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Camping Essentials: ARB 2000 Awning

Camping Essentials: ARB Awning
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I love camping. Aside from the solitude, quiet, and photo ops it affords, I also just love the gear. A good, reliable product that makes the adventure more comfortable, easier, or safer is worth its weight in gold. Because if I'm honest, camping can be a huge pain in the ass. Setting up camp, tearing it down...trying to cook with bugs all around...the heat, the cold... There's a reason most people would rather stay in a hotel.

As a resident of Southern California, I do much of my camping in the local deserts. My proximity to them has fostered a deep fondness for the arid landscape. And when you're out in the desert, your biggest enemy is the sun and the heat. That's why some good, quick shade is a must for desert traveling.

Enter the ARB Awning.

ARB 2000 Awning Review

This style of awning is a camping essential in the world of overland expeditions (4x4 camping). It attaches to the roof of your 4x4 and sets up quick for when you need shelter from the elements. As a landscape photographer, I find it invaluable at camp or when I'm stopping for photos along the journey.

Aside from shade, this awning would be invaluable in the rain. One of my favorite things in the world is to sit out and listen to a rainstorm. Get me out to the desert in a steady rain and I'm in hog heaven. Throw in some scattered thunderstorms and I might never leave. In the past I've always been stuck in my driver's seat to view it through my windshield, but with this awning, in just a few minutes I can have a shelter set up that will not only allow me to soak in the desert sounds while staying dry, but I can even take pictures from underneath it.

Overall I'm very impressed with the quality of this ARB 2000 Awning. I'm actually surprised it's not a more expensive item. The tarp is heavy duty, waterproof, and UV protected...it would take a lot to damage this thing. The support poles are lightweight aluminum that lock with a simple twist to the proper height/length. I was very pleased to see just how stable this awning is once set up. With how lightweight the poles are, I wasn't expecting it to be super strong, but I think it could hold up to some tough weather. With the legs staked down and the guy wires attached, it feels incredibly rigid.

Set up is a piece of cake. ARB claims it can be set up in 30 seconds. With 2 people I actually believe that figure, but doing it solo is a little trickier and will take a few minutes. I've only ever set it up solo, which can be a bit awkward and unwieldy to do, but it's not too difficult. I imagine the 8-foot version (the ARB 2500 Awning) would be nearly impossible to set up solo for many people. The 4-foot version (the ARB 1250 Awning) would be a breeze. Each awning model extends away from the truck about 8-feet.

ARB 2000 Awning Review

ARB 2000 Awning Review

When the awning is rolled up, there is really no "wiggle room" to cause rattling. It's held in tight with 2 velcro straps in an impressively small package. The rolled up awning stays protected under a strong nylon reinforced PVC bag closed with thick zippers. The protective bag is actually one of the most impressive aspects of this ARB awning. You can tell they didn't cut corners here at all. It's going to experience more punishment from the elements than any other part of this awning, so they made sure it was heavy-duty and built to last. I drove around in the rain quite a bit at highway speeds and not a drop of water got past the protective bag.

ARB also makes some awesome accessories for the awning like a mosquito net, a sidewall, and an enclosed room. I have the enclosed room to serve as a kitchen and/or tent which I'll be showing to you in a future blog post and video.

ARB 2000 Awning and ARB Enclosed Room

So if you have a truck or SUV and you like to get out into the elements with it, check out the ARB awning. Camping essentials like this make the journey so much more enjoyable. And with the way it's built, I'm sure it'll last for years to come.

Helpful Links:
- ARB 2000 Awning
- ARB 1250 Awning
- ARB 2500 Awning
- Rhino Rack 31103 Awning Mounts

This blog post and video were not sponsored or endorsed by ARB 4x4 Accessories or any other company.

Guest Blog Post: How Does the iPhone 6 Camera Stack Up?

Hi, folks! Nick Carver here. I have another guest blog post for you, this time by Charles Bell all about the new iPhone 6 Camera. Enjoy!

iPhone 6 Camera Review by Charles Bell

At this point, you have surely heard about Apple's latest smartphone, the iPhone 6. After spending some time with the device over the past few weeks, I wanted to share some thoughts on how the phone's camera stacks up and whether or not it's a useful tool for photographers on the go.

Personally, I try to make sure that my camera is with me at all times—you never know when you can get that perfect shot—but it can be cumbersome lugging it around. That's why I sometimes look to my phone to get the photos I may otherwise miss, and that's also why I was curious to see how the new iPhone's camera performed. Sometimes, your smartphone is really all you have.

