September 21, 2015

Ezybox Softens Speedlights the Easy Way

By Betsy Finn, M.Photog.Cr., CPP

When you’re working on location, sometimes it's really nice to rely on speedlights. They're compact, portable, and the TTL features are handy. But when it comes to diffusing the light, it can be tough to find a soft box that is similarly portable and of good quality. That’s where the Ezybox Speed-lite comes in. Lastolite has created a compact softbox for speedlights that’s both lightweight and compact when collapsed. The Ezybox is a soft box with an 8.5-inch square front diffusion panel, which attaches to the softbox with Velcro. An inner diffusion panel further softens the light (one stop for each panel); it attaches via four Velcro tabs. Once the panels have been put in place, you can leave them attached when collapsing and opening up the soft box.

bphotoart-ezybox-4608.jpg The Ezybox is designed to securely mount to most speedlights, regardless of brand. As an aside, if you’re interested in the Ezybox Speed-Lite Kits, they include a foam handle with spigot and cold shoe mount and a coiled 1-meter (Nikon or Canon) off-camera cord. If you already have an off-camera cord, or the ability to use your speedlights wirelessly, you may find the add-ons superfluous.

The Ezybox Speed-lite comes with its own storage bag, which is good because it doesn’t stay completely flat of its own accord. It's pretty slimline though at just over 1.5 inches when stowed flat. It easily unfolds and pops open, ready for use. You just need to mount it to your speedlight with three elasticized bands. 


bphotoart-ezybox-4610.jpgOne band acts as a baffle to direct the light into the softbox—simply stretch wide enough to insert the end of your speedlight. Then there are two sets of Velcro tabs that go over top. The first is elasticized and has non-slip grips that rest against the flash unit. After you secure that set of tabs, the non-stretchy Velcro tabs secure the softbox to your speedlight. It’s definitely secure; I had no concerns about the Ezybox falling off while using it.

bphotoart-ezybox-4614.jpgI used the setup with the built-in wireless triggering that comes with my Nikon SB-800 AF Speedlight and well as a cold shoe mount that secured my speedlight to a light stand. Here are two views of the soft box, when fully assembled. The Ezybox is approximately 11 x 11 x 7.5 inches uncollapsed.


Overall, I was quite pleased the Ezybox Speed-Lite. The light quality is excellent, and it performed well during my tests (see TEST SHOTS below). It’s is one of the sturdier small soft boxes that I’ve used, and I foresee it outlasting many an off-brand model. This is one of those cases where you get what you pay for. I’m not sure the Kit is something I would personally find useful, but it could be for others depending on what lighting accessories you already own and whether you need a coiled cord and handle.

The Ezybox Speed-Lite is available both on its own ($68.99) and as part of the Ezybox Speed-Lite Kit ($96.99) for Canon or Nikon. 


The Ezybox worked great in conjunction with my speedlights’ wireless triggering capability for off-camera lighting. I chose a subject with a wide-brimmed hat for this review to demonstrate the quality of light.  These images were taken with the camera about five feet away from the subject and the speedlight with Ezybox Speed-Lite placed at a similar distance. 

First, here is a control image -- taken with the speedlight on camera.  Note the harsh shadows.

I kept the speedlight on camera and added the Ezybox to soften the light. Here’s the result.

bphotoart-ezybox-6677.jpgI was really pleased with the change, even when used on camera. Now, onto the off camera version. By simply moving the Ezybox to my left about 3 feet (hand-held on a monopod), I ended up with this version.


And for comparison, here’s the same angle with the naked speedlight.  Note how much more crisp and pronounced the shadows are, particularly the shadow of the glasses the shadow cast on the wall.  


Being able to hand-hold this light, whether on a monopod or with the accessories included in the Ezybox Speed-Lite Kit, resulted in a flourish of creativity and a variety of different lighting effects.  Here are a few additional shots:



Betsy Finn, M.Photog.Cr.,CPP, has a portrait studio in Michigan; she blogs at

September 18, 2015

First Look: Sony Cyber-shot RX10 II

By Theano Nikitas

The latest bridge camera from Sony, the 20.2-megapixel Cyber-shot RX10 II looks and feels much like its RX10 predecessor. Equipped with a constant f/2.8, 24-200mm-equivalent (8.8-73.3mm) Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T*zoom lens, the body measures 5.125 x 3.5 x 4.125 inches and weighs about 1 pound 12.7 ounces with battery and media card. A nice-sized grip provides a comfortable handhold, while the lens, even at its widest angle, is easily supported with the left hand. An eye sensor automatically switches between the bright and clear electronic XGA OLED viewfinder and a 3-inch, 1.2 million-dot tiltable LCD. The latter’s brightness can be adjusted manually if necessary and has a Sunny Weather option. Controls, including a custom button that can be assigned one of about 40 functions, are well-placed and generally responsive to the touch. 



