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.


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.”


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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, 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.


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


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.



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.


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.



©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.


©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:


October 13, 2015

LED in Strobe Style: Dot Line RPS CooLED Studio Light

By Kirk R. Darling, CPP

The world of videography has very different lighting devices and light-shaping tools from the world of still photography. Many aren't attractive to still photographers who already own electronic strobes with umbrellas and soft boxes and plan to remain primarily still photographers. The easiest transition into video lighting is with high-intensity LED video lights designed to work with the umbrellas and soft boxes we already have. 



©Kirk Darling

There are several Chinese import designs offered by different retailers, but the one I've seen most frequently is the Dot Line RPS CooLED label from B&H and a number of other photographic retailers across the country. It's also available under the Alzo name from the online retailer Alzo Video. I tested the Dot Line RPS CooLED 100 Studio Light RS-5610 and CooLED 200 RS-5620 units.  

The CooLED 100 is in a sturdy all-metal body, perforated for air flow, with solid metal end caps and a metal handle on the rear. The octangular body is 9 inches long and 5 inches in diameter; an 8-inch reflector is included. With the cover attached for transport and including the handle, the overall length is 12 inches. Specs quote the weight at 8.45 pounds. The lights are fully self-contained—there is no separate power supply “brick” as there is for many other photographic LED designs.

The front end sports the very common Bowens-S mount surrounding a flat LED array with a clip-on white glass diffusing cone. This is interchangeable with an orange tungsten balancing cone (usually not included by the retailer, but available by special order from B&H). Because the LED array is slightly recessed, there may be some light-spread concerns for some light modifiers that have a deeper S-mount “throat,” making the diffusion cone useful with those modifiers to get the light out in front of the mount.

The CooLED 100 has a power indicator light and dimmer control on the rear panel. The top of the unit is flat with the Bowens S-mount release trigger toward the front. 



©Kirk Darling

The bottom side has a sturdy polycarbonate stand mount with a metal semi-circular angle adjustment mechanism. The umbrella mount is a hole through the metal block that presses the shaft against a flat metal spring. I found it distinctly unpleasant to use. I had to pound the umbrella shaft into the hole with the heel of my palm to mount it. Once mounted, it won’t slip out, but the shaft does revolve in the hole. Then I had to yank disturbingly hard to remove it again. My light modifiers don’t use the umbrella shaft mount, so this isn’t an operational problem for me, but it will be for photographers who would use it. The advertisements for many retailers show a “stork knee” stand mount with a screw-tightened umbrella shaft hole, but that appears to be an older design; this spring-loaded mount (below) is now standard. 


©Kirk Darling

The on/off switch is 2 feet down a non-removable 3-meter cord from the rear of the unit. I found the permanently attached cord and the on-cord switch annoying compared to having a switch directly on the rear of the unit and a removable cord. Both units I tested exhibited a short lag when switched on, about 1 second. When the light does come on, it’s instantly at full brightness. I measured the immediate brightness and measured it again 30 minutes later and found no difference.

My first test was to determine if the CooLED 100 had enough power for video. The advertisements and sales literature speak in terms of lumens (10,000) and lux, but those are variable respective to the light modifier. I needed to find out what actual exposures I got from them using my own modifiers. I shoot mostly indoor interviews with a portrait-style lighting. My video shutter speed setting would usually be 1/50 second.

I first measured the output with the supplied reflector using my old faithful Sekonic Dualmaster L-558 light meter. I also checked the accuracy and unit-to-unit precision of the five-step dimmer controls. The dimmer control is not very accurate in achieving the claimed half-stop increments, nor does it appear consistent between light units. However, the control is at least consistently repeatable in its own settings.

The light is bright enough for video use from both the reflector and my umbrella, which is an 84-inch Paul C. Buff PLM super silver umbrella. Even from the umbrella, the 100-watt unit gave me a decent f/5.6 at 6 feet distance, no cone, ISO 200, and 1/45; the 200-watt unit upped that to f/6.8. A check with the tungsten cone showed that balancing to tungsten costs an additional half-stop more than the white cone (a full stop less exposure than no cone at all). Light output was better than satisfactory, especially considering that it was cool light that drew no more power than ordinary home incandescent fixtures and far more compact and transportable than florescent lights of comparable output.

To gauge the quality of light I took a series of images of a color swatch test card and my standard reference gray card with each flash unit, along with an electronic flash image of the same card for reference. I first balanced the raw images using the PhotoShop dropper tool against the gray card. The basic color temperature of the lights proved to be a consistent 5,300K with the white cone and 3,500K with the tungsten cone.

Then I measured and compared the RGB values of the color swatches, taking readings from a point sampled directly in the center of each swatch. The test did reveal the expected spikes in blue and green. The most significant impact I noted for my use was in muted dark skin tones (Figure 1) compared to the electronic flash image (Figure 2). The spikes are shown by the higher green and blue values in swatch 001. At the same times, some blue hues became richer, such as swatch 013. 


Figure 1


Figure 2

This is reasonably correctable in post processing but more easily addressed while shooting by filtering the light. For my tastes, that turns out to be a Rosco Roscolux #33 No Color Pink Gel. The lights are cool enough that either resin or gel filters cut to size can be placed over the LED array with or without the cone. The filter will light-bleach over time, but it's easily replaced. Of course, filtering to correct one color may distort other colors—whether this matters for video depends on the photographer.

