A better Garlic Press?

I've been frustrated by garlic presses, until I found 'the one'... I'm a fan of well designed products, and in many cases it's difficult to tell what's going to work well until you get your hands on it. In the case of the humble garlic press I've had a few - some fragile, some that require too much force because they don't have the leverage, and most that were simply a pain to clean.

I used the Ikea Koncis for a while, and while it was robust and simple, cleaning the garlic out from between the pins and from the inside of the barrel was a pain.  This wasn't it. 

I did like the design of the Orblue Propresser press and similar because the pressing tray comes out for cleaning, but generally it's a fiddly design. 

It's simple, consisting of 2 separate parts that fit together easily - the metal grill and the hard plastic plunger (for want of a better word). The parts are all cleanly designed with no crevices or pins to capture garlic. 

You simply drop the garlic in, squeeze, then pull the green handle out to use as a scraper to capture the crushed garlic.

Then flip the metal part over to use the other bit of the green handle to clean out the leftovers, then chuck it in the dishwasher.

For me, the Joseph Joseph Easy Clean Garlic Press is simply the best of the bunch (affiliate link).

Queyras Snowshoeing

I booked a trip with Exodus this winter to go try snoeshoeing with a fabulous mountain guide (Marjolaine - normally based in Briancon) in a highly recommended region of France. The Queyras Regional park is a good snowshoe destination having a series of 'reasonably sized' mountains, but nothing quite as massive (or steep) as the Ecrins to the NW. The trip was called the 'Southern Alps Snowshoe trek', I presume because Exodus don't believe many brits have heard of the Queyras (which is probably true...). 

I started by getting the train from Grenoble to Montdauphin, then catching a taxi up to the tiny hamlet of Montbardon. I did try to find a bus from the train station, but there was only one a day, and luckily as I was waiting to see if there was any taxis available to pickup stray passengers (I hadn't booked) I managed to find one to share that was going in the right direction.

Snowshoes, hiking poles, shovel, avalanche probe and beacon were provided (although I really should have remembered to take my own hiking pole - I hate twist lock poles).

As typical for Exodus treks, the first hike was a simple one up to the Fontanie Plateau, mostly in the clouds at the top, although it cleared for a few minutes from time to time. 10km, 830m climb.

The second day took us back up (via a different route)  over the Fontanie ridge into our second valley to Molines-en-Queyras. 12km, 880m up and 700m down.

View down to Molines-en-Queyras

On the third day we were expecting more blue skies and a big climb to the Guardiole de l'Alp. We got it - sun all of the way and a 12km, 1100m climb. In our case much of the snow had been blown from the SW aspect of the mountain, so as we got to the last 25% we stashed the snowshoes and summited in hiking boots.

I've been experimenting with the new Ricoh Theta S, so this is a 360 video captured during the hike. If you play this on your mobile you should be able to move the phone to view all around, or drop it into a Google Cardboard to be able to look in all directions. Apologies for the shakiness...  the camera was on a selfie stick above my head for most of the time.

The 4th planned snowshoe day was up to Crete du Curlet, to get some good views from the ridge, then back down to the gite in Saint-Veran. 9.2km, 760m ascent.

On the 5th day we were supposed to rest... Hmm... but I didn't fancy trying skiing for the first on some pretty frozen ground, so along with one of the other chaps on the trek we planned a route up the valley past a small chapel, aiming for the Refuge de la Blanche. I had originally planned a route alongside the river, but after consulting with our guide we took a higher route up the valley side, with much better views. Without the constraints of the large group, and with the great soft directional light I we spent a bit more time taking photographs on the way up.

Getting up to the top of the valley was awesome - some of the best views of the week, although the wind was howling across the plateau as we approached the refuge (which thankfully was still open for lunch at around 1pm). After lunch we took the longer route back to explore more of the valley, and approached the boarder with Italy, then turned back, taking the low path. We ended up walking 21.3km with a climb of 1,015m

The last day started along a similar route to the previous day up from Saint Veran, aiming for Col du Longet just to the SE of the Pic de Chaterau Renard. This trek was designed to take us back to the final gite in Molines en Queyras. As on our previous peak, much of the snow had been blown from the SE face of the mountin, but there was plenty of it built up on the far side of the mountain for the descent. It was also a pretty long day - 19.5km, 830m up and 1125m down.

I was taking the odd image with my new Theta S 360 panoramic camera during the trip, which I've geotagged and uploaded to round.me - embedded below.  Photos are captured at a much higher resolution than videos, so take a look below, or look for the same in the round.me app to see it in all of it's full glory on your phone or in a viewer such as Google Cardboard.

I was planning to get the bus back to the train station, but managed to pick up a bug on my last day and wasn't feeling at all good, so our guide dropped me off on her way back to Briancon - Thanks Marjolaine!

What camera should you buy today?

I frequently get asked for advice on tech, and for a while have been thinking I needed a post on the best camera of today for a couple of different use cases.  So this is my no-nonsense opinion... you may agree, you might not, and for sure the tech will be different tomorrow - but for now - scroll down to the sort of photographer you are, and you'll find my current recommendation. None of these are the cheapest options in their category, but I think you'll find if you buy the lowest cost, then sooner or later you'll get the itch to upgrade and spend more over time.  If you don't agree... let me know - either in the comments below, or on twitter @andybryant.

Scroll down to see my recommendations covering the spectrum from the casual, to the super serious photographer.

Casual photographer

Don't whatever you do buy a simple compact camera. Your smart phone is probably good enough, and assuming most of what you want to do with the photos is to share with your family and friends, the phone is already connected.