While the RX10 II looks similar to its predecessor, there are a few key differences, most notably a new sensor. While the 20.2-megapixel resolution is the same as the original RX10, the sensor similarity ends there. The latest Sony sensor is a 1-inch stacked CMOS image sensor, which is also used in the compact Sony RX100 IV. Unlike other sensors, where the photodiodes and circuit share the same space, on this Exmor RS CMOS sensor, the pixel area and high-speed signal processing circuit are stacked one atop the other, with an attached DRAM memory chip. This provides multiple end benefits, including faster readout of image data, 4K and slow motion video capture, up to 14fps continuous shooting (in speed priority continuous shooting) and a maximum 1/32,000-second shutter speed. 

Like other Sony cameras, the RX10 II is equipped with Wi-Fi and is NFC compatible. A free PlayMemories Mobile app (iOS and Android) is available for remote camera operation and image transfer/sharing. PlayMemories Camera Apps such as multiple exposure, timelapse and other add-ons are free or cost $5 to $10 and are well worth exploring for both fun and function.

I spent time with the RX10 II during and after a Sony press trip to Portland, Oregon. It’s been a long time since I shot with a bridge camera and since Sony also provided production units of the a7R II on the trip, I was hard pressed (at least initially) to spend much time with the RX10 II. After shooting with it on a more regular basis when I returned home, I realize that the RX10 II deserved much more attention than I had previously given it.

Ergonomically, the RX10 II is a good fit for pretty much any size hands. Mine are average to small for a woman. But my male colleagues found the camera equally as comfortable to hold and use. It’s heavy and sturdy enough to support the zoom lens at telephoto but compact enough to carry all day without any strain. Its 24-200mm focal range is modest compared to other bridge cameras such as the Nikon Coolpix P900 with its 83X 24-2,000mm optical zoom, but I rarely needed more zoom or wide angle, even when photographing Oregon’s Mt. Hood from a distance. In fact, it was a relief not to lug around extra lenses and have to stop to change them. The zoom operated smoothly, and Sony’s SteadyShot image stabilization worked well for telephoto shots.



The top image is taken at the 200mm equivalent, and the one above at 24mm equivalent. ©Theano Nikitas

Image quality is quite good and while it doesn’t match that of the a7R II, color rendition is pleasing and exposure (albeit with a slight tendency to clip bright highlights) was accurate. The lens is capable of reproducing details well and autofocus is generally very responsive. Manual assist and focus peaking are also available.


This still life is taken for 1/250 second at f/2.8, ISO 3200 in auto exposure mode. ©Theano Nikitas 

Pushing the ISO to its upper limits of 12,800 wasn’t much of an issue given the bright, constant f/2.8 lens and SteadyShot, but I tried to keep ISO at 3200 or below. Auto ISO can be set with lower and upper limits, although I found that it sometimes pushed ISO higher than I liked under moderately low light conditions.

On the video front, I still haven’t explored the camera’s 4K capabilities, but the footage I’ve seen is quite nice, and the RX10 II has more than enough features to satisfy most photographers who want to start shooting 4K. Importantly, users have the choice of XAVC S or AVCHD recording. The former’s high bit rate and lower compression delivers higher quality results; clean HDMI out is also available.

I suppose one of the reasons I haven’t made good use of the RX10 II’s 4K videos is that I am moderately obsessed with its slow motion video. As someone who has been dreaming about shooting with a Phantom high-speed camera ever since I first saw its slow motion video, I was thrilled to learn that the RX10 II offered a trio of high frame rates for slow motion video up to (nearly) full HD at 240fps. Frame rates of 480fps and 960fps are also available but unless you have a lot of light and super fast movement, try to avoid the upper limits. The 960fps is super slow (you’ll get bored) and the camera ups the resolution so quality isn’t quite as good as the other recording options. The camera records 2 or 4 seconds of action and processes it in camera, which takes a few seconds or more, rendering the camera inoperable.

