When I teach about lighting for photography it is not uncommon for my students to own different flash units, which has made me more proficient at reading instruction manuals. In many cases manufacturers’ user guides can be convoluted, making learning the product features a bit daunting.
Though I’m quite familiar with using my Nikon Speedlights, I wanted to find a comprehensive easy-to-read book that I could share with my students. I found Stephanie Zettl’s “Nikon Speedlight Handbook: Flash Techniques for Digital Photographers” (Amherst Media) and was quite impressed with Chapters 2 and 3, which I found to be invaluable for users of Nikon Speedlights—a true user’s handbook.
Chapter 2—The Nikon Speedlight System—is very detailed in describing a variety of Nikon Speedlights coupled with detailed diagrams of the many functional aspects of the SB-900, SB-700 and SB-400 flash units. I even learned a thing or two about my SB-900. Additionally, I was pleasantly surprised to see Zettl mentioned the Nikon SU-800 Remote Commander, which I think is a must for Nikon users.
Chapter 3—Settings, Functions and Menus—is a well-written section of valuable information and lighting charts that photographers can reference for information on guide number settings, exposure compensation and custom settings.
Zettl uses her creative images to illustrate different lighting styles using a variety of small flash light modifiers as well as photographs that demonstrate the beauty of using single and multiple Nikon Speedlights. You can find inspiration and valuable information throughout the book.
By Stan Sholik
Photographing meteors during a meteor shower isn’t as difficult as you may think. All it requires is a little advance planning, a little preparation, a little luck and the camera gear that you already own.
This is a composite of five captures: four meteor streaks and the foreground hillside. The image shows the meteors radiating from a point that lies close to the constellation Perseus. Nikon D800E, ISO 1600, 25mm f/2.8 Zeiss ZF, 20 seconds at f/2.8 each capture. ©Stan Sholik
Meteor showers occur for a number of reasons, but the predictable showers happen when the Earth passes through the remnants of a comet or through its tail. Knowing when these meteor showers occur is the easiest part. There are three major events visible in the US: the Perseid shower in August; the Leonid in November and the Geminid in December. The International Meteor Organization publishes detailed information and dates on its website, www.imo.net.
These events are named for the closest constellation from which they seem to radiate: Perseus for the Perseid, Leo for the Leonid and Gemini for the Geminid. Picking out these constellations from a dark sky full of stars can be tricky. There are laptop and smartphone apps to help, but my favorite astronomy app is StarMap 3D Plus on my iPad. Not only does it have all of the needed astronomical visuals and information, there is a setting that displays the information in red on the screen. The red display preserves your night vision far better than the bright white of a laptop or smartphone screen.
Most meteors during the night are faint streaks in the sky. The darker the sky, the more visible the meteors. That means finding a place where the sky is dark. The best website I have found for this is cleardarksky.com. It lists thousands of locations in the US, Canada, and Mexico and updates conditions daily for cloud cover, atmospheric transparency, darkness and several other factors. It’s a good resource to check before you head out hoping to see meteors. And of course, the presence of the moon, combined with other atmospheric factors, can severely limit your ability to see meteors.
I prepare my camera gear before I leave to save myself the struggle and the possibility of mistakes trying to load film cameras and adjust settings on digital cameras in the dark. I take as many cameras as I have tripods and fast manual-focus wide angle lenses.
Although you know the point of origin of the meteor shower, it’s impossible to predict where in the sky the meteorite will strike the atmosphere. Fast f/1.4 to f/2.8 wide angle lenses with focal lengths from fisheye to 28mm are the best choices. I prefer manual-focus lenses because the infinity setting is at one end of the focus scale and is easy to set in the dark. The infinity position on an autofocus lens is never obvious.
By Ron Dawson
It's challenging to compare Canon's EOS C300 (the first in its line of cinema cameras) with the EOS 5D Mark III (the long-awaited update to the 5D Mark II). When it comes to video quality and features, the C300 handily wins. But that doesn't mean buying or renting this camera over the 5D Mark III is a slam dunk. Having now used both cameras in the field, I want to highlight some key differences that will be worth considering, especially when you take into account the street price for the C300 is about $16,000 vs. $3,500 for the 5D Mark III.
This is by no means an exhaustive comparison. The point of this article is just to point out some specific concerns about each camera.
A New Line of Cinema Cameras
The C300 was announced November 2011 and is the first in Canon's line of cinema cameras. Since then they have also released the C500 and the 1DX, which will be a 4K camera. The C300 is a full-blown cinema camera but with a weight and form factor similar to a Hasselblad. It has many of the features that traditional filmmakers and video producers like me missed once we started shooting with DSLRs. Things like peaking (the ability to set the viewfinder to show areas of greatest focus), professional XLR audio inputs, zebra lines (live display of highlights), and professional grade BNC outputs for use with high quality monitors (vs. the cheapo, but works-in-a-pinch HDMI outputs you get on DSLRs).
On the set of a music video with a 5D Mark III connected to a SmallHD monitor via HDMI cable, the cable broke later during filming.
The C300 has a Super 35mm chip, which is equivalent to a 1.5X crop factor (vs. the 5D Mark III's full-frame sensor). There's an EF-mount model for taking Canon EF lenses, and a PL-mount model for using more traditional cinema lenses. Currently there is no adaptor if you want to have both options on one camera.
