January 25, 2016

Getting Started with Capture One Pro: Create Your Own Interface

By David Grover

Capture One Pro is a raw file converter, image editor and asset manager, popular with pro photographers who want both the best in image quality and a specific suite of tools to enable precision results.

Phase One Capture One Pro is different from Adobe Lightroom and Apple Aperture in that the interface can be completely customized to your own preference. You can remove tools you don’t really use and position the various elements of the interface, like the Viewer and thumbnail Browser, in different locations or even spread over multiple monitors.

The Capture One Interface

The interface consists of four key sections.

1. The toolbar: This contains clickable action buttons and the cursor tools (in the center), which change the behavior of the cursor. 

2. Tools placed in Tool Tabs: The tabs are divided into different groups. Hover the mouse over the tabs to display the name. Each Tool Tab contains a set of Tools that can be changed and reordered.

3. The Viewer: The selected image(s) in the browser are shown here.

4. Thumbnails displayed in the Browser: All the thumbnails in the current selected collection are shown here. Collection is the term used to describe any group of images, such as images from an Album, a filtered search result, or a folder.

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©Drew Altdoerffer

Figure 1  

There is a number of different ways to configure each area and also to arrange these areas in your chosen monitor or monitors.

Starting with the toolbar, by right clicking and choosing ‘Customize Toolbar’ (Figure 2), various action buttons, cursor tools and spacers can be dragged into position anywhere on the toolbar. 

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Figure 2

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Figure 3

The gateway customization in Capture One is in the View menu. This menu allows you to change the position of the main elements (Tools, Viewer, Browser) and, to a greater extent, how they are configured. Shortcut keys, which can also be customized, are shown to the right of the options too.

For example, the Browser can either be at the side (left or right) or at the bottom (Figures 4, 5, 6).  The Tools will naturally be on the opposite side of the Browser if you have elected to place that at the side. 

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©Drew Altdoerffer

Figure 4

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©Alexander Flemming

Figure 5

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©Alexander Flemming

Figure 6

Configuring the Tool area

As well as its position, the contents of the tool area can also be configured. Tools are displayed in a number of tool tabs that can contain any number of tools of your choice. The Default workspace contains suggestions for good starting points, and it’s easy to change from there.

Hovering over any Tool Tab indicates the name and shows a reminder of how to reorder the tabs. With a Mac, command-drag will reorder and in Windows control-drag.

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Figure 7

Additional tool tabs can be added by right- or control-clicking on any tool tab. The standard tool tabs can be added, and you can even add a Custom tab.

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Figure 8

Tools can be added or removed from any tab in the same way, but this time choosing Add Tool or Remove Tool.

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Figure 9

Tools can be reordered by dragging and dropping.

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Figure 10

Floating tools can also be created, simply by dragging them out of the Tools area.

This can be very useful for workspaces that need only a couple of tools available but with maximized image area. Some tools, like the Curve tool, Color Balance Tool, and Color Editor tool, can also be enlarged to enable more precise adjustments.

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Figure 11

Both the Browser and Viewer allow further customization. For example, thumbnails can be shown in a Grid, Filmstrip, or Detailed list form, and labels (exposure information, see below) can be hidden or shown in the Viewer. 

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Figure 12 

Once you’re happy with your Workspace, save it to be able to return to it again. Go to Window > Workspace and Save or Delete.

If you regularly want to switch between different workspaces, you can place the Workspaces icon on the toolbar to give you fast access to all your workspaces. 

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Figure 13 

Customizing Keyboard Shortcuts

Using keyboard shortcuts can save a lot of time in your workflow. Capture One has a default set of shortcuts, but it can also be changed. The Edit Keyboard Shortcuts menu (Figure 14) shows the Default set and the opportunity to duplicate this set for further customization.

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Figure 14

Locate the item in the command list, click on the current shortcut (if displayed) and type in a key or key combination. A current list of keyboard shortcuts can be displayed from the Help menu.

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Figure 15 

Basic Workflow in Capture One 

In the default Workspace, tools for adjusting Exposure reside in the Exposure Tool Tab and Tools for adjusting Color in the Color Tool tab. 

Each tool functions in a similar way.

  • Drag a slider to change the value 

  • Double click on a slider to reset it 

  • Use the cursor and keys to change value or enter numerical data. 

  • Click for help 
(if present)
  • Click for Auto adjust 
(if present)

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Figure 16: Copy, reset, and save/recall preset icons

  • Copy the selected values to the adjustments clipboard  

  • Reset all values in the tool (option/alt-click this icon for a 
temporary reset to preview the effect) 

  • Save and/or recall preset values 


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Figure 17: The cursor toolbar at the top of the screen

The cursor toolbar changes the behavior of the cursor. For example, Panning, using a Loupe or Cropping. Most cursor tools show additional options by clicking and holding.

Copying and Applying Adjustments

To copy adjustments from one image to another, first edit one image and then click the Copy Adjustments icon in the toolbar (circled below).

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Figure 18 

Then select additional images in the Browser. (Either shift-click a group of images or ctrl-click (Windows) or cmd-click (Mac) for individual images). 

Then click the Apply Adjustments icon, also in the toolbar: (Figure 19)

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Figure 19

Exporting Images

Images can be exported into final formats in two ways. Either with File > Export Images > Variants or via Process Recipes.