Timing is, of course, critical but there’s a start trigger and end trigger, which buffers before or after you start recording to help ensure you capture the key action. It takes a little practice to get the timing down. The camera needs to be in HFR (high frame rate) standby mode first, and then you hit the movie button when you’re ready to record. The camera uses auto AF in HFR mode, and I found that it sometimes back focused, but that could be user error as well.

The slow motion capture is amazing as you can see in the samples as the pieces of a cracked walnut flutter and spin. The dancer was shot at 960fps, which was a little too slow for her movements, but you get the idea. I may be overly obsessed with this feature but I think it can add a spot of interest when interspersed with other video footage especially for dance, sports, nature (birds, butterflies), sports, weddings, and any scenario or subject that moves. 

From my brief experience with the camera, I think it’s a solid option for anyone who wants a bridge camera to complement or supplement DSLR and/or a mirrorless model. The RX10 II has a surprisingly full feature set for its class. With 4K video, high speed shutter, slow motion and a long list of other features and functions, I think that Sony has produced yet another winning combination. At $1,300, it’s pricier than I had hoped. Still, if the form factor and features appeal to you, it’s well worth a closer look.


September 17, 2015

Press Release: 17hats Integrates with ShootProof

Cloud-Based 17hats Business Management Solution Announces Deep Integration with ShootProof Online Gallery and Proofing Service

17hats partnership with ShootProof’s platform is Shootproof’s deepest Integration to date with all Business Management Applications that they’ve integrated with and will help Professional Photographic Studios make more money

Pasadena, CA (September 17, 2015) - 17hats, a cloud-based business management app, announces today a deep integration with ShootProof, a leading online photo gallery, proofing and sales platform that’s used by thousands of professional photographers worldwide. This unprecedented end-to-end integration of services allows 17hats’ users to create ShootProof galleries, track client orders and automatically keep their bookkeeping in sync, all from their familiar 17hats desktop.

“Adding this integration will help our mutual users be even more productive, by giving them an easy way to keep all their client orders organized within 17hats and their bookkeeping up to date,” said Donovan Janus, founder and CEO of 17hats. “Many of 17hats users are professional photographers, so I’m thrilled that we’re partnering closely with ShootProof, an important and experienced leader in the photography market.”

17hats provides customizable templates for its solopreneur clients that mimic the efficiencies of larger business operations. Its workflow automation ensures that even the most repetitive tasks from email to bookkeeping to creating “To Do” lists on the fly, and delivering accurate product fulfillment is handled quickly and professionally. Thanks to reliable cloud-based operation, 17hats’ users rely on prompt, efficient automation and accuracy whether they’re in the studio or on location.

 “We’re excited to offer the great service of 17hats to our photographers,” said Colin Breece, co-founder of ShootProof. “With this partnership, we’re confident our photographers will find even more time in the day to focus on what matters most.”

August 20, 2015

Glow ParaPop: Problem Solver

By Betsy Finn, M.Photog.Cr., CPP

While soft boxes are great for providing soft lighting, most of them are not very easily portable.  Many photographers have to weigh the pros and cons of taking one on location. Does the benefit (light quality) outweigh the hassle (teardown/setup time/bulkiness)? Are the soft boxes you use with your studio lights compatible with your location lighting? Many are not designed for use with speed lights. 

Glow ParaPop 28", part of Adorama's exclusive light modifier collection, solves all these problems. It’s a soft box that's hassle free in setup and takedown, and you can swap out the standard-issue speedlight mount for a studio strobe mount if needed. This parabolic soft box has a unique 12-sided shape and provides a 105-degree light spread. Opened, the Glow ParaPop 28" has a 28-inch diameter and is 19.5 inches deep. 

The speedlight mounting method is not brand-specific, so you can use the mount with a variety of different speedlights. Simply lock your flash into the coldshoe on the mount and slide the soft box up or down on the metal arms until the light fits through the speedlight opening. 


I had to turn the ParaPop upside down (as evidenced by the logo) in order to fit my Nikon SB-800.


The nice thing about this mounting bracket is that the speedlight doesn’t bear any weight. The soft box is held up by the mounting bracket, so there is no stress on the speedlight. 


You can attach the mount directly to a light stand, tripod, even a hot shoe, using the various attachment options. Initially, I didn’t realize that the folded-under tilt attachment was there, and I screwed my lightstand into the threaded screw that secures the hotshoe in place. Interestingly, when folded closed like that, there is a coldshoe mount that you could use to attach the whole shebang to your camera’s hotshoe mount. I wouldn't recommend it, though.



