Impossible Project Instant Lab Universal review

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The first thing you need to know about the Impossible Project Instant Lab Universal is that it produces Polaroid-style photos from your smartphone snaps. The second thing you need to know is that it’s a camera, not a printer.

Unlike the rather disappointing Polaroid-branded Zink printers, the Instant Lab produces actual Polaroid-esque photographs. That’s because Impossible Project cleverly bought Polaroid’s remaining factory a few years ago in order to manufacture its own film, which is designed to work with vintage Polaroid cameras and, of course, the Instant Lab Universal.

The original Instant Lab was launched in 2013, but only worked with the¬†iPhone¬†4, 5, 5S and¬†iPod¬†touch. The new Universal model, however, is designed to work with more devices thanks to new “touch location technology”. This means it supports¬†phones¬†from¬†Samsung,¬†HTC¬†and Google (Nexus), as well as¬†the¬†iPad. Screens need to be high-res (approximately 300ppi) and run on Android 4.0.3 (Ice Cream Sandwich) or above.

We’ve unleashed our inner hipster and have been testing the Lab using an¬†iPhone¬†6,¬†iPad¬†Air¬†2¬†and the¬†HTC One M8. It’s a lot of fun, like a big kid’s toy.

Design and build

The Lab Universal sports a simple yet functional design, with a sturdy metal base along with a plastic bellows-style extendable turret with a phone cradle on top. The only controls you’ll find are the latch for opening the film bay door at the bottom – where the film cartridges can be easily slipped in – along with an eject button to pop out the exposed photo.

To the top are three sensors on the cradle – representing the¬†touch location technology part of things – used to detect when a phone is placed there. For larger devices, such as¬†an¬†iPad, these act as essential points to communicate with the app and let it know which portion of the screen is in play, then re-adjust the photo’s placement on screen so the Lab can make a duplicate exposure of it.

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A removable adaptor can be used with¬†iPhones¬†4/4S/5/5S/5C, but for Android devices not everything is compatible just yet. The brand new¬†HTC¬†One¬†M9¬†is one such unsupported example (we did try it out, but it was a no go).¬†Check with Impossible Project for compatibility¬†prior to purchase if you’re concerned.

You can read the rest of the article at Pocket-lint.com (originally published 25 March 2015).

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How the iPad is changing the face of music

How the iPad is changing the face of musicAndroid may be catching up fast, but it was the iPad that made the tablet a must-have piece of kit for any self-respecting gadget aficionado. For the while, at least, the iPad continues to lead the charge and, though its games, web browsing and playing about on Facebook and¬†Twitter are as popular as ever; it’s also managed to infiltrate the¬†music¬†industry. We’re not just talking about the fact¬†that the tablet can house your entire iTunes music library. It’s also fast becoming a useful tool for¬†musical types, both professional and amateur.

The most high-profile use of Apple’s tablet by a pro musician so far involves the latest album from ex-Blur¬†frontman Damon Albarn’s hip-hop project¬†Gorillaz, which was created largely on his iPad during a 32-day¬†tour of North America. The album uses real instruments and vocals combined with a good helping of¬†synthesizers with Albarn making use of around 20 apps including Korg iELECTRIBE, Moog Filatron and¬†FunkBox Drum Machine. It perfectly illustrates the convenience of being able to lay down tracks on a¬†device, while on the move, with no access to a desktop computer or studio.

Convenience and portability are obviously two great benefits, especially, as with Albarn, plenty of musicians spend a great deal of time on the road; however the bonus of using a¬†tablet¬†goes further than that, as accessory brand Griffin’s PR director, Jackie Ballinger, told us.

“Technology, like the iPad enables musicians to become mobile without losing quality, now people are able¬†to make music anywhere without limitations and without substantial costs.

“With the iPad and relevant apps a less costly alternative to recording studios and instruments, aspiring musicians have the opportunity to produce professional recording using solely these means.”

Money appears to be one of the most important factors Рnot exactly shocking when you consider the huge cost involved in putting an album together. If an artist can record an album for less, then why not?