From the File Menu

  • Select the images to be exported 

  • Go to File > Export Images > Variants
  • In the export dialog, decide on the Location, Naming and Recipe for the 
exported images. 

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Figure 20

Via a Process Recipe 

Process Recipes offer a more powerful way to export images. Different Recipes can be created and recalled to export images to any location and in any format. More than one recipe can be used simultaneously.

1. Go to the Output tool tab 


2. Select one or more recipes from the default list. The function of that recipe 
is shown in the Process Recipe tool. (New recipes can be created by 
clicking on the + button in the Process Recipes tool). 


3. Decide on the Output Location and Output Naming in the corresponding tools.

4. Click on the Process button in the Process Summary tool. 


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Figure 21 

More Capture One resources are available at Capture One Tutorials and the Capture One Community

January 21, 2016

All the Video Editor You Need, Free: DaVinci Resolve 12

If you’ve done any sort of of research of the color grading software world, you’ve no doubt come across Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve 12. It is unequivocally one of, if not the, leading stand-alone color grading application. So much so that when asked to do a review of it for this magazine, I quipped “Reviewing DaVinci Resolve to see if it’s worth getting as a color grading tool would be akin to reviewing Photoshop to see if it’s worth getting as a photo editing tool.” Unless you’re working as a professional color grader or visual effects artist at the highest levels of Hollywood or Madison Avenue, DaVinci Resolve is the stand alone tool to get if you want to do more serious, in-depth professional color grading.

However, what makes this review particularly important for you photographers out there breaking into the world of video production is the fact that DaVinci Resolve 12 is now a powerful non-linear editor (NLE) that makes it a contender against the likes of Apple’s Final Cut Pro X and Adobe Premiere Pro CC. (In fact, the user interface sort of looks like the a cross between the two.)

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The NLE capabilities for DaVinci Resolve were actually added a couple of versions ago. But version 12 has added some additional features that have kicked it up the proverbial notch. Most notably, multicam editing and improved audio support, including the ability to export AAF files to Avid Pro Tools as well as VST plugin support. (Pro Tools is a leading stand-alone audio editing tool. Many filmmakers and video producers will have a professional audio engineer finish the audio master of an edit in Pro Tools. So having the ability to now export to Pro Tools from within DaVinci Resolve is huge. With regards to VST plugin support, these are additional audio plugins that expand the amount of audio tweaking you can do directly within DaVinci Resolve.) 

What I want to do in this review is give you the knowledge and perspective you’ll need to make an informed decision about whether to use DaVinci Resolve 12 as your sole NLE. Again, if you want a stand-alone color grading tool, it’s a no-brainer. Get it. Especially since it’s free. That’s right, DaVinici Resolve 12 is free. (Well, as you’ll learn later, nothing is entirely free. But, you will not need to spend any money to get DaVinci Resolve 12). This free version used to be called Lite. They have since removed the Lite designation. So DaVinci Resolve 12 is free, and DaVinci Resolve Studio (with all the bells and whistles) is $995. But the overwhelming majority of you reading this article will never need the Studio version. 

The “Price” is the Power Prerequisite

As my grandmomma used to say in her Southern drawl, “Nothin’ in life is ever free, baby.” Yes, DaVinci Resolve 12 is free. But if you can afford to get the system needed to run it adequately (video plays smoothly without stuttering or becoming sluggish; system doesn't crash; being able to have at least one other program open at the same time, etc.) the cost to get a traditional NLE like Final Cut Pro X or Premiere Pro is most likely negligible. So, in my opinion, cost is not really a factor when making an NLE decision. Especially since a good NLE is essential if you want to do any kind of serious video work.

DaVinci Resolve 12 is more than a “good” NLE. It’s a pretty great one. But the powerful color grading features require a pretty hefty system:

  • The minimum RAM requirement is 8 GB, but 16 GB is recommended. If you can get 32 GB or more, I would.
  • Perhaps the most crucial requirement is your GPU memory (graphics card). Anything under 1GB of VRAM is pointless. At the 1GB level, you’ll probably be okay editing traditional HD footage. I recommend a minimum 1.5 GB of GPU. The website Digital Cinema Demystified (http://www.dcinema.me/) suggests 4GB or more of GPU memory if you want to do 4K work.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that once you add up the investment needed to get an adequate system (especially if you’re a Mac user), the the term “free” is relative. However, chances are many probably already have a beefy enough system.

Who is it for?

So, who should be seriously considering DaVinci Resolve 12? I see two candidates:

  • People who are using another NLE and want to start using a powerful color grading tool that simplifies the color grading finishing process
  • People looking to have the NLE and color grading tool all in one program

Other NLE Users

If you’re already using another NLE, but are looking to up your color grading game, DaVinci Resolve is a no-brainer. Because it’s such a popular tool, there is a wealth of resources to get started. You’ll find a plethora of free tutorials on YouTube. If you don’t want to wade through YouTube, there are great paid training resources too: Lynda.com, ColorGradingCentral.com, RippleTraining.com and GroundControlColor.com are worth strong consideration. My personal recommendation would be Ripple Training for two reasons 1) they’re masters at creating easy-to-follow affordable tutorials and  2) they have Alexis Van Hurkman, who literally wrote the book on DaVinci Resolve training. I’ve also looked at GroundControlColor.com’s offerings and they’re right up there with Ripple Training for ease and affordability.