Assembly of the soft box is very simple.  Collapsed, the soft box stores much like an umbrella, with one key difference. There is no center pole. Instead, you click the rods of the soft box into place up by the mounting plate. This image (below) shows an in-progress view; the ones on the left have not yet been locked into place, and the one on the far right has been. 


The construction is very well thought out, and I had no issues with unwanted collapse during use. For teardown there are two sets of “auto close buttons” on the back of the soft box near the mount plate. Each set of buttons releases half of the soft box so it can collapse down.


To collapse the soft box, you need to squeeze the buttons together. I found it a little difficult for my small hands initially, but my husband was able to leverage the buttons with ease.



Another plus for the ParaPop? I love that there is no need to fuss with Velcro fabric panels; everything is attached and ready to go, and it all folds down intact. That said, if you want to remove the front diffuser panel, it does attach with Velcro. The interior diffusion panel is held in place with snaps, so you can remove that, too.

While the ParaPop offers a convenient portable soft box option for location photographers, one thing that isn’t quite as convenient is the mounting plates. If you want to swap out the speedlight for a studio strobe, you’ll need to unscrew three tiny screws on the edge of the mounting plate. On the plus side, at least it can be swapped out. Below is the mount ring for my AlienBees strobes.


In the image below you can see how I used the light in my studio for a client session. The ParaPop was used as the main with a  4x6-foot soft box for fill. At this point, I was testing out the studio strobe mount option, so you’ll notice the ParaPop is attached to my AlienBees light rather than a speedlight.


And here is an image from the session:


Overall, I have been really happy with this product. The soft box does a great job both in the studio and on location, and because it collapses easily, I have no qualms about taking it on location. I do wish that you could fold down the metal arms on the speedlight mount for storage or travel. On the flip side, I love that the speedlight mount does not put any stress on my speedlight; many speedlight soft boxes attach directly to the flash and can add undue stress.

The included carry bag is a nice feature, and if you’re carting a lot of gear around, you’ll appreciate the shoulder strap. Just be aware that you’ll need to find another place to stow the tilting speedlight mount; I couldn’t get it to fit in the case. Collapsed, the Glow ParaPop 28" measures 21x6.5x6.5 inches.

The Glow ParaPop 28 is available with either speedlight or studio strobe mounts. It has a base MSRP of $275. Strobe mount rings are sold bundled or separately ($35). 

Adorama has also announced a Glow ParaPop 38" and QuadraPop 24"x34".

Betsy Finn, M.Photog.Cr.,CPP, has a portrait studio in Michigan; she blogs at

Polaris Karat Flash Meter: Special Edition Packed with Features

By Stan Sholik

Aspen Corporation has made Polaris light meters for 20 years, and in honor of the occasion they are releasing their most sophisticated model yet, the Polaris Karat Flash Meter. The Karat is designed for serious enthusiasts and professionals looking for an accurate and cost-effective meter for more control over their lighting decisions from continuous and flash sources.


The Karat is thinner and lighter than previous Polaris models and much more so than my own meters. That makes me wonder about the long-term physical reliability in heavy professional use, especially considering its lack of weather sealing, but enthusiasts and studio professionals shouldn’t have any issues.

What matters most to users is the accuracy of the Karat, and I found that it tracks within 1/10 of an EV with my meters for both incident and reflected light readings in continuous light or flash modes. And if you are totally fanatical about all of your meters reading identically, as I am, the Karat allows you to dial in a ± 0.9 EV correction to your readings from the Set menu to balance it to your other meters.

A rotary dial allows you to extend the incident dome for incident readings or retract the dome for reflected light reading and storage. A separate sensor on the top of the meter handles the reflected light readings. Unfortunately, unlike some other Polaris meters, the incident dome does not swivel, a feature I would have liked. Also there is no provision to attach a narrower angle reflected light spot attachment.


Main menu of the Polaris Karat
©Stan Sholik

The Karat is packed with other features however. In continuous light, metering modes allow you to choose the shutter speed and ISO and meter for the aperture, or choose the aperture and ISO and meter for the shutter speed. For those familiar with exposure value (EV) settings, there is also an EV metering mode. And in a bow to digital cameras, the A-ISO mode allows you to choose shutter speed and aperture settings, and the meter will display the ISO needed to achieve them.


