Monday 5 December 2016

Tech review: Weckler on the latest gadgets

Published 19/11/2016 | 02:30

Cannon 5D Mark IV
Cannon 5D Mark IV
TP Link smart wifi plug

Reviewed by our Technology Editor this week are the Canon 5D Mark IV and the TP-Link WiFi Smart Plug.  

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Canon's big beast is only worth it  for the pros

Canon 5D Mark IV

Price: €3,999 from Conn's Cameras

Rating: 4 Stars

I have a mixed view of Canon's new marquee DSLR, the 5D Mark IV, which I've had for a couple of weeks. On one hand, this is arguably the most complete, best-quality camera you can buy for under €5,000. It has added features that give it turbo-charged extra functionality.

On the other hand, I have a nagging feeling that it may be overkill for anyone except actual professionals or deeply committed, highly active amateurs.

I should say that I'm the satisfied owner of a (cheaper, older) Canon 6D and several good Canon lenses, so I'm in a decent position to assess the 5D Mark IV with this sensibility in mind.

Let's look at the Mark IV's impressive array of features.

The 30-megapixel camera is a step up in resolution from the Mark III (22 megapixels) and the 6D (20 megapixels), even if it's still somewhat behind Canon's other top pro-am model, the 50-megapixel 5DS. This means that photos are that much more detailed, meaning you can blow them up with more confidence or crop normal shots to make panoramas or portraits.

There is a superb 61-point autofocus system which I found helpful for getting clean shots quickly. Its improved seven-frames-per-second shooting (and much bigger buffer) also meant that I was better placed to catch the critical action bit of a kid's penalty kick.

Canon has worked on other things under the hood, like its ISO range for low-light pictures. It's pretty astonishing how well this now works. If you're into video, this is the first of Canon's pro-am range to shoot in 4K and in slow motion. (I'll admit I'm not a video shooter on a DSLR: I still find the file-sizes way too high to conveniently share online.)

The display is a touchscreen, although it's still a fixed, non-swivel version. There's Wi-Fi, GPS and also NFC (for Bluetooth connections). And of course it has dual memory card slots (SD and Compact Flash).

In short, this is an amazing camera. If you already have one or more Canon lenses and want something at the top of its category, by all means go for it: you honestly won't get anything better short of moving up to an Annie Leibowitz grade of medium format camera (which costs another couple of thousand).

But a word of caution for more casual photographers: several of these features are luxuries instead of necessities.

If I simply wanted a high-quality camera kit from scratch for around the same money, I'd go for a cheaper body (like the 6D) and an extra lens or two.

Plug 'n' play with  connected sockets

TP-Link WiFi Smart Plug  

Price: €35

Rating: 4 Stars

Talk of 'connected' or 'smart' homes often causes eyes to roll. It's not just the ludicrous cost that such concepts have historically had, with their expensive rewiring requirements. It's that no one really explained what a 'connected' or 'smart' home really was or why it would be of any use to non-millionaires.

Today, products such as TP-Link's WiFi Smart Plug are recasting the connected home in a pragmatic, everyday light.

At its most basic, this smart plug lets you control whatever is plugged into it to from your phone (via the free TP Link Kasa phone app for either iPhone or Android). At a minimum, this means switching stuff on and off remotely, no matter where you might be.

But you can also program it. For example, you can ask it to keep track of when the sun goes down (by checking online) and to switch itself on when this happens. Or you can set an endless variety of 'scenes' for your home. For example, with a few different smart plugs, you can turn on a home cinema system, a dimmed light in the corner and some other mood-setter with one pre-programmed tap on the phone.

The plug works by connecting to your home Wi-Fi and giving your phone access to it via that route, no matter where you are.

One of the most useful applications is its 'away' mode. If you attach a lamp to the plug, the away mode will make sure that the light switches on and off in a random fashion, making it look like there's someone in the house.

If you buy more than one of the plugs, it lets you name each one ("kitchen radio", "hall light" or whatever you like).

One of the most interesting features is an energy-usage counter. The plug reports back to your phone how much energy the connected device has used and how long it has been running. It even gives you your average consumption and run times that day or over the last seven or 30 days.

It's also made to work with Amazon's Alexa, most commonly used through its Echo gadget. However, as the Echo is not yet officially on sale in Ireland (although it seems to work okay if you bring one over from the UK), this probably isn't as big a selling point as it might be.

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