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Traditionally when you send a project to be professionally color graded in DaVinci Resolve, you export an XML file that DaVinci Resolve imports. This sometimes causes problems as not everything always imports perfectly (especially if you’ve used any kind of plugins in the edit).  DaVinci Resolve’s XML support is significantly improved (particularly for Final Cut Pro X). However, now that DaVinci Resolve’s NLE features are so powerful, once you’ve imported a project from your main NLE, you have more options to fix issues and make editing tweaks in DaVinci Resolve, eliminating the need to go back to your NLE, make those changes, then roundtrip back out to DaVinci Resolve. And since DaVinci Resolve has its own XML exporting feature, any NLE changes you do make can be imported back to your main NLE. 

All Under One Roof

There’s no doubt that Blackmagic Design has super-charged DaVinci Resolve’s editing features to make it your “one stop shop” for editing and grading. If for any reason you’re in the market to switch NLEs, DaVinci Resolve is definitely worth considering. The benefits are obvious. But here’s another wrench to throw in the mix: both Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro X now have options to provide powerful color grading features all-in-one. Premiere Pro CC 2015 will take on Adobe’s previously stand-alone color grader, SpeedGrade. All of those features will now be in Premiere Pro. For Final Cut Pro X users, Color Grading Central released Color Finale for only $99. It essentially works like a plugin but gives you all of the traditional color grading features you’ll need (color wheels, curves, LUTs, etc.)

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Color Finale brings a full color grading feature set directly into Final Cut Pro X. 

It should go without saying that the NLE features in Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro X still have the edge over DaVinci Resolve, and the grading features of DaVinci Resolve far surpass those of Premiere Pro/SpeedGrade and Final Cut Pro X/Color Finale. So determining which you use as your primary NLE may depend on what’s more important to you: NLE features or grading features.

Using DaVinci Resolve as an NLE

For the purposes of this review, I edited a simple video using footage I shot for Creative Mornings Seattle’s “Work” theme (you can see the video at http://daredreamer.fm/dvrvideo). I shot a combination of footage on a Fujifilm X-E2 camera and a Blackmagic 4K Production Camera. My laptop was not beefy enough to edit the 4K footage, so for simplicity I used half-resolution proxy footage that was already created by Final Cut Pro X when I edited the “real” video.

This review isn’t meant to be a tutorial on how to use DaVinci Resolve as an editor, so I’ll just highlight and bullet-point some key findings.

Like any NLE, there is a slight learning curve. But if you have any NLE editing background, it won’t take you long at all to figure everything out.

One of the things I liked was that when setting up my first project, it asked if there’s an NLE system I’m already used to using. This will activate the keyboard shortcuts you’re already familiar with.

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The workspaces for DaVinci Resolve are laid out in sequential order:

  • Media for importing your media
  • Edit for NLE editing
  • Color for grading
  • Deliver for exporting the final video

Here are some major caveats and key features to keep in mind when editing in DaVinci Resolve:

  • Although DaVinci Resolve 12 now supports native AVCHD footage (e.g. from the Sony A7s or Panasonic GH4), depending on your camera system, you may need to drill down to the “Clip” or “Stream” folder to see the clips. Also, audio for these .MTS files doesn’t seem to be supported. The audio from my AVCHD files was not imported, and I found a number of other forum entries with similar problems. The best solution seems to be using an AVCHD video converter (like ClipWrap) to convert the footage to a more compatible file format. For my review, I was using the proxy footage created by Final Cut Pro X. (Depending on when you read this review, this issue may be fixed.)

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I had to drill down to the “Stream” folder/directory of my AVCHD folder to import the files.

  • When you first drop a clip into a project, if the project settings don’t match the clip, DaVinci Resolve will give you the option to change the settings to match. If you accept, you need to restart DaVinci Resolve for the changes to take affect
  • ProRes footage works best with DaVinci Resolve. H.264 can work, but you’ll take a performance hit if you cut in it.

The use of smart bins brings the kind of metadata management power I love about Final Cut Pro X. You can set certain parameters for clips that will automatically get added to your smart bin. You could therefore have clips that are in multiple smart bins (e.g. a 1920x1080p slow motion clip could be both in a 60fps smart bin and a Full HD smart bin).

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Select the parameters for the Smart Bin based on numerous categories.

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Any clips that are both 1920x1080 and 60 fps (or rather specifically, 59.94 fps) will appear in each of these smart bins.

  • The multicam editor is very good. It’s quite similar to Final Cut Pro X, which has arguably the best multicam editor among all the NLEs. You can sync by in/out points, time code or sound. Final Cut Pro X makes it very easy to choose a .wav file as the main audio source for a multicam clip. It takes a bit more tweaking and finessing in DaVinci Resolve if you want to do the same thing. But it is nice that you can open a multicam clip in the timeline to make individual tweaks to clips.
  • You can easily unlink and relink video and audio clips.
  • The various dynamic and asymmetric trimming tools make it easy to quickly trim/expand one or multiple clips simultaneously.
  • DaVinci Resolve gives you quite a few export formats and codecs; but my guess is that most of you reading this will most likely use QuickTime format with the ProRes or H.264 codec. DaVinci Resolve gives you the ability to tweak data rate, resolution, etc.