The continuous light shutter priority mode display indicating an aperture of f/4.6 ©Stan Sholik


The EV display indication and EV of f/5.6 ©Stan Sholik


The continuous light aperture priority mode display. Having selected an aperture of f/11, after metering the Karat indicates 1/4 sec at f/11.6 ©Stan Sholik


In continuous light auto-ISO mode, you select an aperture and shutter speed and the Karat indicates the ISO needed to achieve that. ©Stan Sholik

For metering electronic flash, you choose the shutter speed in the T mode and meter for the aperture. A portion of the display also shows you the ratio of the flash exposure to the overall exposure in 1-percent increments. Unfortunately, for both continuous light and flash shutter speed priority modes, the available shutter speeds are limited to full stops with a few others available, but there is no 1/90, 1/180, or 1/360 and so on, for example.


While flash metering, you choose a shutter speed and the Karat indicates the aperture, here f22.7. It also indicates the percentage of this exposure contributed by the flash (99%). ©Stan Sholik

Unique to the Karat as far as I know, is the FD mode that displays the flash duration. Flash duration is measured in a number of ways and nowhere is it made clear what method Polaris uses. I’m not sure how useful this information really is other than for relative comparison of one flash unit with another, but it is available.

In the continuous light and flash shutter priority modes and the continuous light EV mode, you can store up to three readings in memory with the results showing on the LCD display. The AVG button displays the average of the readings stored in memory. You can also see a contrast reading from the average reading to the reading in another part of the scene, for example the background, by pressing and holding the measuring button. The result is displayed as Δ (delta symbol) EV in the display.


You can take up to three flash readings and store them in memory. Their values are displayed in different colors on the measuring value scale across the top of the display. ©Stan Sholik

You can’t measure multiple flashes directly as they build on one another. But you can measure one exposure, then press and hold the Multi button while you press the up arrow of the central Cross Key to change the aperture value, and the Karat will calculate the number of pops needed—up to 9—to achieve that aperture.

Unfortunately, moving between modes requires a 2- to 3-second hold of the Menu button, which is too long. Powering up and actual metering, though, is very fast.

Readings are displayed on a decent size display, but the aperture readings themselves are rather small. The base aperture value is visible enough in the F window of the display, but rather than displaying the increase from the base, e.g. f/11.5, the increase is shown as a tiny white line beneath the large base number overlaying one of ten black lines. The aperture is also roughly indicated in the measuring value scale running across the top of the display. But I prefer glancing at my meter and seeing the aperture displayed as f/11.5 rather than f/11 and having to count small lines. In Karat’s favor however, there are lines indicating 1/3 and 2/3 stops, which settings served us well enough with film.

In the studio and under lighting conditions other than direct sunlight, the LCD display is easy enough to read. However, even with the screen brightness at its highest setting, reading the aperture value and manipulating the menu in direct sunlight are problematic. And for those times when you are working alone, I would miss not having a tripod socket on the meter.

Power is provided by two AA batteries, and good for Polaris for providing a battery level meter.

If you do purchase a Polaris Karat, don’t expect to learn how to operate it from the English/Japanese insert that comes with the unit. Along with a hasty translation, the insert is useless to instruct you in the meter’s operation. It fails to mention that you can take cordless flash readings by simply choosing the flash mode and having your assistant activate the flash. I had been using a sync cord plugged into the base of the unit for metering until the cord fell out; I discovered the non-cord operation when my assistant triggered the flash when lowering the power. You will need to go to to download a real manual.

Though it's not really intuitive to use considering its market, once you've familiarized yourself with the Polaris Karat operation you should find its operation straightforward and extremely accurate. MSRP of the Polaris Karat is $329 with street prices around $290. The Karat is delivered with a padded case, lanyard, and 1-year warranty. 

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.

July 24, 2015

Is Shoot-through For You? Westcott Omega Reflector

By Betsy Finn, M.Photog.Cr., CPP

All images ©Betsy Finn

We all love multi-tools, especially when it comes to lighting equipment. But is more always better? The Westcott Omega Reflector with 10-in-1 function is an inventive take on the standard multi-function reflector. It differs from its predecessors in one key feature—a removable panel in the middle that creates a window for shooting through.

I decided to test out only the shoot-through capabilities of this reflector since the other functions are pretty standard. I wanted to know if the shoot-through capability is worth getting a new reflector. To begin, I experimented in the studio with the reflector and one backlight. Here’s the subject with only the backlight:


By simply tipping and tilting the reflector, I was able to quickly create a variety of lighting options, both broad and narrow, as shown below.



