven’t even mentioned the app they’ve developed for Animal Planet called Wildlands. It was this one, even more than the Monsterology game, that I thought I could see myself incorporating not just into my life, but my kids’ lives, even as young as they are (6 and 4). It was stunning, even in the bare-bones alpha version we caught a glimpse of. It’s even better now in its release.

http://youtu.be/yvKE_jtVxsA

You guide different animals (lions, warthogs, birds, hyenas…) through different terrain, learning about them, hunting with them, chasing other animals around, racing, even controlling the weather (if you get special weather cards). You can watch videos and read about the different animals or phenomena, all inspired by Animal Planet. You unlock different achievements in the Gamecenter by finishing different quests, and you unlock different types of terrain by acquiring new cards. The movement is not just touch-based, but also positioning-based: holding the device in a certain way will cause the animal to move differently (running, walking, standing still, turning). This is the game my young kids liked the best. It doesn’t hurt that you can “pet” the animals.

As you ponder all of this, of course you must remind yourself to take my words with a grain of “he has a material connection to NukoToys” grain of salt, because I totally do. I would not have spent all day doing consulting work with a bunch of other bloggers  for free, no matter who was leading the discussion (*cough* Karen Gruenberg, the former head of all-things Sesame Street *cough*). But the day was amazing, the people were amazing, the apps were amazing…it made me think I’m in the wrong line of work and the right line of work all at the same time. The wrong one, since I don’t get to participate in that level of discussion every day; the right one, since I got to participate in it at all.

This Pitch Has to be a Joke. Right?

From my inbox today. Because I don’t even.

“Hi Shawn,

It’s inevitable that a vibe of a room can enhance or diminish one’s mojo. Old, boring, tasteless décor can do just that to one’s sex life. Not good. Luckily *************, award-winning fashionable techcessories brand, has an array of bold and beautiful bedroom gadgets that boost appeal and bring a whole new meaning to “Once you POP, the fun don’t stop!”

· Portable Bedroom POP  ($29.99 to $49.99): Offering a macho selection of colors certain to impress the ladies and keep them coming back for more, the POP Phone will transform dull and unexciting to bright and charming. Just plug the retro cool handset into any mobile device with a 3.5mm audio jack and let the fun begin”

POP Phone

 

So, what you’re telling me is: If I buy this enormous handset, I can get all the ladies to come to my bedroom?

1. I’m married. So you’re a jackass for sending me this pitch in the first place.

2. This thing is hideous. So, you have no taste.

3. You called it a “techcessory”. So you’re not allowed to use English anymore. We voted you off the island.

4. Fifty dollars?!? Please tell me that I’m getting this e-mail because this thing has had zero sales ever and the company is now just so desperate to move stock that they’ll try to pitch it to ANYBODY.

5. Does it come in blue? I like blue.

6. Oh, hey, it’s got one of them springy cord things.

7. I wonder if this really could get all the ladies to come to my bedroom.

8. I was only going to spend that fifty dollars on food anyway. I should lose weight.

9. Hello shiny new techcessory!

10. Ok, ok. Now there are way too many ladies in my room. Three of you need to leave. No, seriously. Yeah, I’ll, uh, call you later from my enormous phone thingy.

11. How do I get all these ladies to leave? Now they’re in the bathroom. Ladies! You need to get out! Here, what if I let you have the phone thingy? That’s what you’re here for anyway right?

12. No, no, don’t fight over the phone thingy. Just get out. Take your clothes with you.

13. *slam*

14. I wonder if it comes in green.