Sometimes it's about having the most megapixels, and sometimes it's not. The path to getting better pictures, better sound or even better frags doesn't stop just because you've got the fastest, most powerful piece of equipment you can afford. We offer you a collection of sage advise on how you can take your tech game to the next level.
Upgrade your photography
Get Better At Photography By Marrying Technique And Art
By Alvin Soon
1 Master a mode
The exposure triangle, made up of shutter speed, aperture and ISO, form the foundations for mastering a camera. Taken together, however, they can be a lot to juggle. Here’s one way to learn: shoot exclusively in one mode, Shutter or Aperture, and leave the other settings on automatic until you’re familiar with how each affects the shot.
When you’re comfortable shooting in both Shutter and Aperture Priority modes, then wander over to Manual mode and see how you do. This experience will help you learn how to see exposure the way the camera sees.
2 Look at more photographs
Photography is half technology, half art. To nourish your artistic side, study images by master photographers. Looking beyond what’s online (i.e. Instagram) will show you more visual styles than what’s currently trending, it’ll enrich your visual vocabulary, and it’ll also help you find your own aesthetic by revealing whom you’re personally drawn to.
Need some names to start with? Try Ansel Adams for black and white landscapes, Joe McNally for lighting magic, Vivian Maier for street photography, and any anthology with ‘National Geographic’ in the name.
TIP: Go beyond photography and study classical painters. Leonard da Vinci’s The Last Supper, for example, is a master class in using leading lines to tell a story.
TIP: One of the best raw convertors is Adobe Lightroom. The latest versions of Lightroom, however, apply automatic adjustments in the background; so to see your raw images in their full naked flatness, apply the ‘Zeroed’ preset during import.
3 Save in raw
If you already know the ins and outs of your camera but you’re still shooting JPEG, it’s time to dive into the world of raw negatives. Think of a raw flle is an unprocessed digital negative from the camera, when you open it up it looks flat and dull, because it’s just data pulled right from the sensor.
Learning how to process raw gives you several advantages. For one, a raw file contains more data than a compressed JPEG, giving you more dynamic range to work with. It also teaches you how to tune your own images according to your own preferences, without relying on a manufacturer’s image processing engine to do it for you.
Upgrade Your Gear
Better gear isn’t the goal; the goal is to get gear that helps you learn to be better.
An interchangeable lens camera with a PSAM Mode and command dial
An interchangeable lens camera with a dedicated PSAM (Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual) Mode and command dial will help you dive deep into the nuts and bolts of making pictures. The ability to swap lenses will open up new ways of seeing, and a Mode dial will help you learn how to juggle the exposure triangle (shutter speed, aperture, and ISO). A command dial then easily lets you change settings on the fly, so you can find out just how changing the shutter speed or aperture affects the image.
A 35mm or 50mm prime lens
Get a 35mm or 50mm prime lens to go with that new interchangeable lens camera. A prime lens is a fixed focal length lens with a fast aperture, normally an f/1.8.
If you’re used to zooming, using a prime lens sounds like a limitation, but it’s a limitation that will help you improve your photography by teaching you how to see the way a lens sees. Consider that legendary photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson were known for shooting exclusively with prime lenses.
We suggest going with a 35mm or 50mm as these are focal lengths that more closely approximate what the human eye sees, and are easier to start with than a wide 24mm or a telephoto 85mm.
An external flash
There’s no getting around how awful on-camera flash is. But flash is downright necessary when there’s not enough light. The biggest difference you can make when shooting with flash is to use an external flash. Just by learning how to bounce your flash off the ceiling or a sidewall will make a big difference to the quality of your images.
PICTURES 123RF, CANON, LEICA, OLYMPUS, NIKON, VIVIAN MAIER
Upgrade your gaming
Raise Your Skill Level By Changing Your Gaming Habits
By James Lu
1 Learn better posture
Poor posture means your body has to work harder to keep you up, which leads to fatigue and possible injury. Good posture reduces strain on your muscles, letting you game for longer at a higher performance level. Good posture has also been shown to improve cognitive function through improved physiological function. So what is good posture? To put it simply, you want your body to be as neutral and relaxed as possible, that means you should sit up straight with your head back instead of hunching forward, keep both of your feet firmly on the floor, about shoulder width apart, and your arms in a relaxed neutral position. For PC gamers, it can help to tilt your keyboard in slightly when gaming for a more natural wrist position.