I'd like to emphasize that I'm not advocating the ’80s backlit hair effect in these images; my goal was to show how the light could be manipulated with the reflector, even when placed directly behind the subject. Hopefully it goes without saying that you’d adjust the placement of your hair light in relation to the placement of the reflector to eliminate the extreme backlit hair issue.

Here’s another in-studio portrait, this one created using two lights with the reflector as fill. As you can see in this pullback, I used a 4x6-foot soft box as my main, a hair light above and behind the subject, and the reflector in front.


Here’s the final image taken through the reflector.


And here’s an image taken with the reflector removed (below).


I think this effect could have been achieved without using the shoot-through aspect of the Omega, and I did find the panel opening a little restrictive in framing my portrait. As you might have noted in my previous example, the reflector was very close to my subject, visible within what would have been a three-quarter length shot at most.

On location the shoot-through panel was a little more useful. I used an LED light as the hair light and placed the Omega reflector between the camera and my subject for use as the main light. Here’s a pullback:


The final portrait definitely benefited from having both a hair light and the Omega’s shoot-through panel feature. Here’s the result with the reflector:


And while not the same exact angle, this image gives you an idea of what the portrait would have looked like given the natural lighting in the room:


There was one thing that I didn’t really notice until I was editing my images. The panel, when removed, creates a distinct black square in the center of your catchlight. You may or may not like the effect.


Some final thoughts on using the Omega with the shoot-through panel removed: This really shines for headshots and closely framed images or if you’re working on location and don’t have room to set up multiple lights. The shoot-through window isn’t practical for, say, full-length images. You would need to move the reflector far enough away to frame the entire subject, and at that point it’s no longer very effective as a reflector. Bottom line: the Omega definitely has its uses. You’ll have to decide whether the shoot-through feature is worth upgrading. Definitely consider it as an addition to your arsenal if you work on location and want to minimize the equipment you carry.

The Westcott Omega Reflector is 38x45 inches, folds down to a 14-inch circle for storage, and comes with a storage bag. It retails for $119.90. For more information on the Omega Reflector, visit

Betsy Finn, M.Photog.Cr.,CPP, has a portrait studio in Michigan. She blogs at


July 22, 2015

Can 17hats Fit Your Style of Business?

By Ron Dawson

17hats Adds Deep Integration with ShootProof Online Gallery and Proofing Service

When you’re running a small studio, or if you’re a solopreneur, having a solid project management (PM) and customer relationship management (CRM) system is imperative if you want to stay organized and maximize productivity and effectiveness. As a project management junkie, I feel like I’ve tried them all. Basecamp. FreedCamp. Trello. Teamwork. ShootQ. Asana (my current PM of choice). And even my own DIY concoction of Google Apps, Evernote, and Dropbox. Now one of the latest programs to enter the game is 17hats.


The Verdict

Let me cut to the chase. 17hats is promising, but it has too many drawbacks to make it worthwhile for me. That is what you need to keep in mind when reviewing any kind of PM or CRM solution: Does it work for you? I liken it to watching a movie. One person’s masterpiece is another person’s mess. As creatives, we all work and think differently. Some of us are more right-brained than left-brained. For these reasons, what works great for you, may not be so hot for someone else.

You also have to take into account the needs of your business. Those of you with a team of five or more people in your studio shooting 100+ events per year will have needs that are radically different from a freelancer or solopreneur shooting two or three dozen jobs in a year.

The Name Says It All

The name of the program gives insight into what it does and who it’s for. It’s designed for the businessperson who wears most (if not all) of the proverbial hats in the business.

In its current state, though, it’s a good example of an application that seems to be a jack of all trades, but master of none. It has accounting, CRM, and PM features, which on the surface seem great; but when it comes to practicality, the limitations of each make the whole problematic.

Pros and Cons

General functions

  • Pro: You can track more than one calendar, and even sync your Google Calendar as well as Gmail.
  • Pro: When you connect email and calendar, reminders show up in your Overview page.


  • Pro/Con: You can import contacts from another system, but you have to export them as CSV, vCard, or LDIF first. There is no connect feature (e.g. granting access to your Google contacts to be imported directly).
  • Pro/Con: You can create forms for collecting leads, then embed them on your website. But, they do not connect to email services such as MailChimp, AWeber, etc. I can’t imagine they are not working on this feature. It’s a no-brainer.
  • Con: Notes features (To-do notes) do not work in Chrome. This alone would be a deal-killer for me. I tried it on both my Chromebook and the Chrome browser on my Mac. I had to switch to Safari.
  • Con: No mobile app
  • Con: Photographers are visual people, and many of you will have a problem with their aesthetics. I (like others) am not a fan of the Jenna Sue font for all the main headings. You can, however, change the background.

