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Streaming Gear: The Best Deals

Just in case you’ve been living under a rock, streaming has completely changed the way consumers experience entertainment, and in turn, has totally rocked the entertainment industry. And with the popularity and easy access to the platform (you only need a smartphone to start streaming) and the ridiculous amounts of success it has enabled (Ninja, popular Fortnite streamer, made nearly $10 million in 2018 and advanced in 2019 to a total net worth of $15 million and rising), more and more gaming enthusiasts are hoping to turn their hobby into a stream of income (no pun intended).

While streaming can certainly be as simple as downloading a streaming app to your phone and giving it a go, there are a few pieces of equipment that can take it from home video quality to a stream with crispy graphics, quality sound, and professional transitions. The content, though, is completely up to you!

This post may contain affiliate links to help me pay to keep this blog on the web. For more on that, check here.

Control Deck

A control is essentially a small additional keyboard that you use to program commands for your stream, like playing a sound, starting a screen transition, muting your mic, turning your camera on or off, etc. The possibilities are only limited by what your streaming program can handle and how many buttons your control deck keyboard has.

Many professionals opt for the Elgato Stream Deck. Because it is a popular option, there is a lot on online support and tutorials that show you how you can really maximize your new tool. But for beginning streamers, it might be too much of an investment.

If you want the functionality of the stream deck and don’t mind a bit of DIY, you can easily set up custom commands on any additional keyboard pad like the ones below!

  1. The ELSRA USB keypad can be programmed to do basic shortcuts for your streaming at less than HALF the cost of the Elgato Stream Deck. Bonus: it has clear keys so you print your own button layouts so you can completely customize the way it looks!

2. Use the Touch Portal app with your smartphone or tablet.

While this does require that you already have a tablet or smartphone that you can dedicate during streams to just this function, the app has a free version that let’s you do a lot, and working within the app is simple and easy to understand, even for a novice streamer.

If you don’t have a tablet or you need to have your phone accessible and want some more screen real estate, I highly recommend an ipad. A basic ipad is only twice the price of the Elgato stream deck, and it has many more functions than just being a streaming control deck.

My favorite option is the ipad pro. I absolutely love all the things I can do on it, from composing music, to creating art, it’s a powerhouse of a tablet that makes my workflow so much easier. Surprisingly, amazon actually has the best deal currently (even considering my military discount with Apple). While it is definitely going to be the most expensive thing on the list, for the price, you’re getting every single penny’s worth. I use it to do my merch design, manage my storefronts, social media hubs, and so much more. If you have an artist on your hands, pairing it with the apple pencil turns your ipad into a draw on tablet. Similar products marketed to artists are upwards of three GRAND. Imagine my delight when I found the experience on the ipad pro in ProCreate nearly a seamless transition from pencil on paper drawing. It is SUCH a joy to use!

While that might be too much of an investment for a budding streamer, you could always opt to using your current phone, tablet, or even old smartphone without cell service to host the app to get a feel for it before making a large dollar investment.

Microphone

You can often get away as a streamer without using a camera at all. But you absolutely will not gain followers if listening to your stream is a chore. Most gaming and headset microphones won’t cut it for the competitive world of streaming. But the good news is that getting a quality sound is a lot less expensive these days!

If you’ve seen me in stream, then you have definitely seen this bad boy in the corner. This is my beloved Yeti mic by Blue, aka the Blue Yeti.

The sound from this is so incredibly crispy. It has multiple functions so you can get the balance just right for your streaming location, whether it’s a corner of your bedroom or an office all to yourself. I often get compliments on how clear my mic sounds when I use this while gaming instead of my headset. And since it is USB, you can also use it with a console!

If that’s a little outside of your budget, then be sure to check out it’s little brother, the Snowball!

It runs about half to less than half of the Blue Yeti and is still a massive improvement over a headset mic. And don’t forget to use your Amazon Prime benefits – free shipping and returns! So if it doesn’t work for your set up, you can easily return it. (Psst! If you aren’t sure if Amazon Prime is right for you, click here for a free 30-day trial. It’s a great time of year to give it a go!)

Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial

Aesthetics

Making your stream look good can be very simple or very complicated. From green screens, to overlays, the options are as endless as your imagination and budget. But one easy way to make it look great it to use LED tape. Even something like your bedroom suddenly looks like a high tech gaming center!

This LED tape has a self adhesive 3m backing that makes putting it up really easy. Even if I wasn’t a streamer, I would have wanted this YEARS ago because it’s FREAKING COOL. I mean, can you imagine having your room and door outlined in sweet LEDs? It would have been the coolest thing ever when I was 14 (and I’m not so secretly excited about pimping out my workspace now at 33). And at under $50, it’s going to make a HUGE impression on your ambitious streamer!

Extras

As a digital illustrator, blogger, and streamer, I sit in front of screens a LOT. Combine that with my favorite form of entertainment (video games) that’s a lot time spent looking at screens. I was getting eye fatigue very easily. I got myself a pair of blue light blocking lenses, and it really does help!

Because I also have glasses, I got these fit over style glasses. They look great over my prescription lenses or if I’m wearing contacts. This a great gift for anyone who is a computer most of the day!

Well, there you have it. Some of my favorite bargain accessories for successful streamers and content creators. If you were going to add something to this list, what would it be? Let me know in the comments. Have an awesome day!

"XOXO, Amber" in hand-styled script
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Tampa Bay Comic Con

Tampa Bay Comic Con this year (2019) was so much fun! It is also a bit of a home-base convention for me; in 2014 I went to TBCC for the first time, and in 2015, it was my first troop with the Tampa Bay Squad of the 501st Legion. So it was only fitting to bring it all around and this year, go back to Florida and troop on the home front.

This year, our (the 501st’) presence at TBCC was aimed at raising funds for The Peter Mayhew Foundation.

The Peter Mayhew Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization devoted to the alleviation of disease, pain, suffering, and the financial toll brought on by life’s traumatic events. By providing its available resources directly to deserving children and adults in need, we assist numerous charitable organizations in order to promote and boost their effectiveness and provide support where needed.

http://petermayhewfoundation.org/
Me and R2-D2 ready to work for the Legion!

When we show up at larger conventions that allow us space, we love to show you with actual props a bit of what it is we do! You’ve probably seen Stormtroopers walking around and assumed it was us, and you might be right; with over 14,000 active members across the globe, you have probably seen us! But we do more than dress up like plastic spacemen on the weekends. We are a 100% volunteer charity support group. We donate our time, our talents, and money to work on movie replica costumes, props, and even sets. We then use those to educate the public about our organization, visit children and families in the hospital, do birthday parties, weddings – you name it! We never charge for our appearances, and money earned goes right back into the community, either locally or the larger, overarching global community of charities that we support. To learn more about what we do, how we can show up for your event, or how you can be a part of the magic, go here! https://www.501st.com/

My favorite part of working the table is encouraging guests to play in our trash.

When I was not at the 501st table interacting with guests, I was able to be a nerd and fully immerse myself in the amazing art, merch, and cosplays that were all over!

Look at this AMAZING Vanellope!!!
Die, die, die!

Each convention I’ve been to has a little bit of a different flavor, but you can expect to see the usual: an artist alley, where people display and sell their own, unique creations. This year, I bought a mimic keychain a la Dungeons & Dragons, an enamel pin set, a pair of clay polymer lollipop earrings (perfect for Jester!) and an awesome woodblock print of Majora’s mask. There are booths with assorted merch (though I personally tend to stick to purchasing original artist’s wares) and plenty of collectibles. And of course, there are awesome cosplays! Check the events at whatever convention you are attending. You could spend your entire day shopping, but if a giant, geek-themed flea market isn’t your type of a good time, be sure to check out the special guests or go to one of the many events that also take place. Some conventions even have gaming areas, where you can learn a new game or meet some new players for a game you already love. (And yes, board games, card games, video games, role playing games, all of it are included!)

This man looked SO MUCH like Gibbs from NCIS, particularly in profile.
And check out this details!!!
The 90s kid in me was FREAKING OUT.

