iPhone Photography Gear Review

A few months back, I wrote up a post on the new photography gear I’d be using on our November and December cruises and trip to Disney World, and figured it was probably time to take a look back and see how it all performed. Before getting in to it, I should note that I added one piece to it between those two cruises. In early December, Moment finally finished up their phone case for the iPhone 6s Plus, so I was able to try that out on the second cruise and compare it to the rig I used on the first one.

Let’s take a look at the gear I used on each sailing.

November cruise aboard the Norwegian Escape, Disney World over Thanksgiving, and the Roar Before the 24 in January:

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December cruise aboard the MSC Divina:

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Here’s my take on the individual pieces of each of these kits:

ShoulderPod S1 Grip: I absolutely love this thing. Of all the gear I’m covering here, this was the best money spent. This allows me to get some odd-angle shots in a totally stable way without the feeling that I’m going to drop my phone. As an example, it allowed me to get a couple of my favorite shots using the reflection on the glass of our balcony by holding the phone way over the balcony. At no point was I concerned about this thing falling into the ocean, since I had the S1 to grip on to, and the strap around my wrist:

Morning reflection… #CruiseNorwegian #norwegianescape #connectconference #momentwide #shotoniphone6splus

A photo posted by The Cron Group (@cruiseotter) on

The S1 does an outstanding job of allowing you to take single-handed shots in awkward positions in a stable manner. Seriously, if you only buy one thing in your quest for better smartphone pics, this should be it.  I’ve had a lot of people on these trips approach me about it, all of whom really liked how it felt when they tried it. If you want to help the blog out, you can pick it up here on Amazon :).

Moment wide angle and telephoto lenses: I have a complicated relationship with these. I really like the wide angle, and keep going back and forth on the telephoto. On the first cruise, and again at Disney, I overused the wide angle lens. For the most part, I was treating it as a permanent attachment, and I know better. I’m in the camp that believes you don’t improve image quality by putting glass in front of glass, which is exactly what adding any lens to a smartphone does. I do, however, love that it allows the camera to see more of what’s in front of it without me having to re-position myself. I tried to make that work in close-up scenarios too often, however, only to see later that it added noticeable distortion to the image, giving it an almost fish-eye look. Not the fault of the lens, more my fault for being lazy and not just removing it and backing up.

I got better at determining when to go with a “naked” camera on cruise #2, so for me, there was definitely a learning curve. I did get a lot of excellent shots with it that would have been a pain otherwise, though. This is especially useful for us as travel agents, as I’m able to get more of a hotel room or cruise cabin in a single shot, reducing the number of overall pictures it takes to be able to show off the entire room. For example, here are two shots of the same hotel room, taken from the same point in the room. On the left, no lens. On the right, using the wide angle. Definitely an advantage to having a wider field of view sometimes.

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Moving on to the telephoto, I think my biggest issues were using it indoors. I used it a few times to shoot our general sessions in the main theater on the Escape, attempting to get close-up shots of speakers without having to use digital zoom, and in that setup, with challenging lighting, the shots were no sharper and clearer than those shot using just the built-in digital zoom. Outdoors in the right conditions, this does allow you to gain a closer perspective without the IQ loss that tends to occur when using the iPhone’s digital zoom. In the group of pictures at the end of this post, the shot of Atlantis was taken sitting at the back of the ship using the telephoto lens with no added zoom.

Moment Case:  As mentioned, I didn’t have this until the second cruise, and having it for that only happened because I agreed to give up the one I wanted due to supply shortage. I’d pre-ordered the black/black case on 11/24 with an estimated shipping date of 12/3, but when they finally started shipping on 12/8ish, my order status changed to Back Order. After contacting them, I learned that the system had accepted more orders for that color combination than they could fill, so I could either change to one of the other two options, or wait until some future date when they had more. Reluctantly, I chose to switch to the black/white case, as they didn’t know how long the wait would be.