2 Save your eyes with F.lux
Your eyes are your most important tool in gaming. Simply put: if your eyes are tired, you don’t perform well. If you spend all day in front of a computer screen (or even consoles, tablets, and phones) you're exposed to harmful blue light. As a gamer, consider getting a pair of specialized computer glasses like those made by Gunnar Optiks, or use a program like f.lux, which directly adjusts screen brightness and color settings based on the time of day to minimize eye fatigue and strain.
TIP: f.lux can possible interfere with full screen gaming and cause FPS drops, so we recommend turning on the ‘safe mode’, which drastically reduces performance impact during games.
3 Stop snacking on Doritos and Mountain Dew
Doritos and Mountain Dew may be the quintessential gaming snack, but eating and drinking them is doing your performance no good. Eating lots of simple carbohydrates and foods high in sodium can quickly cause tiredness and fatigue. As for Mountain Dew, while its high sugar content does provide you with a quick burst of energy, after the initial rush, it will leave you sleepy and sluggish. Additionally, carbonated beverages contain dissolved carbon dioxide, which increases the carbon dioxide in your body after consumption, also leading to a feeling of tiredness and fatigue. A good tip to avoid the munchies is to keep a big water bottle next to you while you game. Constantly drinking water keeps you hydrated and playing at your best.
Upgrade your gear
Make sure you have the right tools for the job.
While we generally aim for 60FPS as the minimum for good gaming, you can get an even better experience by upgrading to a monitor with an even higher refresh rate. Competitive FPS players in particular will appreciate smoother gameplay and reduced input lag of playing at 144Hz. Do note that you’ll only see the benefit of a 144Hz monitor if your system can consistently get 144FPS – in fact, you’ll actually want higher than 144FPS (aim for about 200FPS to be safe) to make sure you’re not getting frame rate drops during intense action. Do this by investing in a higher-end graphics card or by lowering your graphics settings.
If you’re serious about improving your body posture, it’s worth looking into getting a dedicated gaming chair. SecretLab and DXRacer are the most popular choices, with both companies making full back chairs inspired by racing car seats, and made to conform to the human body shape in order to provide better lateral support and weight distribution. If you think gaming chairs are overpriced, it’s worth noting that a good ergonomic office chair can easily cost $1,000 (the Herman Miller Embody will set you back $2,000) so with the SecretLab Throne costing just $399, it’s actually quite affordable.
A mouse with a Pixart PMW3360 sensor
Any gamer that needs precise, reliable mouse movement can benefit from a better mouse sensor. There are tons of mice out there to choose from, but there is no better sensor right now than Pixart’s PMW3360. The 3360 sensor is practically flawless, and tracks perfectly at any DPI, with no jitters, smoothing or acceleration. A few brands even have their own custom version of it, but they’re all essentially the same. Logitech’s version is called the PMW3366, Steelseries calls it the TrueMove3, and Razer calls it the PMW3389-T3QU.
PICTURES 123RF, ASUS, PIXART, SECRETLAB
Upgrade your audio
Three Simple Steps To The Best Audio Experience You Will Ever Have
By Marcus Wong
1 Make sure your headphones really suits your head
And we don’t just mean in term of looks. Literally every headphone manufacturer has different tunings for different lines of headphones, so be sure to get one with a sound signature that best fits the type of music you like to listen to.
Also, be sure to make sure it physically fits your ears well. Poor fitting in-ear headphones will just keep slipping out of your ear, while poor fitting over-ear headphones can give you a bad case of headphone clamp. In both instances, it’s almost impossible to truly enjoy how good a pair of headphones can sound, if you can't get comfortable with them in the long run.
Test out your preferred model physically at a showroom, or better yet, from a friend who owns a pair.
2 Get digital audio at the highest quality possible
It’s pretty simple. You can have the greatest headphones in the world, but if your source (i.e. the music you’re listening to) is low quality, then all you get is the best version of bad audio.
These days, most music listening is done via streaming on our phones, and a lot of these files are highly compressed; sacrificing quality for space and bandwidth.
As a guide, try not to go for files with bit rates lower than 192kbps. And do give the paid subscriptions of services such as Tidal and Spotify a shot. Both off er much higher streaming quality than available free options online.
When you (and our audio equipment) are ready to take the next step, look for High Resolution Audio. You'll thank us.