The food at a convention varies. Check the website if you have certain nutritional needs or food allergies. Most conventions don’t allow you to take in your own food or drinks. BUT! You can take in an empty water bottle, which is what I recommend. With water and a CAN of soda running you a minimum of $4, it makes good sense to bring a bottle that you can confidently fill up at any water fountain for FREE. I recommend this Brita filter bottle for the price, but the LifeStraw bottle is great option for a little more (and the filters are easier to find, I’ve noticed). For TBCC, with so many amazing eateries in walking distance, it just makes sense to go for a nice mid-con walk and get some local cuisine. Just make sure you have an umbrella or poncho just in case! (As I was leaving for the night, the skies opened up!)

And this reminds me of another VERY IMPORTANT tip I have, especially for you art collectors: get yourself a POSTER TUBE. It will keep it from getting bent, which is what will most likely happen at a con if you shove it in a bag. And it will also keep it from getting wet when properly capped. Trust me. Even if you’re not sure if you’ll find something you’ll fall in love with enough to take home (you will), bring the poster tube. Just do it. For under $20, you can ensure your prized piece of art makes it home where you can put it up for everyone to enjoy. And finally, a tip you may not remember until after you need it, but here it is:

And that’s a wrap on what to expect at TBCC and how to enjoy it! Stay tuned for some awesome vendor highlights! Y’all, there are some goodies you will NOT want to miss!!!

"XOXO, Amber" in hand-styled script
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Best Instant Camera?

The first camera tested, the original Polaroid One Step.

This post may contain affiliate links to help me pay to keep this blog on the web. For more on that, check here

There are a lot of instant photo options in the market nowadays. From the most popular Instax Mini with it’s array of colorful accessories, to the new HP Sprocket that connects to your smartphone. In a digital age where most of our photos are looked at from a screen and stored away often never to be seen again (at least until Facebook or other social media platform reminds us of throwback days), printed photos are regaining their appeal. And there’s good reason.

I can still spend a good hour looking through my grandmother’s many photo albums. I own only a few photo albums, and all from my childhood, but the memories they bring back are fond, and the pictures are often humorous and endearing. In this digital age of social media, we cull through numerous photos and take many more until we get “the one.” In the days of film, you often had no idea what the result would be until you picked up the packet of images from the photo department.

And the allure is stronger with old-fashioned instant cameras like the Polaroid. You get just one chance to capture a single moment that can never be replicated. Instant cameras are a piece of magic.

But like in many fields, there are so many options, it’s hard to make a buying decision. I am not particularly loyal to brands, mostly because this is a field where I have little experience. Polaroid has made its name synonymous with the square format print, but does that mean it is the best option? I wanted to find out.

The Contenders

Original Polaroid One Step Land Camera

I used Color 600 film paired with the neutral density filters. Because the 600 film is more sensitive to light than film meant for the OneStep, the neutral density (ND) filter reduces the amount of light the camera allows in so that your photos are not over-exposed (that sun bleached look). You can use the SX-70 film, but it was not available in time for me to do this review.

Ease of Use: ★★★★☆

The Original OneStep is very simple. You insert the film cartridge, hold down the shutter to eject the protective covering, and you are ready to start shooting. The only thing that makes the original OneStep difficult to finagle is its bulk. It’s odd size and shape make it impossible to simply slip into a purse and be on your way to capturing memories. But for taking instant photos, it could hardly be easier.

Functionality: ★★☆☆☆

Not surprising at all, this camera has very little features. It takes photos. It has a flash. I could not figure out if the flash could be turned off. (There was no manual with my ebay purchase.)

Accessories: ★★★☆☆

The Polaroid OneStep Land Camera with Q-Light Accessory

While retro and not currently manufactured, the availability of accessories for this little guy are prolific. In its prime, Polaroid produced several different types of accessories, mostly flashes of some sort, that improved (or were marketed to improve) the quality of the images. Carrying cases, storage cases, and film are quite easily come by, though they are not necessarily inexpensive. And since the accessories are no longer in reproduction, you have to rely on third party resales to obtain them. Surprisingly, I was able to find more accessories for this camera than the other two tested.