Up to this point, I hadn’t used Moment’s camera app much, as I prefer Camera+ (and am learning PhotoToaster). Going in to the purchase of this case, I knew I’d have to change over if I wanted to make use of the dedicated shutter button, as it only works with their app. I tried to like it, I really did. I spent the first couple of days after getting the case trying to get used to the app, and even filed feedback on a couple of changes I’d like to see:

  • One thing I like about Camera+ is the ability to edit pics in the app as soon as you shoot. This is something Moment’s app doesn’t have, and the answer I was given was that focusing on the capture side was their priority, with no plans for any editing features since there are so many editing apps out there for people to use. I get it, but it still slows me down when I want to shoot and post stuff fast, so looks like I’ll be staying with Camera+ for now.
  • They currently have no HDR support in the app. Now, Camera+ doesn’t have this on the capture side either, but has the ClarityPro editing built in to allow me to quickly add a similar effect right after taking the shot. They did say this is coming at some point, so there’s that.

There are some general fit and finish things that could be done to make the app look better too, including:

  • A dark theme. Seriously. I hate the white theme. I get that opinions differ, but that’s what choice is for.
  • Connectivity between the case and app seems to drop sporadically, and when it happens, you may not realize the shutter button isn’t working until you’ve missed your shot. If I can’t rely on the hardware button, what’s the point of having it?
  • When the app detects the case, it’d be nice if it would automatically make the on-screen shutter/control buttons smaller (or make them disappear completely) to give the viewfinder more real-estate. Overall, the on-screen controls take up too much space.
  • Too many crashes. This may have been taken care of in some update over the last month or so, but when I was using it on the boat, it crashed on a number of occasions when shooting and reviewing shots in the app. If I can’t trust it, I’m not going to use it.
  • I’d love to see them open up the shutter button connection to other app developers so we’d have the option of using other camera apps with the case.

Even with the above issues, I continued to use the app on the first couple of days on the boat. By day 3, I was back to Camera+ and only using the case to securely mount the lenses. That brings up another point. When not using their case, you have to use mounting plates to attach the lenses to your phone. This really isn’t a big deal, even though a few reviewers have complained about having to stick the plate to the back of the phone. I’ve taken 3 off and have left no damage or residue. It’s really not hard to get that thing off if you take your time. Of the two options for attaching the lenses, it’s the least favorable option, however, as I’m finding that a given mounting plate only lasts for one week-ish long trip. No matter how careful you are mounting and removing lenses, the connection point on the mounting bracket loosens up and you start to worry the lens will come loose and fall out at some point. With the case, no such concern, as that mounting point is a lot more solid than the one on the plate. This means I need to keep at least one extra mounting plate with me on each trip, as I see myself using the first setup more often than using the Moment case. Because of the case’s shape, I can’t really use the ShoulderPod with it either (although I tried), and frankly, I find the S1 more functional than the Moment case.

One other piece of the Moment gear that’s bothering me, the lens caps. Buying them was a no-brainier (frankly, each lens should ship with one) , but it looks like they could stand to be slightly deeper or more rigid than they are, as I’ve had them rub the actual glass on the lens when putting the cap back on, causing smudging in the center of the lens, which in turn meant having to clean the lens quite a bit. I’m sure pressing the center of the lens cap as I put it back on is contributing, but if it were more rigid this wouldn’t be an issue.

The lenses are pretty good quality, imo, and none of the above issues will deter me from continuing to use them. While I’m still learning when to use each in specific scenarios based on what I’ve seen out of them so far, I’ve been able to get some great shots with them under the right conditions, and the wide angle allows me to get more things in the frame of a single shot without having to employ any sort of panoramic functionality. Here are a few samples of shots taken using the Moment lenses over the course of our trips:

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Hotel Review – Disney’s Coronado Springs

For our Thanksgiving trip to Disney World, we’d originally booked a room at Pop Century Resort, one we’ve stayed at in the past, but a few weeks out from this trip, we were able to move the reservation to Coronado Springs for a relatively small increase. Having never stayed there, we decided to give it a try.