As for the phone itself, there were three features that instantly impressed me when I began shooting: The clarity, the lens, and the autofocus. Starting with the clarity, I have been able to achieve such pristine images with the phone that sometimes I forget I'm actually taking photos with a phone. It's worth noting, though, that I made the jump from the iPhone 4, so the increase in clarity may not necessarily be there if you own a 5 or 5s. As for the lens, it provides the ability to achieve an almost-wide lens view. It's not going to match the power or capabilities of your SLR, but it does capture a whole lot more than previous iPhones. It's a little jarring that the lens sticks out of the back, but you'll get used to it.

And then there's the autofocus, which is incredibly fast and a huge jump over its predecessors. I've been able to get some great shots that would otherwise be blurry or out-of-focus on my older phone (and I'd love to share them but my screen is being fixed because I dropped it. Sigh.) It makes sense, then, that  Verizon Wireless touts the autofocus as the biggest improvement to the camera in their listing of the phone. It's true—what you're mostly here for is the improved autofocus, which often targets your subject so quickly that it's surprising. However, if you want a truly improved experience, apparently you'd be better off going with the iPhone 6 Plus.

Although I only have the 6, which means I can't personally attest to this, reviewer  Jim Harmer notes that the Plus has some significantly better features than its not-quite-as-pricy counterpart. He, too, pointed to the improved focus, but he also mentioned the optical image stabilization (the regular 6 only has a digital feature). Additionally, it seems like the Plus does better shooting images at night and in other low-light settings, especially when compared to the previous incarnations of the iPhone.

Another reviewer, Amadou Diallo of Forbes, brings up the fact that Apple may be holding out on an iPhone 6s. And if you own a 5s, he recommends that you sit tight before throwing down some cash for the 6 or 6 Plus. He, too, makes mention of the noteworthy autofocus, though many of the other improvements are found simply by upgrading to iOS 8. You can do that if you own a 4s or better, so, again, he suggests holding out for the 6s. However—and here's where we definitely agree—he recommends that "it’s time to consider moving up to the larger screen, higher resolution low light images, and the convenience of Touch ID" if your phone is a 5 or older.

I also concur with Diallo on this point: "But if you want an Apple device, the iPhone 6 is the best camera the company’s made yet." That's really the most important part here, isn't it? So many folks are loyal to their smartphone brand that they probably already have the latest device or are working toward acquiring it. They're aware that there are differences that can make certain phones better than others, but what it really comes down to is what you like. If you prefer Apple devices and need a damn-good camera attached to it, don't sleep on the iPhone 6 for too long.

Charles Bell is a freelance writer who contributes content to several online publications. 

Gear Review: Best UV Filter

Best UV FilterAs I covered in a previous blog post, UV filters are a great investment to protect the front of your lens. I use them on all of my Canon DSLR lenses. But like I said in the previous post, if you get a good quality UV filter, it will protect the front of your lens without affecting the image one bit. If you get a bad one, it might degrade image quality or create more lens flare.

There’s the key. You need a good one. After all, your lens has high-quality glass with high-quality coatings, better get the same in your UV filter. It’s going to be on your lens 24/7, so this is no place to skimp on quality.

So what’s the best UV filter?

Well, it’s like I tell my students: “You get what you pay for. If you spend $10 on a UV filter, it’ll be crap. If you spend $50+, you can bet it’s good.” And by the way, filters get more expensive for bigger filter thread sizes. The best UV filter in a 58mm filter thread size should run you about $32.00. In a 77mm filter thread size, the same high-quality UV will run you $72.00.

But I’ll make it simple and just tell you my personal recommendation: I use B&W brand UV filters and I love them. Very high-quality stuff. They don’t degrade image quality one bit and their MRC (Multi-Resistant Coating) line of UV filters features some pretty important optical coatings...several of them...and they’re resistant. These coatings help to reduce reflections on the filter, which equates to more light transmission to the lens, and helps keep dust and fingerprints off the filter.

These coatings do make a big difference. It’s what separates the cheap-o stuff from the serious glass. Make sure your UV filters have the MRC coating (or equivalent).

For instance I use this B&W 77mm UV Haze MRC filter from B&H on my Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L lens, my Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS lens, and my Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L lens. Keeps ‘em safe and I don’t have to worry at all about sacrificing image quality.

Best UV FilterNon-coated cheap UV on the left, B+W UV Haze MRC on the right
Notice how much dimmer the reflection is in the multi-coated B+W filter
(The green tinge is just a side effect of the coating, it won't turn your pictures green)

It can hurt a little bit spending over 50 bucks on a filter that won’t improve your photos at all, but resist the temptation to get the cheap Sunpak UV filters at your local Best Buy. You’re better off having nothing on your lens if that’s the case. Get the B&W UV Haze MRC filters. And to make it easy for you, here are links to all the most common filter sizes at B&H in New York (that’s where I buy all of my gear):

Make your expensive DSLR lenses last a long time. Invest in one of these filters for each one of your lenses and replace old filters if they get scratched.

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