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  • DaVinci Resolve comes with 16 transitions, five title formats, and eight generators. It also comes with 18 audio plugins. If you want to extend the functionality with different looks and effects, you’ll need to get Open FX plugins. Some are free, most will cost some money. A good place to start is RedGiant.com and FilmConvert.com.

Give it a Spin

If you have the system requirements needed, I see no reason not to download DaVinci Resolve 12 and start playing with it, both as an NLE and a color grader. I know of plenty of editors who edit in more than one system. You may find yourself using one NLE for most of your editing then use DaVinci Resolve to edit a project when you know there will be heavy color grading needed. Just like many of you have backup cameras, it can’t hurt to have a backup NLE.

Ron Dawson is an award winning video producer, author and host of the filmmaking podcast “Radio Film School” as well as the creative business podcast “The Solo Creative,” both located at http://daredreamer.fm. He is based out of Seattle, Washington.

 

January 7, 2016

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December 18, 2015

3 New Image Editors: Alien Skin Exposure X, Anthropics PortraitPro 15, Phase One Capture One Pro 9

By Joan Sherwood

Three new versions of well established image editing applications have recently been released. Each offers different degrees of complexity, function, and style.

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Alien Skin Software has designed their user-friendly Exposure X application to offer creative effects and practical editing in a simple interface and with a streamlined workflow. You can use it as a stand-alone application or  plug-in.

New features include expanded organizational functions, such as the ability to copy, move, rename, and delete files and folders. You can add flags, stars, and colors, filter by presets, and display metadata in thumbnails, preview, and panels.

The application has expanded its raw camera support. It’s capable of non-destructive editing. It uses a catalog-free workflow that does not require importing photos.

New presets include Petzval and Pinhole Camera, and the Freelensing preset has been improved. Brush tools can be used to touch up portraits, lighten or darken part of an image, and to have a preset affect only a specific area. New basic operations include a white balance eyedropper, temperature and tint controls, and a new detail panel with noise reduction and sharpening.

Exposure X is available for free trial. Full versions sell for $149. Discount pricing is available for current users wishing to upgrade. The upgrade is free for purchasers of Exposure 7.

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Anthropics PortraitPro is unique among other image editing applications in that it allows the user to subtly change facial feature shapes in a process called sculpting and enhancing. Though demo videos of PortraitPro 15 show fairly extreme changes in appearance so that before and after effects are easily visible, the user has full control over how much change will be aplied to the original, including a master slider, and it's easy to enhance a subject’s overall look without reducing a natural look to a plasticy sheen.

New features in PortraitPro 15 include full makeup controls, which was a requested feature. With these new controls the photographer can apply bronzer, blush and highlighter; eye shadow, mascara, and eyeliner; as well as lipstick colors and textures. All of these effects come in multiple styles and for a broad range of skin tones.

Another new feature is correction for wide-angle lens distortion commonly seen in “selfie” portraits. As a professional photographer, you’re hardly likely to need this for your portraits, but perhaps you could offer clients a retouch of one of their personal photos as a demonstration of your software skills.

If you have used earlier versions of PortraitPro, you may appreciate the improved mouth detection, a faster and more automated process.

PortraitPro 15 also includes a new Child Mode, which applies sensitive, delicate adjustments to smooth skin splotchiness and such without altering the photo too much.

PortraitPro 15 is available for free trial and in three versions: Standard at $39.95, Studio at $59.95, and Studio Max for $119.95 (prices reflect discounted rates published at time of publication). 

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Phase One Capture One Pro professional imaging software has been known as an outstanding raw conversion tool and a favorite of commercial and architectural photographers, particularly those who photograph using a tethered capture system.

Capture One Pro 9 has expanded its capabilities to broaden its appeal to any photographer who is using Adobe Lightroom for image processing and who wants a faster workflow and improved image quality. New image editing tools include a revised contrast engine, a new brush pack, luma curves and local curves, and the ability to export EIP for catalogs.

New asset management tools include keywording, keyword libraries, and sortable keywords.

There’s no doubt that Capture One Pro is an advanced application and in some cases more than the average portrait photographer would need. Nevertheless, it has proven itself with high-earning professional photographers who are comfortable with an exacting degree of control over their images.

Capture One Pro 9 is available for free trial and to new purchasers for $299. Owners of versions 7 and 8 may upgrade for $99. It is also available by subscription for $15 per month for a single user in a 12-month plan.

https://www.phaseone.com/Products/Software/Capture-One-Pro/Highlights.aspx

December 16, 2015

Access All Around: WD My Cloud EX2100

 By Stan Sholik

With the size of still image and video files constantly increasing and the need to access them on multiple devices anywhere in the world becomes more important, the requirements for media storage become more complex. Even my modest studio sports four desktop computers and a laptop, and I’m never without my iPad or Android tablets and of course my smartphone. And away from the studio I need to access images to show clients or upload images from a shoot for processing as soon as I return. Then there are the Mac and Windows machines at home that I use for my writing, which I need to be able to access photos from the studio computers.