Photo quality: ★☆☆☆☆

Selfie comparison between all camera prints.

This old guy has perhaps seen better days. Whether it is an issue of needing a refurbishing, I don’t know. But the results were murky at best, garbage at worst. In the photo above, the original camera tests resulted in row 1 image 2 and row 2 image 1.

Overall: ★★☆☆☆

Summary: With the many instant print cameras out there, don’t bother spending your money on a retro model – unless you enjoy having a camera to refurbish.

2. Polaroid OneStep2

The new Polaroid OneStep2 has just enough retro charm and functionality to make me want to purchase it just by looking at it. (Is that just me?) It has several different color options (I bought Sky Blue, but there is also classic white, and even a Stranger Things limited edition)

Because this is the next generation of Polaroid’s OneStep series, I want to get into some comparisons before we get to the rating. (If that doesn’t interest you, you can scroll right down to the stars!)

I found the two cameras to be very similar in size. I expected having the shutter button beneath the much improved larger flash might lead to having stark finger shadows, but that never happened. It did take me forever, though, to figure out where my film indicator was. All other instant print cameras I have used have the scrolling number wheel somewhere on the back of the camera housing. It took me looking it up in the manual (duh) for me to realize that those little dots on the top of the camera are LED lights that indicate the amount of film left. I think that is a nice touch, once you know its purpose.

Having the button on the front also made taking selfies really easy considering the cameras bulk. And the USB charging is an upgrade that certainly makes it more sustainable (retro film packages include a battery to run the camera) and ensure you always have a well-powered flash. Overall, a very nice, recognizable upgrade.

Ease of Use: ★★★★★

Whether taking a selfie or a group photo, indoor or outdoor, flash or no flash, the OneStep2 was simple to manage and understand (aside from my LED film indicator mystery mentioned above). It was honestly just fun to use.

Functionality: ★★★★☆

With its USB charging and the ability to turn off the flash, this little camera already has more than one leg up on its other instant camera competitors.

Accessories: ★★★☆☆

Even though its accessories are more up to date than the those of its retro predecessor, they are few and more pricey than other brands, like Fuji’s instax series. Your choices of accessories are limited. The strap is exactly the same strap as the original OneStep, a thin band that will rub your neck raw, although it can actually be removed and replaced with almost any other neck strap, which you would want to do. (Unless turtlenecks and protective ascots are your thing. You do you.)

Photo quality: ★★★★☆

Photos taken with the OneStep2

For instant print cameras, Polaroid really does have the winning combination. The colors, while off from what our eyes see, read very clearly once developed. If you want something closer to what the naked sees, your cell phone will take better photos. But instant cameras are an entirely different realm, and in this arena, Polaroid is king. The images included crisp, clear details from different shooting distances and selfies equally.

Overall: ★★★★☆

This was so close to five stars. There were a few things I liked better on the next camera that I would like to be able to Frankenstein together for the perfect instant camera, but ultimately, those little things come down to personal preference. If you like the look and excitement of what Polaroid prints have to offer, you won’t be disappointed with this camera.

3. Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6

This is the camera that I started out assuming would win. The SQ6 has more features than any other instant camera in its price range. It’s design and shape make it preferable to taking it with you and capturing memories on the go.

Ease of Use: ★★★★★

This camera was the easiest to use in multiple ways. It has two shutter buttons, one on the top, and one on the front which is optimal for taking a selfie. And when it comes to selfies, the mirror on the front of this little guy makes it possible to make sure everyone is in the shot. (But seriously, don’t try getting a selfie with more than three. There will not be room. Unless you enjoy the “crammed too many in a photo booth” look.)

Because of its slim design, it hung flat against my body and was even able to slide into a medium purse. Of the three, this was by far the more portable design.

While I did give it five stars, the SQ6 did have one annoying hang up: the viewfinder is on the right hand side. That seems like such an odd thing to nitpick, but when every single camera I have held in my hand (which is a stinkin’ lot) has the viewfinder on the left or in the center, trying to use a viewfinder on the right hand felt like I was trying to write with my non-dominant hand. I’m certain this is something anyone could easily adjust to, but it may throw you off. It certainly did me, as well as anyone I handed it to.