The cost¬†of producing a chart album is estimated to be a whopping ¬£250,000, so it’s hardly surprising that musicians¬†are opting for a more affordable route, especially those who don’t have a record deal and are producing the work themselves. Two-piece US indie band¬†The Ultramods¬†managed¬†to produce an entire album (entitled¬†Underwear Party) in just 2 weeks, only using GarageBand for iPad.

You can read the rest of the article here on Pocket-lint.com (originally published 12/09/11).

7 Days living with…film photography

7 Days living with...film photographyAlmost everyone on Team Pocket-lint is a camera nut of some description but out of all of us with our various bits of high tech snapping kit, I’ve also got quite a strong collection of¬†Lomo cameras. The question is though, is film still relevant beyond retro style photography? Does it still have a place in society and how much of a pain in the bum is to use now that we’re mollycoddled by the happy snapping ways of digital? I decided to find out in¬†7 days.

The challenge here was to go for an entire week without using any digital cameras whatsoever, including¬†the one on my iPhone. My day-to-day camera, which was housed safely on my bookcase for the entire 7¬†days, is a¬†Panasonic DMC-LX3¬†– the brand’s top-of-the-range compact from a couple of years ago which is nice¬†and portable while also offering excellent picture quality, largely thanks to its fancy Leica lens. I also use a¬†lot of film cameras, but they’re all lo-fi models (mostly Lomo) so the first step was to track down a decent¬†film snapper to use for all the Pocket-lint reviews and hands-on work that I do. As it turns out, not an easy task.

After a lot of back and fourth with various brands, Nikon agreed to lend me an alarmingly expensive F6 SLR (around £1,500)  for the duration, along with a rather large AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm zoom lens worth something like the same again. I was also sent a Kodak Ultra Compact single-use camera, along with some film, while Polaroid loaned me one of its Polaroid 300 instant cameras. The film-based lineup was completed by my Lomography La Sardina.

Obviously, this isn’t a review of any of the cameras involved – it’s an account of life without a digital camera. My 7 days begins on¬†Thursday – simply because the Nikon camera turned up at my door halfway through the week. Read on to¬†find out what happened.

Thursday

Thanks to a week of very late nights staying up to follow the London riots on Sky News and Twitter (and¬†praying that they wouldn’t come any closer to my home or those of my friends), the tail-end of the week¬†was something of a struggle. On the agenda for Thursday was a review of the¬†Philips Fidelio DS7700 iPad¬†dock. Usually I would breeze through my review shots on my digital camera, checking them on the¬†screen as I go, before transferring them to my computer and resizing them – all within about half an hour¬†of setting up the kit. Not this time.

Naturally, all of the pictures needed to be snapped using the Nikon F6 and things took a bit longer when¬†film was brought into the equation. After finally managing to load up a Kodak Gold ISO 200 colour film after several failed attempts and a substantial amount of swearing, I was finally ready to get stuck in.¬†The F6 is a heavy camera at the best of times and even more so when you’re trying to balance an iPad¬†dock in one hand and use the camera one-handed.

Philips DS7700 iPad dock

I’m not really a SLR aficionado, so I was at the mercy of the hastily Googled manual when it came to setting the camera’s controls. The fact that I couldn’t take a couple of test shots and look at them to check that the settings were correct before I got started was a major hassle.¬†Having to finish the film off was also something of a pain. Using a well-practiced review routine, I can usually¬†get the 10-15 shots that I need by taking around 20-25 of them on my digital camera. As this iPad dock was¬†a relatively simple piece of kit with only a couple of buttons, there were only a certain amount of shots that¬†I needed, but I had to keep going after that to finish off the film – taking up precious time and also making¬†by arm ache from holding the F6.

Once finished, instead of just popping an SD card into my computer,¬†I had to make the 10-minute saunter down to the local Boots to put my film in for one-hour processing, at a cost of ¬£7.49 (I initially went into the nearby Snappy Snaps, who said that they’d be able to take care of my photos in an hour, but then backtracked when I presented them with a film and said that it would take three). Then I went back¬†home for lunch before returning to pickup my disc of images, all the time praying that they were ok so that¬†I wouldn’t have to repeat the entire process.