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EX2100 with one 6TB Red NAS Hard Drives 
Photo courtesy WD

Where I used to be able to sneaker-net files around, it became a question of “Which hard drive is the original image on?” There has been a solution to my storage problem for many years and the solution is a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device. These can hold multiple large hard drives, be configured in RAID configurations to guard against data loss, and lie on a network available to other computers and the internet for access from virtually everywhere.

NAS is an ideal solution but with two major downsides: network complexity and cost. Enter the WD My Cloud line of NAS devices. Even before dealing with the complexity of setting up a NAS on your network you must navigate the complexity of choosing a device from the WD site. I settled on an 8GB My Cloud EX2100 NAS from the Personal Cloud, My Cloud Expert line. In the same series are devices ranging from 0GB (you supply the hard drives) to 12TB. MSRP prices range respectively from $249.99 to $749.99.

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The front of the EX2100 shows the access
doors to the two hard drives, a power
button, and a USB 3.0 port for direct copy
of a USB device to the EX2100. ©Stan Sholik

The EX2100 is available for $559.99 including two 4GB WD Red NAS Hard Drives. The Red series of hard drives are designed for NAS devices and feature 1,000,000 hours mean time before failure (MTBF) and special features to lower power consumption and heat when idle.

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The EX2100 holds two drives that you can
configure in a number of different ways. If
one drive fails, it can be easily replaced.
©Stan Sholik

The EX2100 arrived with a two-sided Quick Installation Guide that showed the four steps needed to configure the device to my network. After what I had heard from other photographers with NAS devices and my lack of network knowledge, I had doubts that those directions would be sufficient. But I was completely wrong.

Set-up was as easy as connecting the EX2100 power brick to a wall socket and connecting to the studio network with the supplied Ethernet cable. After using my web browser to connect to it on the network and choosing English from the language options, the EX2100 walked me through a few setup screens and I was done. The NAS shows up as any other hard drive does on Windows or Mac whether they are connected to the network by cable or through Wi-Fi.

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The rear of the ES2100 features two
Gigabit Ethernet ports, a USB 3.0
expansion port, and the connection port
for the power brick. ©Stan Sholik

I chose to set up the EX2100 in RAID 1 for data protection. I could have set it up as two separate 4TB drives (JBOD), one 8GB drive, or RAID 0. Other My Cloud lines offer room for up to five drives for even more redundant RAID configurations. The EX2100 allows me to simply pull out one of the drives if it fails, plug in a new drive, and wait until it rebuilds the data and returns to normal operation.

With all of the computers in the studio playing nicely together, I decided to set up my Android phone and tablet, my iPad, and the laptop I take on location. Android and Apple devices require you to download the free WD My Cloud app from their respective stores. Laptops need to install the free WD My Cloud Desktop for Windows or Mac to access the device from anywhere there is a network connection. It is easiest to do this when connected wirelessly to the network on which the NAS is attached, and that is what I did. Very straightforward after entering an email address and a password.

I used the same process to set up access on my Windows and Mac home computers. It only took minutes and I now have access to the EX2100 for all my devices wherever I have a network connection. WD totally removed the complexity of NAS with the EX2100.

But wait, there’s more. If you can’t fill up the EX2100 with photo or video media, you can use also it to back up your Windows computer with WD Smartware Pro software, or your Mac with a seamless connection to Apple Time Machine right out of the box. You can also back up to a remote NAS, to ElephantDrive cloud backup, to Amazon Web Services, and others. And you can stream content stored on the EX2100 to media players, Smart TVs, gaming consoles, and other Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) devices.

For me, I’m just pleased to have an affordable, RAID 1 storage device holding all of my media files that I can access from anywhere I have an internet connection and on any device I own.

Stan Sholik is a commercial/advertising photographer in Santa Ana, California, specializing in still life and macro photography. His latest book, “Shoot Macro” (Amherst Media), is now available.

November 17, 2015

Lexar XQD More Rugged Means of Storage

By Stan Sholik

All images ©Stan Sholik

201511we_xqd_003.jpgOne could always make the argument that photography was a numbers game, but there can be no doubt about that since the introduction of digital capture. Hardware and software companies have stressed numbers to entice photographers to purchase their latest products with ever increasing resolutions, and image capture and processing speeds. For the few photographers in need of these increased capabilities, the advances have been a boon. For the mainstream, it has often meant increased cost and complexity, while adding little to the process of creating great, or at least memorable, images.

The XQD memory card strikes me as an example of this. Developed by Sony Corporation, Nikon, and SanDisk and made available in 2012 with the introduction of the Nikon D4, XQD cards were promised to deliver increased capture speeds and higher capacity than the compact flash (CF) cards in existence at that time. XQD cards were easily capable of keeping up with the 11 frames per second capture rate of the D4 and could capture more images before slowing the frame rate due to a full camera buffer. Early XQD cards delivered up to 180 MB/s, a high rate when compared to the CF and Secure Digital (SD) of the time.

But technology keeps advancing in all areas, and the latest Lexar Professional 2933x XQD 2.0 card faces stiff competition from Lexar 3400x CFast 2.0 CF and 2000x SDHC cards, both in terms of speed and capacity.