The CooLED 100 has an audible cooling fan. I took audio recordings of both using my very sensitive Sennheiser ME 2 omnidirectional condenser lavaliere microphone. I made the recordings with the light six feet from the microphones. While taking the recordings in an otherwise completely silent room, I could hear either fan through my monitor headphones. I recorded dialog containing pauses, and I turned the lights on and off during both dialog and pauses to give me decisive comparisons.

DotlineTest2_1 from Kirk Darling on Vimeo.

The result was that although the 100-watt units transmitted an audible fan noise to the microphones at 6 feet against dead silence, it was not noticeable over dialog or during the pauses between dialog in the recordings. For all but the most critical uses, I would judge the lights satisfactory at a 6-foot distance from the microphone. Essentially, if your subject is breathing you will not hear the fan at 6 feet.


  • Low price
  • Low wattage requirement
  • Bowens S-mount
  • Transportability


  • Spring-loaded umbrella mount

The color quality is not perfect, but it's quite usable and usually not a problem.  Frequently, too, videos are color graded—subtly toned for artistic purposes—and I do that as well. 

I got my start in photography as a portrait assistant in a studio with thousands of watts of incandescent lights. I got my share of burns, so I’m constantly amazed at how cool these lights are. The diffusion cone of the 100-watt unit is only barely warm to the touch after hours of use, and its exhaust even feels cool. For the $279 price, this is a very usable light to have around.

October 12, 2015

Set-up and Move Fast: Flashpoint AutoStand

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

Looking for a light stand that’s quick and easy to move from one location to another? The Flashpoint AutoStands from Adorama, available in either a 7 or 9-foot model, are an excellent choice when it comes to maneuverability, price, and value. Both models are made primarily from aluminum alloy to keep the weight down and have an automatic leg-retraction feature, allowing for easy maneuverability that sets them apart from other light stands. When you pick the stand up from whatever surface, the three base legs automatically retract against the center shaft. When you set the stand back down, the center shaft pushes the legs back out into position for standing upright.

Photographers are expected to work quickly and efficiently, especially at weddings. Because time is always at a premium, this auto-retract feature is practically worth its weight in gold. You can rapidly position your lighting, capture the shot, and move to the next location. Because the legs stay retracted until you place the stand, setting th AutoStand in position between pews is so much easier than a traditional light stand. At the alter, either my assistant or I simply picked up the stand, let the legs retract, and moved to the next location.

I also used the AutoStand while photographing the interior of a house for a real estate client and was able to move quickly from room to room. When the room that I was photographing was well lit, but an adjacent room was dark, I positioned the stand with a remote controlled flash in the other room to add illumination. I had the Flashpoint StreakLight 360 mounted on the stand and adjusted the power setting with the remote control (below).

Thumbnail image for 201510we_autostand01.jpg

©Don Chick


©Don Chick

The plastic inserts in each foot also assured me that the stand wouldn’t scratch the wood floors (above).

I also used the 7-foot stand and Flashpoint SL 360 combination on portrait shoots. During one senior session I had my assistant position and move the stand and flash. The quick-retract feature enabled her to move quickly to various locations and position the stand on the ground rather than holding it aloft through the entire session, which can be fatiguing. 

I used both stands during a location portrait shoot. The 7-foot stand held the background light, a Flashpoint ZoomLioN TTL On-Camera Flash controlled by the R1 Commander, and the 9-foot stand held the Flashpoint SL 360 with an umbrella for the main light, controlled by the R1 Commander on a different channel.

Thumbnail image for 201510we_autostand03.jpg

©Don Chick

The top of the stand is designed to allow for a vertical or horizontal mounting of the 1/4"-20 and 3/8"-16 reversible top stud, supplied (above). If your strobe has a built-in stud mount you can insert it in the appropriate mounting hole (below). This means you don’t have to have another adaptor to mount accessories or threads; simply use the appropriate side of the stud supplied by the manufacturer.

Thumbnail image for 201510we_autostand04.jpg

©Don Chick

While the manufacturer’s specification states that the 7-foot stand can accommodate a load up to 15 pounds and the 9-foot stand can accommodate up to 22 pounds, I would add extra weight at the base of either stand to help stabilize loads that heavy. If you’re using an umbrella or soft box outside, definitely add extra weight for stabilization (or have an assistant hold the stand), or the whole assembly could tip over with even a slight breeze.

The weight of the stands is a little heavier than an average light stand. The 7-foot stand weighs a little over 4 pounds and the 9-foot stand weighs just under 5 pounds. I wish the design could incorporate air cushioning, which uses air to slow descent of a section if a lock isn’t secure, to help keep your equipment and hands safe, though I’m sure it would add to the cost.

Overall the features and benefits combine to make the Flashpoint stands worth considering. The Flashpoint 7' AutoStand (FP-S-7-AS) is $60, and the 9' AutoStand (FP-S-9-AS) is $80, but at the time of this publication, Adorama was offering instant rebates of $20 and $30 respectively.

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.”



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