Project Management

  • Pro: It has workflows that allow you to set up recurring activities, even activity-triggered steps such as sending a Welcome email once a contract is signed.


  • Con: Cannot assign to-do’s to people.
  • Con: No client login or collaboration
  • Con: No threads or conversations for projects or to-do’s
  • Con: Creating a new project is not intuitive. When I was on the project tab, I looked for a button to “create a new project.” There isn’t one. You create a new project from a contact page. I often have projects that don’t have a specific contact. I did a “how do you start a project” search in the Help search field, and there were no results related to starting a project.


Projects must be connected to contacts.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

  • Pro: You can categorize contacts as client, hot lead, cold prospect, or other.


  • Pro: Ability to tag contacts as imported. However, if you have a large number of contacts, you will want to import “leads” separate from “clients” so that you can group tag them. Otherwise you’ll need to do it one by one.
  • Pro: You can create template contracts with logo branding.


  • Pro/Con: Contracts support e-signature, but there is no “Initial” feature.
  • Pro: History of contract in upper right-hand of signed contract
  • Con: Importing contacts was a bit confusing. I Imported 620 contacts and got an “Import successful” message, but they weren’t there, even after two tries. I then realized, by accident, that you have to select all of the contacts you want to import using the checkbox. I thought the check boxes were only for applying a tag (which I didn’t want to do, so I ignored it). I hadn’t noticed the “Select Imports You Want to Import” heading. It would be helpful if the program would say “No Imports Selected” when none were.


Caption: You must actually select the checkbox next to “Name” so that all the names are selected. Because “tagging” is so prominent, I thought that checkbox was for tagging.

  • Con: On the Contacts page I kept accidentally searching the “tags” field when looking for a contact. The correct search box is at the very top. From a UI design standpoint, this should be within the “tabbed” active area. As it is, it’s outside that area. (I understand this is a universal search box that appears on every page. That could be considered a Pro, unless you’re actually on the contacts page and looking within the contacts area for a search box.)


The search field within the tabbed “Contacts” area is actually used to search for tags. You must use the search box at the top to search for clients.

Con: While on a contact’s page in Chrome, clicking on the email hotlink doesn’t work.


I encourage you use a fully functional accounting program (e.g. QuickBooks, FreshBooks, Xero, etc.) regardless of what PM or CRM solution you use.

  • Pro: Invoicing
  • Pro: Multiple payment options for your clients to pay you. It currently supports Stripe, Paypal and
  • Pro: Time tracking
  • Pro: You can record payments manually
  • Pro: Ability to connect your bank
  • Pro: You can add a payment schedule
  • Pro: You can do (simple) financial reporting
  • Con: Doesn’t appear to be a way to apply one payment to multiple invoices.
  • Con: Don’t see a way to export transactions to QuickBooks or other accounting program
  • Con: Lacks many of the other features of a traditional accounting software (tax reports, accessibility for your CPA, balance sheet, etc.) 


17hats has a 15-day trial period, so it may be worth checking out. Prices start at $29/month for a month-to-month plan, and are as low as $17/month if you pay for two years up front. For many, the price for what you get may be well worth the investment.

June 19, 2015

Big Bang for the Buck: Flashpoint Zoom Li-on Flash

By Don Chick, M.Photog.Cr., CPP

The price of adding a flash to your DSLR equipment collection can be rather hefty with top-of-the-line Canon and Nikon speedlights costing around $550 and the Q-flash Trio (QF8 basic) around $650. The Flashpoint Zoom Li-on, available exclusively from Adorama, on the other hand, is priced at a very reasonable $180, but how does it perform?


The Flashpoint Zoom Lion appears to be well constructed with a weightiness to it (slightly less than one pound with the battery), and it looks a lot like its more expensive competition. It has many desirable features found on more expensive flashes such as ETTL, multi-strobe capability, high-speed synch, rear curtain sync, and manual. If you are using more than one, you can program one to function as a master and another as a slave unit. The published guide number for the flash is 110 when zoomed to the 105mm setting and the units I received performed to that specification.