I tested the 128GB Lexar Professional 2933x XQD card in a Nikon D4s vs. a Lexar Professional 32GB 1066x CF card and the results are below. However, as I was using the XQD card, I came to realize that while the specifications may be what memory card manufacturers are using to impress consumers, the XQD cards are what professional photographers really need.

I have dealt with CF cards since the earliest days of digital imaging. And I have done the unthinkable only once—forced a CF card into its slot incorrectly when I was in a hurry, bending the pins and requiring camera repair. Less of a problem with dual slots now, at least you can keep shooting in one slot, but not that day. Those pins, both in the camera and in the card reader, are fragile, It doesn’t take too much to bend one beyond use. This is a real downside to CF cards, along with their lack of weather proofing and shock protection.

I have even more of an issue with SD cards. No pins to deal with, but exposed contacts instead. And sure, we would like our cameras to be smaller and lighter without losing capabilities, but how much larger would they need to be so support a memory card that was less bendable and large enough that it doesn’t get lost somewhere in your pocket or case when you are swapping cards or simply removing it from your camera to plug into your card reader.

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What I discovered is that the XQD card solves all of these issues. The connections are not pins but are three sets of solid contacts in the camera and card reader that could not bend. The contacts fit into the card so that there are no exposed contacts on the card. The XQD card is only 2/3 the size of a CF card, although slightly thicker, so it saves space in the camera while still being a reasonable size to handle and not lose. It also pops in and out of its slot like a SD card, eliminating the need for the space taken up by the ejection button for the CF card.

And even more importantly, the XQD card is rugged. The front and back plates are metal, and I have no reason to doubt Lexar’s claim that the design provides “exceptional resilience in regards to water, temperature, shock/vibration and more.”

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Metal plates on the front and back add to the
ruggedness of the XQD card.

As for performance, the 2933x XQD card outpaced my 1066x CF card. Using a D4s, set to ISO 100, 11 fps, and 1/8,000 second shutter speed, both cards ran to the full buffer capacity of 200 large, fine JPEG captures without slowing down. A dead heat. Shooting with the same settings, but capturing14-bit lossless compression raw images, the XQD card delivered 83 captures before slowing down while the CF card slowed down at 73. While I didn’t test 4K video capture, it seems likely that there would be less danger of dropped frames with the XQD card. If these numbers are meaningful to your work, then the XQD card in a Nikon D4/D4s is the way to go.

Along with this latest XQD card, Lexar released a new XQD card reader, the Professional Workflow XR2. You can use the $50 XR2 as a standalone USB 3.0 reader for the XQD card, or plug the XR2 into one of Lexar’s Professional Workflow hubs along with Lexar card readers for other memory card formats.

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You can use the Professional Workflow XR2 card reader on its own or connected into one of Lexar’s Professional Workflow multi card reader hubs.

Using the XR2, transfer time for 100 D4s raw files into my desktop computer using the XR2 through USB 3.0 is 10 seconds. This compares with the 10 seconds it took to transfer the same number of images D4s raw images from the 1066x CF card through a USB 3.0 card reader to the computer. Another dead heat.

The current downside to XQD cards is their cost. The 128GB Lexar Professional 2933x XQD card I tested has a street price of about $615. But CF cards were expensive when first introduced until production ramped up. With Lexar and Sony the only sources (SanDisk, while involved in development, is not manufacturing XQD cards) and little hardware supporting them, the price will remain high. What is needed is an industry-wide shift from CF and SD cards to XQD cards for professional DSLRs. Then the price will fall as we benefit from the speed and ruggedness of the XQD standard.

Stan Sholik is a commercial/advertising photographer in Santa Ana, California, specializing in still life and macro photography. His latest book, "Shoot Macro" (Amherst Media), is now available.

PROS

High capacity
Fast saves in camera
Fast transfer to computer
Rugged construction

CONS

High cost
Only supported by Nikon D4 and D4s DSLRs and Sony camcorders

A note from Lexar Professional on XQD:

Using additional memory card formats, like XQD, can seem to add to the complexity for photographers. However, XQD cards do deliver faster speeds than CompactFlash and Secure Digital cards, and also offers greater flexibility for future development than the current technology. With any new technology, price and capacity will reach optimal levels over time. 

Is A Custom Computer for You? A Look at Cerise Computers

By Stan Sholik

When shopping for a desktop computer for photo editing, most photographers become absorbed in the specifications of prebuilt computers from Apple, Dell, HP, etc. While trying to maximize performance within their budget they may not be aware that they are looking at computers meant for general consumer use, not optimized for still or video imaging.

Gaming computers feature higher performance along with higher cost, but again are optimized for a purpose that is irrelevant for photographers and videographers. I know. Before the Alienware company was acquired by Dell, I made the mistake of purchasing one of their expensive gaming computers with what looked like great specs. It never met my speed expectations in Adobe Photoshop and other imaging programs, and it failed after a little more than a year.

If you want to spend your time investigating individual parts and finding a system builder who will put them together for you rather than doing photography, that is another option. I’ve tried this also, even building my own system from carefully selected parts. Trust me, it takes time and the ability to follow somewhat obscure instructions if you build it yourself. And when you are done, there is no one to ask when there is a problem.