Check in was pretty easy here. I’d actually checked in online the day before, and just before noon on our scheduled day of arrival, I got a text letting me know our room was ready for us. Upon arrival, we hit the registration counter, got our keys and some basic information. While the main building lookd fine, one thing that stood out were the lack of Christmas decorations. Jen and I ate dinner at Beaches and Cream that night, and seeing both Beach Club and Yacht Club pretty well saturated in Christmas, were a bit surprised that Coronado Springs had yet to get any love in this area, or maybe it was just so subtle we didn’t’ see them.

After checking in, we headed over to our room, located in the Cabanas section (building 9A, specifically). We’d requested a water view, and got just that, as we had a corner room overlooking the Cabanas village pool. Our room itself was pretty disappointing, especially for a hotel classified as a moderate. Disney really needs to gut these rooms and start over, as they feel like they haven’t been touched in 20 years. We never had an issue with it being clean, it just felt worn and dated. Additionally, one thing we really liked about French Quarter back in May was that there were two sinks, allowing us to get ready faster in the morning. Not so here, as shown in the room pics.

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The Cabanas section does have a little beach with a few hammocks hung, which was kinda cool:

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After getting settled, we spent some time walking the grounds. There are some cool views here, but if you’re out in one of the farther building groups, like Ranchos (property map), it could be a bit of a hike to get to the main building. Ours wasn’t too bad, but I’d say that we definitely didn’t fill our soda mugs up nearly as often due to the added distance from the main building (vs French Quarter). In addition to the main building, there’s also a large pool area in the middle of the property, referred to as the “Dig Site”. This is actually kinda cool, with a Mayan theme to it, and it’s complete with a pool, play area, sand volleyball court, and cantina.

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Back on the Christmas decorations, we did notice a tree and some wreaths in the lobby on one of our last nights there, so either we just didn’t see them initially, or they didn’t decorate the place until after the higher-end hotels were done. We’d visited a couple more properties as part of our Disney Dining plan dinners, and all of those were pretty heavily decorated, so it kinda felt like Coronado Springs was an afterthought in this regard. Frankly, it seemed like a number of areas of this resort were worn and needed attention. Case in point, there are automatic gates on the road that surrounds the property. As you turn in to Coronado Springs, you can turn left or right to get to guest areas before you get to the main gate. Our building was to the right, with one of the automatic gates right there. In our case, the gate in was never working while we were there, it was stuck in the up position. Fear not, however, the “out” gate was working fine, just to be sure that no riff-raff were able to escape the property without a short delay to wait for the arm to raise. We did see someone working on the gate on day 2 or 3, but he wasn’t able to fix it, as the “in” gate remained up the rest of our stay.

Overall, if we were presented with the same choice in the future, I’d probably opt to save my money and keep the Pop Century reservation. The added cost for this being a moderate just didn’t feel warranted in my opinion. Disney knows they’re going to get guests staying here since it’s got a convention center, and as such, may not be concerned about renovating it. Maybe I’m wrong, but this just didn’t live up to ‘moderate’ standards for me.

Here’s a quick rundown of the good/bad, along with a few more pictures of the property:

(Note – I can’t speak to any of the restaurants here, as we didn’t try any)

Pros

  • Easy and quick check-in, room was ready 3 hours ahead of time
  • Some great views around the property
  • Our housekeeper took good care of our room
  • The Dig Site’s a great place for families to hang out when not at parks
  • Queen sized beds, a “moderate standard” (also mentioned in the cons list)
  • Had close-able doors between the beds and bathroom area so people could get ready without bothering those still sleeping
  • Bus transportation was pretty good, and the hotel is pretty close to all parks
  • Pretty good gift shop in the main building
  • Landscaping well done and kept up nicely

Cons

  • The rooms need a lot of TLC. They look like they haven’t been renovated in a looooong time.
  • The beds weren’t comfortable at all to me. Felt like someone grabbed a bunch of random worn-out padding and jammed it in a queen bed shell.
  • Some of the other buildings could make guests feel disconnected from the rest of the resort due to distance from the main building, but that holds true at other hotels on property, too.
  • I can see where it could get really busy when the convention center is full utilized

And of course, a few more pics:

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