Get Better Travel Photos From Your Phone With These Apps

October 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Tech, Travel

camera fv-5 app

Most of the best mobile phones of 2014 for travelers (and newer) have good camera sensors but there’s often a big difference in the resulting photos between models. What you may not realize is that lens quality is as important as the software interpreting the light coming through the aperture of any dot on the back or front of a phone.

Although it’s not feasible to change your smartphone’s photographic hardware, these apps can improve your pictures particularly in the conditions where phones tend to suck – low light and moving subjects.

Camera FV-5 ($3.95; Android Only)

The designers of Camera FV-5 have really done a good job of making your phone’s screen feel like a DSLR viewfinder, with the options to go along with it. Camera FV-5 has a light meter, let’s you adjust ISO, take long exposure shots and more. If you’re a camera control freak on Android, this is the app for you.

Camera+ ($2.99; iOS Only)

You don’t get quite as many manual controls with Camera+ as you do with say, Camera FV-5, but where the app really excels is in post editing. Once you’ve taken the shot you want, Camera+ lets you brighten, brush up, and enhance with filters that aren’t designed to be obvious (a la Instagram). Personally I like the image stabilization the app introduces to prevent blurry edges in night shots.

camera plus app

Night Camera Plus ($0.99; Android Only)

This app does its best to improve low light photos as they’re being taken – not enhance them into funky-exposed grainy messes after the fact. The developers have published a few technical details on how the app works [PDF] but for the trial price of free, you can easily see for yourself.

night camera plus

Camera360 (Android, iOS, Windows Phone)

Preset scene modes that don’t look crappy but do a good job of highlighting your subject, with respect to color and lighting. Your photos won’t look quite as natural with many of Camera360’s modes but they’ll likely look a hell of a lot better; especially if you’re fond of taking selfies. Oh, and it makes GIFs!

dancing chihuahua

Night Cap ($0.99; iOS Only)

There isn’t a lot that Night Cap does but it’s focus on low light photos and video in a simple interface really works, when it works well. A lot of the images it takes don’t turn out perfectly if you’re not resting the phone on a stable surface (i.e. not your hands) so remember to improvise something like a napkin holder as a tripod. One nice feature of Night Cap is automatic long exposure; meaning you don’t have to guess how many seconds you’ll need to get a nice starry night, the app figures it out for you.

night cap pro app

Google Camera (Free; Android Only)

Lens. Blur. It’s an effect that gives pictures a nice “hey this was taken on an expensive camera” feeling. Combined with 360 degree panoramic shots and a super simply interface, it’s not as powerful as others in this list, but effective in good lighting situations.

ProCam 2 ($1.99; iOS Only)

ProCam 2 has a select set of shooting modes phone users need most often, like anti-shake, night mode, and for fun, time lapse. Beyond that if you want more manual control, ProCam 2 provides that as well, with spot metering, shutter speed control, plus others in a highly polished interface.

Pick And Choose Depending On How You Use

Some of us like photographic control whereas for others too much of it actually hinders our main objective – getting better travel photos from our phones. Pick the app or two that gives you the level of manual control you normally like and roll with it. You can learn to turn your mobile phone into a better digital camera with the right software but don’t forget brush up on photographic basics all travelers should know. Even the best app can’t tell you how to compose an aesthetically pleasing image (hint: kitten).

An Interview With The Geneticist Who Overcomes Flight Phobia To Study The World’s Fastest People

yannis Pitsiladis

I first read about Dr. Yannis Pitsiladis MMEDSci., PhD, FACSM in The Sports Gene, a book by David Epstein about what makes super athletes different than the majority of us. Dr. Pitsiladis is a Professor of Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Brighton who has done research on obesity and the detection of doping in athletes but his passion is running. He travels around the world studying the genes and environments of the world’s top runners (often on his own dime) and created the largest known DNA bio-bank from world-class athletes.

the sports geneThe Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance

Additionally, Dr. Pitsiladis must deal with a severe fear of flying before boarding planes to places like Jamaica and Kenya. Dr. Pitsiladis was kind enough to answer a few questions about facing his anxiety to research the fastest people on Earth.

What is the extent of your fear of flying?

I typically have to ingest alcohol to board the flight. I cannot work, especially when there is turbulence. I also have to sit at the window and spend most of the time looking outside even in the dark. I only fly with certain airlines and often choose to drive long distances especially in Africa so as not to take local airlines. As a scientist this makes no sense as I am aware of the data.

How often do you travel and what is an average year like for you?

I travel typically every week of the year.

herb mckenley

[Above: Dr. Pitsiladis with 4-time Olympic medalist Herb McKenley of Jamaica.]

Has all of this flying changed your anxiety, for better or worse?

I go through ups and downs depending on how bad/good the previous experience is but mainly depending on the airline and weather. On a British Airways flight on good weather my anxiety is low. On a Russian airliner in bad weather my anxiety is sky high! My anxiety is also very high when my family travel with me although I do my best to hide it so as not to pass on my fear to them – often without success.