Then I discovered Cerise Computers. Cerise builds workstations for photographers and videographers. I have three off-the-shelf desktop computers in the studio, including an iMac, that I use for business, writing, software testing, and general computing. And I have one Cerise workstation that is devoted only to my imaging. Full disclosure: I have owned Cerise workstations since 2011, through a couple of generations of Intel processors, and now I would never buy an imaging workstation from any other source.

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Cerise desktop workstations won’t set any styling
trends, but from the case itself to the smallest
component, the components are top quality.
 
©Stan Sholik

There are many reasons for this. While it is important to me that Cerise spends the time to find out what my work entails, what programs I use, and is open to my ideas about what components I think I need in the computer, the most important reason that I’m a loyal client is the support they give when I have a question or a problem. Because Cerise installs only the highest quality components, does all the work in-house in Maryland, and individually tests every computer they deliver, problems are minimal. But if one arises, you call them, a human answers, and you are on your way to a solution. I speak from experience.

Cerise sent me one of their latest recommended workstations for still photographers to test. This setup incorporates the latest Intel i7-4790K Quad-Core 4.0GHz processor, an ASUS Vanguard motherboard, 32GB of Kingston Technology RAM, a PNY Quadro K2200 4GB 128-bit GDDR5 video card, and other top components. This is pretty close to my workstation that Cerise upgraded over my Christmas break last year.

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The rear of the workstation offers the usual input
and output options, with additional USB 3.0 ports
available on the top and front, along with a front-
mounted USB 3.0 card reader. ©Stan Sholik

But I still have computer envy because Cerise installed the latest Intel 750 Series 400GB PCIe internal solid state drive (SSD) on the test workstation for photo editing where my current workstation uses a 1TB 10,000 RPM hard drive. I see the speed increase when working on large files from my D800E. There is also a 480GB internal SSD for the operating system and programs, and a 1TB Western Digital 7200 RPM Enterprise hard drive for image file storage. This Cerise workstation is priced close to $3,000.

Out of curiosity, I brought image files to compare processing speed on a friend’s $9,000 Mac Pro. Honestly, I didn’t see any significant difference in processing speed on the Mac. My friend does video editing, so he benefits from the multi-threaded Intel Xeon processors, but Photoshop does not. Nor does Photoshop benefit from dual video cards, but Windows 7 offers the advantage of 10-bit video with an appropriate video card, such as the Quadro K2200 in the Cerise computer, and a 10-bit capable monitor. At present 10-bit video is yet to be available in a Mac OS. And for videographers, Cerise does put together Xeon-based Windows workstations.

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The build quality is very high with careful cable routing and a clean
interior for maximum cooling airflow. ©Stan Sholik

While you’ll never see inside of a Mac Pro, the interior of the Cerise can be opened and inspected. Messing around inside my Cerise has gotten me in trouble, requiring Cerise to rescue me, but the build quality and careful cable routing will amaze anyone who has opened an off-the-shelf Windows computer. And because of the high quality fans used in the Cerise, it truly runs silently. If the power light weren’t on, you wouldn’t know it was there. With the SSD work drive in the test computer, there isn’t even any noise from hard drive reads and writes.

With image file sizes increasing and imaging software demanding increased amounts of system resources, photographers need computers matched to their needs in order to remain competitive and efficient. You can find information about Cerise Computers and computer options available at cerise.com, but the personal attention that you will receive before, and especially after, the sale is what sets Cerise apart from any other computer company I’ve dealt with.

PROS

Excellent support before and after purchase
Highest quality components
Individually hand built and tested in the US

CONS

High-quality components drive up cost

 

October 20, 2015

First Look at Leica's First Full-Frame Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera

By Theano Nikitas

The just announced Leica SL (Type 601) heralds the company’s first foray into the full-frame (non-rangefinder) mirrorless interchangeable lens category. Prior to release, I spent a few days shooting with an early production model—one of a handful available in the U.S. before its release.

Built around a full-frame, 24-megapixel sensor, the SL is surprisingly hefty for an ILC model. The camera body—which is dust and splashproof—weighs approximately 1.87 pounds with the battery and about 1.70 pounds body only. Its squarish body measures 5.78x4.09x1.53 inches. By itself, the body is manageable, although larger and heavier than other mirrorless cameras, including the Sony a7R II. Add the new 24-90mm lens, and the Leica SL is a handful. Still, I was able to stay out shooting for about an hour or two, occasionally putting the camera down, without too much strain. Shooting in the studio consistently for a couple of hours without a tripod was more physically demanding. While I like the flexibility of handholding the camera, if I had to do it over again, I’d probably use a tripod for at least part of the time.

The grip area was textured, which prevented any slippage when holding the camera, but the grip wasn’t very comfortable for my smallish hands; I’d prefer a slightly larger grip with a bit more depth. The optional handgrip with a second battery, a shutter release, front and rear wheels, may provide a solution if the grip is not to your liking.

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In addition to a potentially better grip, a second battery is almost a necessity with the SL. Rated for about 400 shots—which is low for a camera of this class—I found that even with the GPS and Wi-Fi disabled and not shooting any video, I had to top off the battery after every shoot to ensure that the camera wouldn’t run out of juice the following day. If you’re covering a wedding or other multi-hour event, a second battery is a must.