It doesn’t seem like much, but trust me, that right hand viewfinder is wack.

Functionality: ★★★★★

A duel exposure image taken with SQ6

Out of every camera I tried, this one had more ways to use than your simple point and shoot. Take a look at the back of the camera again and see for yourself all the different shooting modes.

Shooting modes, left to right: Auto, Selfie, Macro, Landscape, Double Exposure,
Lighten, and finally, Darken.

This camera gets you the most for the price. In fact, the only downsides I can think of are 1) I just wish the prints were larger, and 2) it uses disposable batteries. The USB features of the OneStep2 just feel right with everything else that I have that is compatible. I hate trying to remember what type of battery each electronic takes. Come on, Fujifilm, this is 2020, not 1992. That being said, the camera is functionally top of the line in its price range.

Accessories: ★★★★☆

The line of Fujifilm Instax cameras have been established for years, and with that, an assortment of different accessories have been produced. From photo albums, locker or fridge magnet frames, neck straps, cases, and more, there is something to personal your Instax experience to your liking. However, there are fewer accessories for the SQ6. Most of the Instax accessories are for its Mini series of cameras.

Out of the box, the SQ6 has a premium neck strap (complete with padding) and even colored flash gels. I was really excited about the inclusion of gels. These flash gels are more superior than those flimsy little strips of color plastic film like most gels. These are durable plastic clip-ons that attach right over the flash and are thick enough to not be blown away or lost in the depths of a camera bag or purse.

Photo quality: ★★★★☆

Photos taken by the SQ6

The SQ6 takes square format images, much like the beloved Polaroid. However, SQ6 prints much smaller images.

The SQ6 print on the left, OneStep2 on the right.

When at the optimal distance, the pictures were crisp. However, in order to get a good selfie, you have to remain very still. While in the photo above it looks fine, in person the Polaroid has much sharper details. (But to be fair, I did not use Selfie mode on the SQ6 as I hadn’t learned about that yet. It would probably clear that up.)

When it comes to color rendering, it does a good job, as well as one can expect from instant print cameras.

Overall: ★★★★★

This camera is the clear winner for the price. It really allows you to do more with less.

That being said . . . I didn’t like the photos as much as I liked the Polaroid’s prints. There was just something about the size that didn’t feel right. It’s not something I can explain, so it most likely comes to an emotional attachment or nostalgia to the size of the Polaroid prints. The Fujifilm square prints are odd. While the Instax line of minis prints are familiar, like a business card, the SQ6 prints don’t feel right in my hand. It’s an odd place to be, because if I were to base it off enjoyment of the photos alone, I would pick the OneStep2. But as an overall experience (handling the camera, using it with the strap around my neck, finagling its size into normal activities) the SQ6 is the clear winner (aside from the right side viewfinder).

If you want to purchase, you can find great deals on Amazon here:

Polaroid OneStep2
Fujifilm Instax SQ6


So, while my conclusions were not exactly conclusive, I hope that my experiences and details help you to figure out which square format instant camera you would prefer. Which one would you buy?

"XOXO, Amber" in hand-styled script
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Best Gifts for D&D Lovers

So – you have someone in your life who just looooooves the world’s greatest roleplaying game. Maybe that makes sense to you. Maybe it doesn’t. Either way, I’ve curated some pretty cool stuff for the roleplaying gamer in your life, perfect for Christmas, birthdays, or anytime you want brownie points. (Kiss up to the DM, maybe?)

This post may contain affiliate links. (Spoiler alert: it does.) For the legal jargon (and my personal stance on recommendations) click here. 

1. Party Mug

Trust me, any D&D player will definitely appreciate the humor in this amazing mug.  Label it as a “measuring mug for healing potions” for critical effect!

2. Player’s Travel Bag 

Any prepared player has several things they take with them: a handbook, characters sheets, dice, spell sheets, a notebook, dice, writing utensils, mini figures, and have I mentioned dice? (More on dice later!) This bag looks small, but it really does fit two standard books inside, three if you squeeze. It really let’s you keep all the necessities in one, easily portable bag for going to your friend’s place to play.