The first unusual feature about the Flashpoint Zoom Li-on is its use of a proprietary rechargable battery instead of four AA batteries. The manufacturer publishes the life of one battery at 650 full-power flashes, and a spare is only $50. In my testing over a 6-hour span I got 467 full-power flashes. I found that with the battery at full charge and triggering a full power flash the recycle time was a approximately 1.5 seconds, meeting manufacturer claims. At one point during  testing I triggered the flash for 30 consecutive full-power pops. When I tried for more flashes the over-heat sensor had kicked in and slowed the triggering to approximately 10 seconds between pops. I let the flash sit for about 10 minutes before the over-heat indicator turned off. Once the safety feature was off I could again trigger the flash quickly and the recycle time was back down to around 1.5 seconds. For my portrait work, I almost never use a flash on full power, so using less than full power most of the time could possibly yield close to 1,000 flashes from one battery charge.

One discovery I had to find out the hard way was that out-of-the-box, Custom Function #1 is set to “auto power off.” I decided to try the flash units at an event I was attending. I put one on a light stand off to the side of the subject to cross-illuminate the scene and I had a second flash unit on camera to light the overall scene. With CF #1 set to enable, the flash kept powering itself off after 90 seconds. This would be a great way to save the battery, but I could not get the unit to turn back on with the remote, so it’s not a great way to learn about a new piece of equipment.

I hadn’t brought the manual with me, so I didn't know which custom function needed to be changed. Once I returned to the studio and discovered the root issue I disabled the auto power off function. Unfortunately, in a subsequent attempt to test the flash I arrived on site to photograph the subject only to find that the batteries were completely drained. I was perplexed because I had completely charged the batteries after the previous job. My conclusion was that I had accidently forgotten to turn the units off when I was done, and because they never auto-shut-off they drained the battery completely. So my caution to you is to consider disabling the auto-power-off feature, but be careful to shut the unit off or remove the battery when not in use.

For an additional $40 you can purchase a Flashpoint Commander Transmitter and Receiver set for the flash, and it looks to be well worth the investment. The receiver plugs right into the side of the flash unit (see below) and can be programmed for a specific channel and group. This will allow you to control up to 16 units per channel.


©Don Chick

The transmitter can be hot shoe mounted or attached through a PC connection. While this configuration allows you to adjust power settings and trigger the unit from a distance of up to 150 feet, you cannot change between the various modes (ETTL, Manual, Multi). Personally I preferred to use the flash unit in manual mode, and the transmitter enabled me to control the flash output power in 1/3 settings from Full power to 1/128 power or off.

The controller for the Flashpoint StreakLight 360 did not have the PC cord capability, so I could only use it mounted on the hot shoe of the camera. The transmitter I received for the Flashpoint Zoom Li-on had a 2.5mm jack, which enabled me to have one flash on my Canon hot shoe and to attach a cable from the controller and plug it into my Canon’s PC input. This setup allowed me to have one flash on camera and control a second flash mounted off camera. The image of Abbye (below) was taken with two flashes. The main light was off to one side to provide modeling to her face, and the second was behind her to provide separation for her hair from the background. The unit that was illuminating her hair had a Rogue Flash amber gel to color the light.


©Don Chick

I really liked the wireless controllability, but I did have two issues that the manufacturer could easily remedy. The big issue is the ease with which you can accidentally change the group setting dial on the receiver to a different group. I don’t know how many times I accidentally changed the setting while using the flash. It’s especially frustrating when you are in a time crunch and you set the strobe and return to camera position thinking everything is all set only to find you can't trigger the flash.

The second issue I had was with the transmitter going through batteries. When I would finish a job and forget to turn the unit off, the batteries would be dead by the next day. I use rechargeable batteries, but if you are on a job and don’t remember to bring your spare batteries you’ll have a problem. I found the best solution was to remove the batteries when I finished the job rather than try to remember to shut the unit off and hope there was battery power for the next job.

The images below from a commercial shoot for a local casting company. You can see the two-light setup in the first image and the image taken of the craftsman in the second. The umbrella provided a soft quality of light to control overall scene contrast, while the bare flash provided directionality to the light.



Above you'll see the lighting setup and the final image. One Flashpoing Zoom Li-on used with a shoot-through umbrella gave a  soft quality of light for overall contrast while a direct light from a second unit provided directionality. ©Don Chick

With the Flashpoint Zoom Li-on from Adorama, the value for your dollar is very high. Yes, there are a couple issues that the manufacturer could address, but even taking them into account the cost/benefit makes it worth taking a serious look.



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