The user interface is similar to that of the medium-format Leica S—one of my all-time favorite cameras. But because my experience with the S-series has been erratic, it took me a while to figure out the sparse external control layout. My biggest complaint about the controls is the position of the large top dial, which sits behind the shutter button and is used for adjusting shutter speed in manual exposure mode, for example. For me, it was a little awkward to use, although it’s hard to explain why. Perhaps it was the height and flat position on the top panel; I had to think about it rather than being able to operate it intuitively.

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Other than that particular dial, I was able to quickly learn and maneuver the four control rockers on either side of the LCD. Although accessing the menus and various settings might seem confusing at first, there’s a logic to it and on-screen tips and icons help point you to the right rocker for the task.

Dual card slots are available for SD/SDHC/SDXC cards. As far as we know, backup is the only option currently available for the second slot at this time. Slot 1 is compatible with UHS-II cards, while slot 2 is limited to a maximum of UHS-I cards. According to Leica, the processor is not quite up to the task of maxing out dual high speed cards. I tested the camera with two Lexar UHS-II U3 cards. The 64GB worked fine; the 256GB card gave me some problems (data not writing to the card, getting a message that the card was full even though it only had 9.7GB of images on it). We’re waiting to hear back from Germany about the maximum capacity cards the camera can accommodate; perhaps the SL is not compatible with 256GB cards, which would be a shame especially since the camera is 4K capable. 

The SL’s 2.95-inch touchscreen LCD provides 100-percent coverage and a 170-degree view angle. It’s a pleasure to use, even in bright light and touch capabilities are responsive. In addition to anti-fingerprint coating (which works pretty well), the monitor is also coated to help prevent scratches. In Live View, the display offers focus peaking, a histogram Zebra (highlight clipping), a level, grid overlay, and several aspect ratios with “safe areas” outlined for each.

A small, 1.28-inch monochrome LCD sits on the stop panel, providing basic shooting information. The fonts are large and bright and easy to see even without my reading glasses.

An eye sensor automatically switches back and forth between the LCD and the EVF but manual override is available if you prefer one of the other. The 4.4-megapixel EVF is, in a word, gorgeous. It’s large, bright and, as Leica implies, it makes you feel like you’re shooting with a medium-format camera. Frame coverage of 100 percent, a 20mm eye point, and diopter correction of -4 to +2 allowed me to shoot with or without my glasses. Wearing my glasses while shooting is sometimes difficult, and while not perfect with the SL, it’s the most comfortable I’ve been shooting with my glasses on. But because the EVF is so large and bright and has a good range of dioptric correction, I was very comfortable without my glasses as well. 

Overall, the camera is responsive and can shoot continuously at up to 11 frames per second at full resolution with focus and exposure set at the first shot. Not surprisingly, the burst speed slows a bit with continuous AF. The camera’s contrast detect autofocus was generally accurate—in both continuous and single shot mode—particularly in good light. I did notice some front focusing issues, particularly with continuous AF but also in low light. For example, although I moved the focus point over a model’s eye (or so I thought), her eyes were slightly soft while the white and black mask she wore was razor sharp.

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©Theano Nikitas

Image quality was quite good, with natural but pleasing color reproduction even when set to auto white balance. Details were well rendered and although we noticed a little moiré in JPEGs, it was less visible in DNGs.

Other than extremely high contrast situations, the SL delivered above average dynamic range, maintaining details in highlights and shadows. I did notice occasional chromatic aberration along high contrast edges but that was the exception rather than the rule.

ISO ranges from 50 to 50,000, and the SL did surprisingly well at the maximum ISO. Without any noise reduction, image noise was not as intrusive as we’ve seen on other cameras and details remained visible with relatively little smudging.

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©Theano Nikitas

Wedding and event photographers will appreciate the camera’s quiet operation in single shot mode (continuous shooting is a bit noisier). Leica is rolling out a series of lenses during the next year, beginning with the SL 24-90mm f/2.8-4 ASPH, which will be followed by the SL 90-280mm f/2.8-r and the SL 50mm f/1.4 ASPH. Leica T camera system lenses are also compatible with the new camera. And current Leica owners will be happy to note that, with an adapter, M, S, R and Cine lenses can be used with the SL. 

Look for iOS and Android apps for remote shooting and image transfer. An electronic shutter firmware update is in the works, although it may or may not be available by the time the camera ships on November 16.

Since my time with the Leica SL was limited, I didn’t have time to explore all of its features, including 4K video, and test it more rigorously. And because firmware updates were in the works (including the ability to disable the EVF and LCD from stopping down when adjusting exposure), the camera I tested seemed a bit unfinished.

While there’s a lot that I like about the camera—quiet responsive operation, a gorgeous EVF, impressive low light capabilities, great image quality and a full feature set, including 4K video—it’s a little difficult for me to get excited about a $7,450 camera—and a $4,950 24-90mm lens—especially with a trend towards smaller and lighter ILC cameras. However, the Leica SL is likely to strike a chord with photographers who want an almost-S-series type of experience at a more reasonable price. The has many appealing attributes and photographers who already have Leica glass may especially be tempted to add the SL to their gearbag.

For more detailed specifications, please visit: leica-camera.com

 


 

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