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A MODERN DARKROOM

Pixel Sunscreen -- See Your Screen
In Broad Daylight

ttp-pss2.jpg By MIKE PASINI
Editor
The Imaging Resource Digital Photography Newsletter

Review Date: March 2009

We thought we'd seen the end of darkrooms but it turns out they still have one useful purpose. No, not for hosting trays of chemicals and unexposed paper and film. But for shielding your computer from the harsh glare of the sun.

If you've ever tried to use your laptop outdoors, you know the problem. That bright screen that's almost blinding at two in the morning when you can't sleep and decide to check email is impossible to make out even in the shade on a sunny day.

Sunlight is a lot brighter than we think. And a lot brighter than any laptop can really cope with.

VERSION TWO | Back to Contents

But sometimes you really do need your laptop with you when you're shooting outdoors. And if that's the situation, you need a $69 Pixel Sunscreen from Think Tank.

The company has just revamped the original design, basing the new model on feedback from photographers using it in the field. "While we had no complaints about the first version," explains company founder and CEO Dough Murdoch, "we knew that it wasn't yet fully optimized for what really happens in the field."

Non-Slip. The bottom of the Sunscreen has non-slip material.

So Doug, Mike Sturm and Lily Fisher redesigned "95 percent" of the Sunscreen to provide the following features:

  • Portability: Version 2.0 folds down into a 14-inch diagonal circle about an inch thick when compressed.
  • Darker: Version 2.0 adds an overhead cover so both you and the Sunscreen are in the dark.
  • Wind Resistant: With an open front, the Sunscreen can be a big sail in the wind, anchored only by your laptop, so Think Tank made it possible to secure the front.
  • No Slipping or Sliding: Version 2.0 adds non-slip material to the outside and inside of the 201D nylon fabric to make it more stable in slippery conditions.
  • Uncluttered: Version two has openings for cords and cables in the side and back so your laptop can snuggle into the deepest recesses of the hood. Pockets on the side hold pens, pads, cards and other accessories. There's even a moveable clip for hanging printed information.

The design has evolved from the rectangular format of the original model to a round form more like a folded reflector. Mike Sturm explained, "This is the shape the spring steel wanted to live." And you don't argue with steel.

FEATURES | Back to Contents

The official specifications for the product describe it as a collapsible sun shade that completely blocks peripheral light for 12- to 17-inch laptops. Your 17-inch laptop may push the sides out a bit, but it still fits. They also warn against using it as a laptop case (it's not). Product highlights include:

  • Small (14 inches) round portable package weighing 1.2 lbs.
  • Expanded size is 14.5 wide x 22 tall x 19.5 deep
  • Pullover head cover for extreme conditions
  • Side and back openings for routing cords and cables
  • Non-slip material inside and out
  • Inside mesh pockets
  • Removable clip for hanging paperwork

Included with the product are:

  • Pop up sun shield
  • Pullover head cover
  • Removable clip
TAKING IT OUT | Back to Contents

We gave an early production unit a test. Our outdoor laptop is an antique whose screen, even when new, would not have been described as bright. Usually we use it under an umbrella (OK, parasol) -- but with great difficulty. It's just very hard to see the screen even in the shade.

Ready for Action. It's not very large, just 14 inches diagonal, like carrying folding reflectors.

So one balmy day, we took the Sunscreen and our laptop outside to see if we could do any better.

Yes, we can.

The sunscreen pops up in a flash, thanks to the wire spiral structure that reminded us of our Lite Igloo. These things look easy enough when you're opening them, but when it comes time to collapse them, we look around for David Copperfield. There's a right way and several hundred disasterously wrong ways to do it.

You can damage these things doing it the wrong way and Think Tank points that out. But unlike the Lite Igloo, there are instructions on the Sunscreen itself as well as a handy printed tag. We won't describe the process, but if you follow the instructions, you'll be fine.

No, No, No. You might think that blue tab is a pull cord, but it's not. It's how you open the pocket on top that holds the hood.

With our gear set out on a table, we popped open the Sunscreen very easily. It sprang to life in one motion, ready for duty.

All you have to do is slip the netting around the outside frame and lift. It's tempting but don't pull the blue tab, which merely opens the pocket that holds the large cover.

Side View. Note the net on the side that contains the collapsed Sunscreen and the pocket on top for the hood.

There's a bit of a curve to the bottom because the wire support structure along the outside edges isn't straight, but as soon as you put a laptop inside, there's no wobble. The sure-grip rubber under the base of the unit keeps it from moving around, too. And there's more of the stuff inside on the base to keep your laptop from slipping as well.

When opened you have roughly 17-inch tall, 15-inch wide and 12-inch deep cavity to place your laptop. Think Tank says you can put a 17-inch laptop inside, too. It will just stretch the side panels around it. Fabric is flexible, after all.

Side Pockets. Inside there's plenty of room to suspend things.

The elastic netting that holds the unit closed is on the outside right panel. And the separate hood that covers both you and the Sunscreen is tucked into a pocket on top.

Inside there are elastic net pockets on the right and left panels to store whatever you like. They're about four inches deep and run the width of the panel (a bit less than a foot) with a Velcro clasp midway.

The Hood. Courtesy of Think Tank Photo.

Below them are short panels held closed by Velcro on the outside that open to allow cables through the bottom of the panel. The back is also open to the outside. And no, the Sunscreen is not waterproof.

The top of the unit has a few goodies, too, including a short belt with a clasp on it so you can hold up a notebook, say, on the left side. In the middle there is an elastic band sewn into three sections to hold other materials. And on the right there's a loop.

THOUGHTFUL DESIGN | Back to Contents

If it seems like a lot of thought has gone into this device, you're right. Usually, you see something like this and think, wow, what a great idea. Then you get it home and find one annoyance after another that makes you wonder what you were thinking. Did the designers ever try this thing?

Not so with the Sunscreen. Every time we thought we'd try something, we found the designers had accommodated our intentions with a pocket or a flap. Take, for example, the handle sown into the rim that appeared on the edge of the closed Sunscreen just when we were trying to think of an easy way to store it.

We just had to learn our way around the device. Five minutes flat. That's all it takes.

CONCLUSION | Back to Contents

So how did it do with our shy laptop?

Well, let's just say we're thinking of buying the old laptop a new bikini. It loves the sun now. It was easily as visible in the Sunscreen as it is indoors, away from the sun. We could even use a mouse with it (on the outside, of course) and connect a power brick. The only thing that really has to be shielded from the sun is the screen.

Compare. Our screen on an overcast day (left) and inside the Sunscreen (right). It really works (note particularly the menus).

But we also gained a side benefit we hadn't expected. Privacy. No, the Sunscreen isn't really suitable for working on an airplane, but if you find yourself in a row of other photographers trying to focus on your work, it's nice to know nobody else can see what you're doing. And if you really want privacy, you can open the hood, slip it over your head and the Sunscreen and be completely in the dark.

Which brings us back to our initial impression of the Sunscreen as a darkroom. But a portable one you'll be glad to duck into now and then.

 

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