3. Awesome Dice Bag 

Since playing DnD, I caught something, a bug, a virus. It worms its way down into the very fiber of your soul. Like tapeworms, I guess. But instead of craving food, you must. Have. DICE. ALL THE DICE. And every DnD player I have met has a respectable fear of this disease or infestation. It can become a real problem. Oh, and in case I’m not clear, I don’t mean hoarding all of the dice is a problem; I meant storing and transporting them can be a real pain.  This dice bag not only holds up to 300 dice, it has POCKETS to SORT your various and sundry dice, and it comes in eight different colors. Go take a gander yerself here. 

<a target=”_blank” href=”https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07KCYSSRK/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B07KCYSSRK&linkCode=as2&tag=ambertheblo03-20&linkId=8781f33f577468adde33a9eac122cd37″><img border=”0″ src=”//ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?_encoding=UTF8&MarketPlace=US&ASIN=B07KCYSSRK&ServiceVersion=20070822&ID=AsinImage&WS=1&Format=_SL250_&tag=ambertheblo03-20″ ></a><img src=”//ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=ambertheblo03-20&l=am2&o=1&a=B07KCYSSRK” width=”1″ height=”1″ border=”0″ alt=”” style=”border:none !important; margin:0px !important;” />

4. 100-side Die

You don’t get to roll a 100-sided die (called a D100) very often, but trust me: it is way more satisfying to be able to whip out one of these polyhedral giants and let ‘er rip versus pressing a button on your app.  Imagine it: pressing a button and instantly having some randomizer algorithm provide with any number between 1 and 100, or watching the fate of your character, your entire party, and ultimately the entire game universe literally roll across the table in front you! Get the die.

5. A Fuzzy Blanket

I was recently gifted this exact blanket, and let me tell you, it is FUZZY.  In fact, I have had it with me for four constant days. I rue the day I will have to wash it, but at this rate, I fear it is coming soon.  I know it isn’t available online, but I can’t help but sing it’s praises. Everyone needs an awesome blanket like this. It is the perfect accompaniment to playing and pretending it’s the skin of a soft, fuzzy beast. Since it isn’t going to be available everywhere, here are some pretty great options, too! 

6. More Dice

Duh! You should have expected this to be on the list. I mean, I sort of listed a single die above, but that doesn’t count. My favorite dice are from Kraken, which you can find at www.krakendice.com. If you can’t find the perfect fit there, Chessex makes my second favorite dice! Of course, this little things only matter to dice connoisseurs. For someone who doesn’t have a robust collection, these are actually really great!  They are even good for the seasoned player who likes to have extras on hand for newcomers (because who wants to let someone else use up all the luck in your dice?) or DMs.

7. Character Notebook

This has got to be the coolest and most fun way to keep track of character inventory. Any RPGer would be happy to have this in their arsenal. And you are supporting an individual artist who can keep making more awesome things like this! Snag this here!

8. Dice Earrings

Yes, all of your geeky jewelry dreams have come true. Who DOESN’T want a dodecahedron hanging from their earlobes?! And yes, I promise that’s a real word. Enter jewelry Valhalla here.

9. Erasable Gel Pens 

Roleplayers do a lot of writing, which comes with its fair share of erasing. Pencils are great, and easy to come by. But an erasable gel pen? This stuff is gold, and it blows peoples minds whenever I bring it to a session and they see it do its magic for the first time. It just brings something to the table when you can write with the finality of pen, the smoothness of gel, and any color you want – but still have the confidence to know you can erase it, just in case.

BONUS ITEM!

10. This Awesome Shirt

This shirt is super comfy, unisex, and available in ten colors and in sizes XS – 4X so that anyone can flaunt their love of the dice. (It is also designed by yours truly!)

So there you have it! Ten awesome things I think any RPGer would love to have gifted to them, no matter the occasion. My favorite holiday is DM Appreciation Day, colloquially known as “thanks for not killing my character” day. Word of advice: celebrate often.

Cheers!