There’s a saying that there is no greater enemy than one’s own fears, what about your research motivates you to overcome yours regularly?

Yes totally. I never let it stop me flying with a few African examples where i will drive 7 hours to avoid a 30 min flight across the Great Rift Valley.

Yannis Pitsiladis

[Above: Dr. Pitsiladis sampling blood in Africa.]

I’m fascinated by descriptions of the Champs [Jamaica's annual high school sprinting competition] and would like to hear your impressions or favorite memories from the events you’ve attended.

The atmosphere, especially when the victorious school is clear, which is more exciting than an Olympics – even the 100m final day at the Olympics.

Which runner(s) have been the most difficult for you to reach due to travel constraints?

For data protection i cannot answer.

Finally, where are you headed next?

To break the 2 hour marathon barrier…

Thank you again Dr. Pitsiladis for taking the time to share some of your experiences in the air and catching the fleet-footed on the ground. You can read more about Dr. Pitsiladis’ research on why people of east African descent seem to always win marathons, Jamaicans excel at sprinting, plus studies done by others in a fascinating book I highly recommend, The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance.

What Frequent Travelers Should Know About LTE Bands Before Buying A New Phone

October 9, 2014 by  
Filed under Tech

It’s a great time of the year to pick up some of the best mobile phones of 2014 as manufacturers are rolling out their latest designs in time for shopping season; but before you purchase there’s one spec to take note of, especially if you value Internet speeds. You probably know that many carriers (particularly in America) restrict phones so they can’t be used internationally. Fortunately it’s not very difficult to learn how to unlock a mobile phone, however there’s another, more subtle restriction to be aware of before buying or choosing a new carrier.

What Is LTE?

LTE stands for “long-term evolution” and is basically the next generation of mobile Internet. You know 3G? Well, this is 4G – at least one version of it as the definition is murky. For practical purposes though, LTE is the global standard for 4G, which has wide coverage in the United States and growing around the world.

There are a number of advantages of LTE, notably download speeds 4-10 times faster than 3G, and most new phones have an LTE antenna to support it. However, LTE is broken up for use among a number of frequency bands and not every phone antenna can use all of the bands. Typically, specific bands are used in differing global regions so if your phone doesn’t support say, bands 3, 5, or 7, you’ll miss out on LTE speeds in much of Europe.

Same Phone, Many Models

Both due to cost and carrier pressure, most phones don’t have a global assortment of LTE bands enabled. (Although the iPhone 6 comes pretty close.) Carriers get variations of the same phone model which means AT&T’s HTC One M8 supports different LTE bands than Verizon’s. For local customers, that’s generally not an issue, as the phone will likely have LTE support in your country (and wider continental region) but when you go abroad no 4G for you.


What To Look For

It might take a bit of spec digging to find the best banded phone for your specific travels but the more bands the better.

lte use by country

  • Travelers From The Americas: Look for bands 3, 5, 7 (primarily for use in Europe some coverage globally)
  • Travelers To The Americas: Mostly bands 2, 4, 17
  • Australia/New Zealand: 3, 5, 20, 28, 40

This is a very spartan list since there are a lot of bands used by different carriers around the world. It’s best to check here to confirm which LTE bands international carriers use to find out where you’ll get service.

How To Get The Best Coverage

Well, you could get an new iPhone. Alternatively you can buy the unlocked carrier-free version of any mobile, generally they’ve got more bands than carrier-specific models. It’s best to check manufacturer’s spec sheets or simply contact them (or a carrier representative) to find out what LTE bands are available on a given phone model.

Remember, not having LTE doesn’t mean you can’t talk, use good ol’ 3G abroad to sext securely while traveling or turn your mobile into a digital camera replacement; just that your phone will miss out on faster Internet speeds where LTE is available.

A Ramp Agent Explains What You Should (And Shouldn’t) Pack In Your Checked Luggage

October 7, 2014 by  
Filed under Advice, Discussion, Luggage

The other day I posted on Facebook an article of mine answering the question, ‘do you need a Pacsafe to protect valuables while traveling?’ – and reader Armanda added they can help prevent your bag straps from getting caught on belt loaders. Armanda is a part-time ramp agent at a regional international airport in the northeast United States as well as a full-time student studying Hospitality and Tourism Management. She was kind enough to answer a few more questions about her job plus some insights into how are bags really are handled once out of passenger sight.

oslo airport Gardermoen

What exactly is a ramp agent?

The responsibilities of a ramp agent can vary greatly from airport to airport and airline to airline. I work in a smaller regional airport, so we do quite a lot. We are responsible for sorting as well as loading and unloading the baggage and cargo on the planes. We also make sure the flight crew gets the necessary paperwork they need and call the city for fuel and/or lavatory services, and deicing (these are all handled by the city ramp workers at my airport and not the individual airlines ramp agents). We make sure flight attendants get ice and any other supplies they may need (not including catering services at my station). We also marshal the planes in and out plus wing walk. We are also responsible for cleaning, searching, and securing the planes that stay overnight at the airport to make up the outbound flights in the morning.