If you've bought into the iDevice ecosystem, you'll obviously want to choose the latest iPhone 6 Plus. for the rest of us then either the LG G4 or Samsung Galaxy S6 (which even has the ability to shoot raw) are the winners; or if you can handle something a bit thicker, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 is a good choice for a hybrid camera phone.

Hear what The Verge had to say in the comparison below

More reviews: PCAdvisor, DPreview, ephotozine, Tom'sGUIDE

Frustrated Casual Photographer

One of the key limitations you'll find in a phone is the lack of zoom & low light support - but if you still want a compact and light system then it's time to look at the compact camera market. Most cameras are crippled by small sensors, so not vastly better than the best camera phones. If I was buying something here, I'd go directly to the Sony DSC-RX100 IV (or one of the previous versions) with a massive 20.1Mp 1" back illuminated CMOS sensor.

The Canon PowerShot G3 X or the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 are excellent 2nd choices with a similar sized sensor however you sacrifice the compact size, so in this case I'd jump up to an interchangeable lens camera.

Reviews: DPReview, TrustedReviews, KenRockwell

Beginner Serious Photographer

Ok... so you've passed from a snapper into the domain of someone that wants to develop their photography, or to get more manual control over their images. The two things you need now are the ability to change lenses (to go wide or telephoto), and manual controls to let you set exposure (shutter speed or aperture) easily. 3 years ago, this would have meant a digital SLR with a mechanical steampunk-style flipping semi silver mirror and a pentaprism; but now you can get excellent interchangeable lens cameras with digital viewfinders that are just as good.

Whilst there are some excellent single vendor systems out there (such as the Fuji X-T1 or X-T10), I think the best future-proofed solution is to look to the Micro Four Thirds consortium, represented best by Panasonic and Olympus.  Buying lenses in this system means that you have a choice of bodies from multiple companies (including the mighty drone mounted ZenMuse X5 from DJI, or the Black Magic Micro Cinema Camera).

Whilst the MFT system doesn't have the biggest sensors available, the fact that the sensor is smaller means that for the same effective focal length as a 'full frame sensor' the lenses are significantly smaller and lighter. This is a great benefit if you actually want to take your camera out into the world and use it!

Back to the real world - my top recommendation for a starter camera in this space is the new OM-D EM-10 Mk2. Just look at those knurled knobs perfectly placed to control shutter speed, aperture and program mode.  Other notable features include a tilting LCD, 5-axis image stabilization system built into the body, and a 2.36 million EVF.

More info: DPreview announcement, DPreview, RobinWong

Serious Photographer

Ok - so you want to take the next step and move up to something a little more serious... In this case my top recommendation is simply the next one up in the Olympus range - the OM-D E-M5 Mk2.  The EM5-Mk2 has weather sealing, the ability to shoot 40Mp images, a slightly larger build, better video capabilities, improved 5-axis stabilization, articulated screen, numerous customization buttons and retains a similar layout for the aperture & shutter speed controls. 

More info: DPreview, RobinWong

Travelling serious photographer

Ok - so you've bought into the idea that interchangable lens cameras are the way forward, but you want something smaller for travel or for a multi-day hiking trip. In this case I would look to the Panasonic DMC-GM5.  As a micro four thirds camera it has just as good 16Mp sensor as the cameras above, supports all of the same lenses, but fits into a much smaller space.  The key downsides are the small battery (take spares)( and the limited manual controls (which mean you'll be using auto most of the time, only delving into manual when you really need to.

Reviews: DPreview, PhotographyBlog, ePhotoZine

Super serious photographer

Finally, if you're really going to be a purist about needing a full frame sensor, and are willing to spend the extra cash & carry the extra weight, then the best camera out there at the moment in my opinion is the Sony Alpha 7 II or sometimes known as the Sony A7ii. It has 5-axis image stabilization, a 24Mp CMOS sensor, super fast auto-focus (although unfortunately I fear it's still not as good for hitting focus on moving subjects as a DSLR).

If you're into video, then you might be better suited looking to the A7s (dpreview), which has demonstrated some almost unbelievable low light performance.

If you're a pixel peeper with plenty of spare cash - you can now get both super light sensitivity (from a back illuminated sensor), 5 axis stabilization and 42Mp from the Sony A7R II. (Reviews: fstoppers, ColbyBrownMingThein, Luminous Landscape)  [Thanks to Mr Greco for the head's up on this one]

More info: fstoppers, BrianSmith, petapixel, SteveHuff, DPreview, MingThein, CameraLabs, MikeOnTheStreet, AdmiringLight, Luminous Landscape

The future?

What do I think the future holds? Well... as sensor technology improves, I think Olympus will be able to squeeze even better Sony sensors into their micro four thirds bodies pushing up the quality and dynamic range available from these relatively small sensors. On the full-frame end, I think Sony will slowly improve on the deficiencies of the A7 range... So at this point I'm not sure if my next camera will be a new Olympus MFT body; or a full frame A7 III of some form.

Grenoble Zombie Walk 2015

The Rêv'Ailleurs hosted their 2015 edition Zombie Walk today, and I thought I'd try to go capture it in 360, hosting on round.me.  Took a quite bit of work to edit all of the panos, so I went for speed rather than accuracy with the zenith patching, but I think I did enough of a good job for this.

I used my OM-D E-M5 Mk 2 on a remote cable, with Rokinon / Samyang 7.5mm lens and a TomShot360 head on a Bushman Panoramic monolite pole.