Thankfully, the pictures were mostly usable, although¬†the review lacks a close-up shot of the Bluetooth and volume controls as none of my shots of these were¬†sharp enough and I didn’t think that it was worth the cost of another film and more processing to put right¬†this tiny detail (not to mention the time involved).

Polaroid from the LomoHub

After work, I moseyed on down to the Lomography store in Soho for a largely beer-based “tea party” to¬†celebrate the new B&W Earl Grey & Lady Grey films. Being without a digital camera in the Lomo store is¬†hardly unusual so I didn’t miss not being able to use one, and I took along the La Sardina and a Polaroid 300. I took a few shots, including this¬†Poloroid snap (above) of myself, and fellow journos and Lomo users Kat and Laura.

You can read the rest of the article here on Pocket-lint.com (originally published 29/08/11).

Lomography La Sardina review

Lomography La SardinaWhen Lomography sent us a tin of sardines in the post with a message attached inviting us along to a sneak preview of its new camera, we were expecting some sort of waterproof model or perhaps even a fisheye snapper. The clue was in fact much more literal Рwith the Lomography La Sardina turning out to be a camera shaped like a sardine tin. While this may sound ludicrous, the odd shape is actually based on an old 1930s snapper Рthe Kandor Candid Рmade by the Irwin Corporation.

Along with the somewhat silly, yet endearing design, La Sardina also boasts a super-wide 22mm f/8 lens, while the flash has three different settings Рa first for a Lomo camera. The design may be fun, but is the camera actually any good? We put it through its paces to see whether it would sink or swim.

Design

There are four different designs available – all based on sardine tins. You can choose from the green¬†Marathon or the blue Sea Pride, both of which come with a price tag of ¬£49 and no flashgun. To get the flash¬†capability you’ll need to shell out ¬£89 for the red El Capitan or the blue Fishers Fritze (we had the latter in¬†for review). You can also pick up the Fritz the Blitz flash separately for ¬£55. (For more images of the other¬†designs, check out our¬†hands-onfrom launch day.) While the build quality isn’t quite up to the standards set¬†my the brand’s more expensive cameras, such as the¬†LC-Wide, it’s reassuringly robust compared to the likes¬†of the Diana Mini.

The camera chassis itself is relatively compact, although obviously the detachable flash, which fits on the¬†side of the body, adds a fair bit of bulk. The lens board can be twisted into the body of the camera to make¬†it more compact (simply turn it 45 degrees until it clicks), although you need to make sure that it’s fully¬†extended for shooting. There’s a message on the extension that reads “Only shoot if you can see me!” –¬†and as the shutter release won’t go when the lens is collapsed, this shouldn’t be a problem. Although a¬†useful feature if space is at a premium in your bag (and to stop the camera going off by accident), we¬†found that it was easier just to leave the lens extended all of the time, as it only takes up a few extra mm.

You can read the rest of the article here on Pocket-lint.com (originally published 05/08/11).

Polaroid – how instant snaps came back

Polaroid - how instant snaps came backHere’s a feature that I wrote for Pocket-lint.com following an interview with Polaroid’s MD, Graeme Chapman.

In musical terms, kooky popstrel Lady Gaga, singer-songwriter and actor Sting and rock duo The Kills¬†haven’t got much in common, but one thing that they all share is a passion for Polaroid. In fact, Gaga is¬†such a big fan of the cult instant-photo brand that the company recently took the unusual step of making her its creative¬†director.

We settled down for a chat with Polaroid MD Graeme Chapman to find out more about how the brand has¬†risen from the ashes after going bankrupt, not once but twice, and just what on earth he was thinking when he offered one of music’s most eccentric stars a seat on the board.

“Lady Gaga has introduced us to a whole new audience who’ve never experienced Polaroid before. For the¬†18-25 year olds, it’s a completely new thing.”

Seated on the sunny roof-top terrace of a well-known Greek restaurant in central London – a venue that has played host to The Beatles and the 1966 world cup-winning team, among others – Chapman explains that¬†this isn’t merely a case of a celebrity slapping their name on a product – Gaga genuinely does get involved.