I always tell people, that we’re a lot like a NASCAR pit crew. When we have a plane on the ground we have a lot of things to get done in a short amount of time (barring delays), and safety is always our top concern.

In larger airports, a ramp agent is usually assigned to any one of the tasks I mentioned, and will do that same task for their entire shift. The job can be very stressful and very physically taxing, and at my particular airline, we make just above minimum wage. Most of us keep the job as a second part-time job for the flying benefits. With my airline, we fly stand-by for free! As well as our immediate family members. However, every airline is different, and every airport is different. Some airlines contract out their groundwork.

What is an average day like?

Once again, every airport is different. At my airport, in the summer months when our flight schedule practically doubles, the days are usually crazy. There are always many, many things going on at once, and communication and attention to safety are critical. One of the things that I love about this job is that every day is different, and you just never know how it’s going to play out. Some days your planes come in early, and everything runs smoothly and you get out early. Other days all of your planes are delayed, and nothing runs smoothly and you end up getting stuck two, three, four, or more hours longer than your scheduled shift. It can be grueling at times, working in the elements under high stress, and you’re not always able to take a break for a snack or a drink.

airplane marshaling signals

In the winter months, we have fewer flights and shorter shifts and a lot more down time, but we also have snow, ice, and brutally cold temperatures to work in and around making things a bit tricky! We also have pretty continuous computer training that we need to keep up to date on. The amount of training varies based on how many different types of aircraft your station services.

How bad (or well) are bags actually treated?

I cannot speak for every airport, but it has been my experience that bags aren’t treated as badly as people think. However, things happen. You have to keep in mind, that we are almost always under time constrictions, and we can’t place every bag carefully on the baggage cart, or on the belt, or in the bin, there’s just no time. I can only imagine that in bigger airports, this is even more so. Most of the time we have to work very quickly.

What is the most fragile thing you would consider packing? Anything we definitely shouldn’t put in a check-in bag?

As far as checked-in luggage goes, I wouldn’t put anything in your bag that you wouldn’t want to lose. There are just too many variables and too many unknowns. Having worked in an airport, it is clear to me how easily a bag can get lost or damaged, I am actually surprised it doesn’t happen more often! Especially in the larger airports that deal with hundreds or more flights a day.

backpacks on sale japan tokyo

I know that is not what people want to hear, but if you want to be safe, don’t check anything you wouldn’t want to lose. Definitely don’t check medications, it amazes me how many people make that mistake and then get mad at us.

I also would avoid checking liquids/lotions/etc. or anything breakable. I would absolutely recommend a suitcase with a hard case exterior. These hold up much better, are easier to stack, and have no straps that get hung up on belt loaders, or other bags leading to damage or getting lost. They also protect your clothing and whatnot from the elements. Your bag will definitely be spending time outside and we don’t always have enough covered carts to go around.

How much time or contact do ramp agents have with a single bag?

Again, it varies from airport to airport. But at my airport, I and/or other ramp agents will handle your bag at least two times, possibly more if there are delays and passengers change flights, or if flights are cancelled. At larger airports baggage goes through a much more complicated system, however, I am not familiar with this.

pug pushing strollerAnything travelers probably don’t know, but should, about checking in luggage?

I strongly suggest using baggage with as few straps, pockets, and zippers as possible. These are constantly getting hung up on equipment and other bags causing damage, and adding a safety hazard to our work environment. Just last week I was lifting a gate checked bag over my head to pass to another co-worker and the arm strap fell down and smacked me in the eye, luckily my eye was not scratched!

If you have to travel with a bag that has a lot of straps and pockets such as a hiking pack on a backpacking trip, find a way to at least keep the straps contained so they wont get caught up in equipment. The other thing I see all the time is car seats being checked as they are. You definitely want to put car seats in some sort of container, a garbage bag at the very least. The straps always always get caught on something, and a car seat is definitely not something you want to be compromised.

Strollers as well, make sure the straps are secured and tucked away before checking them. Ask the counter agents if you need to, they should have packing tape, zip ties, or garbage bags. However, it is best to be prepared upon arrival. Another thing is, pay attention to the weight restrictions of your bag. I see handles get ripped off pretty regularly simply because they are not designed to carry the amount of weight that has been stuffed in the bag. The same goes for zippers, if they are busting at the seams because you have stuffed as much as you possibly can in them, they will more than likely bust at the seams, and your clothing, shoes, etc. will end up all over the ramp, or the bin of the plane, or the carousel.

Pack light, pack secure, and pack smart! Don’t let luggage ruin your adventures!

Thank you again Armanda for sharing your advise, experience and expertise with us!

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