3 Bridge the link by investing in a good DAC/DAP
Digital-to-Analog Converters exist in practically every device that plays audio files, but the ones that come with your phone, tablet or laptop generally aren’t very good. Good DACs don’t have to cost and arm and a leg, and some come with amplifier functions built-in, which will color the sound slightly to suit your preference and also allow you to use higher-end headphones.
Of course, this means you’ll have to spend some time testing out diff erent DACs (and/or amplifiers) to find which one suits you best, but that’s all part of the fun. Alternatively, you could look at a dedicated Digital Audio Player, as this would come with a quality DAC and an amplifier to start. Of course, we have some recommendations to get you started.
Upgrade your gear
Ready for better sound? Here are some products you might want to check out.
One of the latest from Sony, the NW-A45 is a portable player that’s only about the size of your mobile phone. It comes with its own DAC and supports most of the audio formats out there, including the MQA format mentioned above. Plus, it comes with a microSD slot so you can easily add more memory when the 16GB on-board space is used up. Use it with Sony’s LDAC compatible headphones, and you’ll able to get wireless audio streamed to you at a maximum rate of 990 kbps – much better than the usual Bluetooth rates.
Speaking of Sony headphones, the noise-cancelling capabilities of the WH- 1000XM2 are great if you find yourself in busy environments a lot. These are over-ear headphones that have fairly large ear cups and a 30-hour battery life so you can really indulge in your music. Pair it with the NW-A45 above, and you’ll have a great audio experience whether you’re listening wired or wirelessly.
If you must use your smartphone as your main audio device, check out the FiiO BTR1. This is a DAC that uses Bluetooth 4.2 aptX streaming for a better audio experience. Basically, this turns any headphone into a wireless one, and feeds it better sound to boot. Given how more and more mobile phone manufacturers seem to be eliminating the headphone jack these days, the regular 3.5mm stereo headphone jack on the BTR1 means you’ll be able to keep using your headphones no matter the connection your phone comes with.
PICTURES 123RF, VERNON WONG, SPOTIFY, FIIO, SONY
Upgrade your network
Give Your Wi-Fi Network A Boost Without Spending Any Money
By Kenny Yeo
Have you ever bought a new wireless router only to discover that your Wi-Fi experience at home hasn’t really improved? You see, there’s more to Wi-Fi performance than just a faster processor and higher data transfer rates. Here are some simple things you can do to boost your Wi-Fi network at home without spending a cent.
1 Reposition your router
The first thing you can do is to simply relocate your router to a more central location. A router broadcasts Wi-Fi signals in very much the same way as a light bulb shines light across the room. In order to efficiently light the room up, you have to put the bulb in a central location. It is the same with routers.
Generally speaking, the router should be placed in the center of the area that you want Wi-Fi coverage. Additionally, try not to position it near any obstructions like walls, glass, mirrors, or any electronic or metallic objects. These can interfere with the Wi-Fi signal. Also, don’t put it on the floor. Instead, try to put it in an elevated position preferably on a desk, side table, or console table.
2 Tweak your router
If you're adventurous, there are a couple of other things that you can do to improve the performance of your router for free. One of the first things you should do is to ensure that your router is running on the latest firmware. Router manufacturers often make software tweaks to improve the performance and security of their routers, so it is important to make sure that your router is running on the absolute latest software.
And since you are already in your router’s management system, you might as well take the opportunity to optimize your router settings. One thing you should definitely do is to make sure that you are using a Wi-Fi channel that is not used by other Wi-Fi networks in your area, or at least one that is not heavily congested.
Additionally, if you have a tri-band router, it is worth spending the time and effort to manually manage your Wi-Fi networks. Our recommendation is to turn off band steering, which automatically assigns client devices, and manually assign performance-critical devices to one of the 5GHz networks and then everything else to the other 5GHz network or even the 2.4GHz network. This way, you ensure that performance-critical devices get the best possible performance.
Upgrade your gear
Sometimes you can fix your Wi-Fi issues with ease. Sometimes, your router needs a little more help.
Trying to change the position of your router is sometimes easier said than done. One of the biggest challenges in doing so is that for most people, their fiber terminal point and optical modem is usually positioned near the entrance of the house, which is often not in the center of the home. One way to get around this problem is to position the router centrally and then connect it to the optical modem using a longer Ethernet cable. Admittedly, this is not the most elegant solution, but it is the most cost-effective and efficient.