“She was using Polaroid cameras at her concerts – taking snaps of her audience and then handing them out¬†to the crowd. She wanted to be involved and had some ideas that she wanted to develop. At first, she was¬†employed as a brand ambassador but very quickly we realised that her ideas were worth pursuing and that¬†she wanted to play an active part in developing the products, so she’s now creative director.”

The Polaroid Grey Label range is the result of the Lady Gaga collaboration and comprises three products, the¬†first of which – the¬†GL10 instant printer¬†– has just been launched. Using Zink inkless printing, the compact¬†printer can be used to print photos from your mobile phone, via USB or Bluetooth. The printer is compatible¬†with most handsets, including Android, BlackBerry and Windows models, but not iOS devices. However,¬†that’s something that’s set to change in the not-too-distant future.

You can read the rest of the article here on Pocket-lint.com (originally published 03/08/11).

Space shuttle: the ultimate gadget – 30 years of service

Space shuttle final launchHere’s a feature that I wrote for Pocket-lint.com on the history of the space shuttle to coincide with the final mission.

Despite lifting off 135 times, making an appearance in a Bond film, and even its immortalisation in Lego, the famous space shuttle is taking early retirement. On 8 July 2011, the Atlantis orbiter will embark on the very last space shuttle mission bringing NASA’s shuttle programme to an end after 30 years. It’s the end of an era, both for space exploration and for technology, so it seems only fitting to look back over the life and times of the space shuttle, the amazing gadgets and gizmos that make her go and find out why the programme is coming to an end and what happens next.

Firstly, let’s deal with the basics. What is the space shuttle? Well, it was the first reusable orbital space craft, unlike the old Saturn V rockets as used in the Apollo missions (including the moon landings) that could only be used once. The concept of a spacecraft returning and landing horizontally, like a plane, was born in the 1950s, although development of the space shuttle didn’t actually begin until the 1970s, after the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was given the official go-ahead by president Richard Nixon in 1969.

The very first space shuttle orbiter was named Enterprise and was designed to perform test flights in the Earth’s atmosphere, so it was never actually ready for spaceflight. Construction began in 1974 and it first took to the sky in 1977. Supposedly, the shuttle was originally going to be called Constitution but was re-named following a campaign by Star Trek fans who thought that it should be named after the Starship Enterprise. Serving US president Gerald Ford said that he was “partial to the name”, but that may have had more to do with the fact that he spent much of his WWII naval service on aircraft carrier USS Monterey, which served with the famous USS Enterprise, the most decorated warship in the conflict. However, adding some weight to the sci-fi story, or at least making full use of the publicity that it generated, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and a fair number of the cast were present at Enterprise’s dedicaton ceremony.

You can read the rest of the article here on Pocket-lint.com (originally published 08/07/11).

Lomography LC-Wide review

Lomography LC-WideAnalogue camera specialist Lomography recently expanded its classic LC-A lineup when it unveiled the LC-Wide, featuring a new wide angle lens and a choice of picture formats. The original LC-A was first manufactured 27 years ago and was then replaced by the LC-A+ in 2006. Packing a considerable heritage, the LC-Wide may be the most modern snapper to join the lineup, but how does it compare to the LC-A+ and is it worth trading up?

Measuring in at 108 x 68 x 44.5mm, the LC-Wide is pretty much the same size as its older sibling and feels just as sturdy in the hand. It tips the scales at 220g (not including the battery and film) which is more or less the same as the LC-A+. Although a fair bit larger than most modern digital cameras, the pleasingly chunky chassis is palm-sized so it won’t take up to too much room in your bag and its relative bulk actually means that it can be held far more comforably than many smaller cameras. The textured finish also means that there’s plenty of grip to keep it slipping from your hand and it also comes with a detachable wrist strip for extra safety.

In terms of looks, it boasts the same vintage asthetics as previous LC-A models with a few added touches to make it clear that this is an upgrade. The lens casing on the front of the camera is slightly wider to accomodate the new wide-angle 17mm lens, and the extra protrusion sports a thin red trim. Apart from these differences and a couple of very minor aesthetic additions (such as the text around the lens) the camera looks more or less the same as the LC-A+.

You can read the rest of the article here on Pocket-lint.com (originally published 21/06/11).