COBA Meeting: AutoMate and Camera Insurance

Yesterday was my second Camera Owners of the Bay Area (COBA) monthly meeting. For those who don’t know, COBA is a monthly camera club in the Bay Area typically held on the 2nd Wednesday of every month at Cordura Hall 100 at Stanford University. COBA was founded by Adam Tow, who also presides over the meetings. COBA is intended for photographers (hobbyist, professionals, amateurs, and everyone in between) to have a forum to meet and discuss all things related to photography.

For yesterday’s meeting, our agenda was about a product called AutoMate and Camera Insurance.

AutoMate by The Gadget Works

AutoMate is a really cool hardware and software from The Gadget Works “CEO/CIO/CFO/Janitor” Don French. After spending nearly four years developing AutoMate, he has a great potential tool for photographers. AutoMate are two separate things: a hardware device that is mounted in between the camera and tripod and software that is loaded onto either a laptop or PDA communicating via Bluetooth that allows you to program the hardware and/or trigger manual commands such as firing the shutter or panning horizontally. What AutoMate offers is a much, much simpler way to create extraordinary panoramas like the gigapixel panoramas like Max Lyons. By using a WindowsMobile 6 PDA, you can upload, save, and create “profiles” for the AutoMate hardware to execute. You put in how wide (in degrees) of horizontal panning you want, if you want the images to have any overlap and by how much (in percentages) and then let the machine do all the work of panning horizontally perfectly and vertically while automatically photographing each frame and saving it to the camera’s memory card.

AutoMate isn’t just a panoramic assist, it is also a programmable intervalometer allowing for complex custom programs to create time lapse pictures. One of the cool features of using AutoMate as an intervalometer is that the system sends a wake up pulse at a pre-programmed time that wakes the camera and then fires off the shutter. All the other intervalometer hardware and software require the camera to remain on at all times! Don showed us the intuitive GUI and how easy it is to program custom programs for a variety of uses from panoramic shots to time lapses. AutoMate is relatively easy to setup. There are three sockets: one socket is designed to send a wake up trigger to other items such as strobes (not currently an available option), the middle socket is to trigger the camera’s shutter, and the last socket is to plug in a manual wired remote. AutoMate is powered by four Double AA batteries and also has a DC socket to allow for an external battery source to be plugged into the AutoMate while the main batteries are being changed to save the pre-programmed options. The software is written in VBasic. AutoMate is currently still in beta testing and is open to those interested in being beta testers at a discounted cost of $499. According to Don, after the Gizmodo blog post, he received over 150 beta test request applications in 1 day!

Don demonstrated the AutoMate using his Canon EOS 20D with Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM and it looks and works fantastic! Very, very smooth panning. Don has definitely put a lot of thought and details into this and it shows. Some innovative features is the ability for micro adjustments in case the panning is slightly off. The software looks like there are thousands of combination.

I personally do not do landscape photography, so I’m not that interested in AutoMate, but I do applaud the hard work and the exceptional product that, while still in beta, looks very promising! Thank you for showing us this wonderful product Don! Good luck!

Camera Insurance, A Discussion

The highlight of the night was the discussion on camera insurance. Having camera insurance is important; but having the right insurance is even more important. There are a couple choices depending on what kind of photography you do. If you are a hobbyist or amateur and make no money (not even a cent from time to time), then you can usually add a rider policy onto your home owner or renter’s insurance to cover the cost of damage, lost, or stolen equipment. If you are a hobbyist or amateur who receives money (no matter how little) once in awhile or a professional who is paid, in the eyes of the insurance company, you are considered pro and must get pro insurance, which means higher premiums. One thing that should be mentioned about insuring your photography equipment, especially very expensive equipment, under your home owner’s or renter’s insurance is that you should consider it can be a risk if you make a big claim for loss, stolen, or damage, it can be clause for the insurance company to cancel your entire home owner’s or renter’s policy. $30,000 or less of photography equipment, in my mind, is not worth loosing your home insurance over. Best to get a separate policy just to be on the safe side.

In the meeting, a few people gave examples of what kind of insurance they have relative to what they do. Two professionals have professional insurance, one being Hill & Usher, a company that a lot of professional photographers use. One of the women in our group is insured through State Farm and she recently received a check for the repair cost of a damaged Canon EOS 20D and a hosed Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM from when she accidentally dropped them together on concrete. She said the experience was pain-free, just called them up and explained the situation and they took care of the rest. The one pro who has Hill & Usher let us see his insurance paperwork and contract. His premium is ~$750 annually ($30,000-$50,000 worth of equipment insured) with liability insurance (a big important thing to protect yourself against lawsuits). This being only the base policy, it also comes with rental equipment, pays out for loss profit, etc; seems to be a very good deal for peace of mind. What’s great about photography insurance such as this is that it’s very easy to file and get stuff taken cared of and in a lot of cases, there is no deductible either.

Now for a horror story of why you should never let any insurance lapse. One of the members was detailing back in 2005 when he was shooting a baseball game, somehow someone managed to steal his camera bag (a Domke J-2) from the press area inside which contained several expensive Canon L lenses, lots of compact flash cards, strobes, and other accessories such as backup batteries. Fortunately, he still had his camera body, a Canon EOS 1D, and a Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L USM, which was mounted all on a monopod. Unfortunately he was in-between insurances at this point, and had let the other one lapsed, so $4500 worth of equipment just evaporated!

I’m going to start researching Hill & Usher and price out what it will cost to insure all my equipment under a separate policy and will post details once I’ve got it all figured out.

AutoMate Gallery Images

6 thoughts on “COBA Meeting: AutoMate and Camera Insurance”

  1. Looks good, is it possible to see the output from this setup as I cant seem to find any images taken with it on the web

  2. Originally Posted By Tom SedekLooks good, is it possible to see the output from this setup as I cant seem to find any images taken with it on the web

    Tom, I’m afraid samples aren’t available on the web yet. Don did show us this fabulous shot of Half Dome in Yosemite that was composed of ~106 pics! It was amazing. You can try sending an email to Don to see if he has put it up somewhere online.

  3. You can see the Yosemite pano here:

    And I made some time-lapse movies of the world record-setting climb of El Capitan a couple weeks ago:

    Had I been on the ball and done some research on the route and expected times, I could have used the extended programmability of the AutoMate to automatically track the climbers all the way from the start to the finish in one long, panning, time-lapse movie. Still, it was exciting to catch their most dramatic maneuver, swinging across the Boot Flake.

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