Portal Wi-Fi Router
Wi-Fi congestion is one of the main reasons behind slow and unreliable Wi-Fi. The Portal Wi-Fi Router is unique because it is one of the few routers to supports Dynamic Frequency Selection (DFS). Very briefly, this means that the Portal Wi-Fi router can use Wi-Fi channels are that typically reserved for radar use by the military and weather services. In other words, it can utilize channels that are out of bounds to most routers, which means less congestion and better performance and network reliability.
Range extenders are perhaps the most affordable way of expanding Wi-Fi coverage. However, be warned range extenders are really only signal boosters. As a result, expect performance to suffer some degradation, even if Wi-Fi coverage is expanded. Nevertheless, their affordability makes them attractive options. Some Wi-Fi is better than no Wi-Fi at all right?
PICTURES LYNKSYS, ASUS, PORTAL, SONY
Live and work smarter
It S All About Making Use Of The Right Tools
By Koh Wanzi
1 Take advantage of Cortana
Most people have become accustomed to interacting with a smartphone digital assistant, but rarely make use of them on a PCs. Microsoft’s digital assistant may not have the clout of Siri or Google Assistant, but it’s actually quite effective in providing contextual reminders about appointments, meetings, and deadlines. If you feel uncomfortable talking to your PC, you don’t have to. Cortana accepts text input as well, so you can manually ask it to remind you to buy eggs from the grocery store. You can even choose to have recurring reminders, but obviously this is more useful for less frequent occurrences than paying your monthly bill.
2 Use a password manager
Facebook. Twitter. Spotify. Amazon. How many accounts do you have to keep track of? For most people, the simple solution has always been to use a single password for everything, but it's definitely unwise these days. Cybercrime has become so much more sophisticated, that you're constantly reading about new security breaches or data hacks happening every other month.
This is where password managers like LastPass or 1Password come in. These allow you to keep track of all your log-in credentials and ensure you never have to hit the “Forgot my password” button, while allowing you to maintain a unique password for each account. They can also help you generate randomized and secure passwords, saving you from inputting your dog’s name in the password field.
3 Give Vivaldi a shot
Vivaldi is the browser you never ever heard of. This hidden gem was built using the Chromium web browser project, so most of your favorite Chrome extensions will work here just fine. However, it also comes with a bunch of nifty features right out of the box, including support for mouse gestures, more powerful tab management with tab stacking, customizable keyboard shortcuts, and a built-in notepad that lives in the browser sidebar. Opening a new tab is as simple as holding your right mouse button and swiping down. In addition, you can hit F2 to summon the Quick Commands box, which lets you search through everything from keyboard shortcuts to your bookmarks and browser history. What’s not to like?
Upgrade your gear
Whoever said "work" gadgets have to be boring?
OWC Thunderbolt 3 dock
OWC’s new Thunderbolt 3 dock is a godsend for users of the new MacBook Pro. Only USB-C ports available? Fret not. The dock is equipped with no less than 13 ports, including five USB 3.1 (Gen 1) Type-A ports, two Thunderbolt 3 ports, one Mini DisplayPort output, and yes, an SD card reader. There’s even a Gigabit Ethernet connector available, so this is definitely the dock to have if you’re lamenting the lack of connectivity options on your MacBook. It also comes in space gray and silver, just like the Apple notebooks it was made for.
Logitech MX Master 2S
If you’re looking to get a mouse for work, you can’t go wrong with the Logitech MX Master 2S. This ergonomic, right-handed mouse comes with seven buttons and not one, but two, scroll wheels, all of which can be customized. The second scroll wheel sits above your thumb, so you can use it to scroll horizontally through browser tabs and spreadsheets. Finally, the 4,000DPI Darkfield sensor will track on just about any surface, including glass, so you don’t have to worry about getting a mousepad.
Massdrop x Input Club K-Type Mechanical Keyboard
When you spend all day typing on your keyboard, getting a good one is one of the biggest favors you can do for yourself. The K-Type mechanical keyboard is the product of a collaboration between Massdrop and Input Club, and it is an artfully crafted tool that will be the centerpiece of your workstation. It features a unibody aluminum frame and Input Club’s own Halo switch, which is a brand new switch type modeled after the force curve of Topre switches. Better still, it is fully programmable, and boasts hot-swappable switches and a beautiful wraparound RGB light bar.
PICTURES MICROSOFT, LAST PASS, VIVALDI, OWC, INPUT CLUB, LOGITECH
By Team HWM Digital Art Mar Kabayan Art Direction by Orland Punzalan