Here’s the Canon EOS C300 on set of our documentary shoot, loaded with a Zeiss CP.2 Cinema lens with EF mount (Note: the CP.2s are specially made cinema lenses with EF mounts. Definitely worth renting or owning if it fits your budget).
By Don Chick, M.Photog.Cr., CPP
How many times have you spent the day photographing a wedding or other event with your primary camera and an extra camera hanging by a strap around your neck? Juggling two cameras on the job with the extra one always sliding off your shoulder? How does your body feel at the end of a day like that? How does your neck feel? Thankfully, there is an alternative to this pain-in-the neck occupational hazard. The solution is the SpiderPro Camera Holster by Spider Holster. Instead of wearing your camera around your neck all day, you can wear the camera in a holster on your hip like an old gunslinger from the Wild West!
I picked up the SpiderPro System at Imaging USA in January, and I've been using it ever since. It is safe and secure, but still delivers quick and easy access. You don’t even need to worry about the safety of your on-camera flash; the way the system is designed, the camera and flash hang upside down next to your leg, keeping the flash unit from potential damage as you walk around.
The Spider Holster concept is both elegant and simple. Using a hex wrench (supplied), attach the SpiderPro plate to the bottom of your camera.
Securely screwed onto this plate is the stainless steel pin that slides into the SpiderPro holster.
Now, with the SpiderPro belt securely in place around your waist, slide the pin into the holster and seat it at the bottom. Because the belt is designed with a generous width, the weight of the camera and lens is distributed to a larger surface area. This means your waist and hips are bearing the weight of equipment instead of your neck. Talk about a weight being lifted!
Today, Lensbaby introduced the newest addition to their creative lens line at Photokina 2012: the Lensbaby Spark. It’s geared toward the photo enthusiasts, but at $80 it allows more advanced photographers to invest in a fun creative tool without blowing their budget.
The Spark is a lightweight, manual focus, 50mm optic featuring a f/5.6 fixed aperture. The focus range is about 13 inches to infinity. For the purpose of shooting images for this review I used the in camera metering system on my Canon EOS-1D X and no difficulties obtaining proper exposures with this lens.
The Spark’s focus range is about 13 inches to infinity. This image is taken at about 15 inches from the subject.
The build quality of the Spark is lightweight, sturdy and low on frills. The resulting images with their softness and blurring are impressive considering that Spark seems like a simple and straightforward tool. The Spark creates images with the familiar Lensbaby sweet spot of focus surrounded by beautiful, gradually increasing blur with the benefit of built in vignetting. I captured the images for this review at dusk in mid-September and found the quality of color and contrast straight out of camera to be what I normally expect during this time of day. I shot these photos in raw format and only modified them in Adobe Camera Raw 7.1.
By Ellis Vener
Dateline: New York City, September 12, 2012
At a press preview in New York City, Nikon USA showed off the much-rumored D600 to a small group of journalists. The D600 is a 24.3-megapixel FX-format (FX is Nikon’s designation for their 24x35.9mm-format digital cameras) digital SLR with full-HD 1080p and 720p video that you can switch between FX and DX for a telephoto boost or to alter depth of field. According to Nikon’s Steve Heiner and Lindsay Silverman, the D600 is Nikon’s lightest, smallest, and most affordable FX DSLR ever.
The D600 fills the hole between the now discontinued 12-megapixel D700 and the36-megapixel D800 FX cameras. It’s roughly the size and weight of the DX-format D7000 body. The D600 is about 16 percent lighter than the D800 (26.8 ounces) and is a few millimeters shorter in height and width. Holding and operating it feels much like the D7000. In many ways the D600 is like a D800 Lite. Besides its 33-percent lower total resolution there are some electronic and mechanical differences.
One of the design goals with the D600, according to Nikon reps, is to reduce the need to go through different layers of menus, so some of the buttons on the front and back control dual functions. In particular the Function and the Depth of Field preview buttons on the right side of the lens mount are user programmable.
Significant features for stills and general operation:
• 24.3-megapixel full-frame (Nikon FX) resolution and a little under 11-megapixel if used as a DX-format camera. Nikon does not disclose who does the fabrication on their CMOS imaging chips, but Lindsay Silverman pointed out that the CMOS in the D600 is a Nikon design
• Processing chip uses a variant of Nikon’s EXPEED 3 processor
• Normal sensitivity range ISO 100 to 6400, plus a Lo1 (ISO 50 equivalent) and on the high end up to an equivalent ISO 25,600 in the Hi settings”
• Nikon claims a “high” signal to noise ratio throughout the sensitivity range
• TTL exposure metering in spot (4mm circle), center-weighted, and matrix metering modes
• 3D color matrix metering II for type G and D Nikkors, color matrix metering II for other CPU equipped lenses
• Metering range 0 to 20 EV
• EV adjustment range +/- 5 stops (10 stop total range)
• Shutter speed 1/4,000 second to 30 seconds, plus B. Normal Flash Sync speed (top) 1/200 second; shutter assembly life expectancy 150,000 cycles
• Nikon Multi-CAM 4800 autofocus sensor module with TTL phase detection over a -1 to 19 EV (ISO 100 @ 68˚F) range; autofocus options for SLR type shooting selectable between 39 3D tracking points, and 39, 21, 9, and 1 Dynamic-area AF points
• Live View autofocus features contrast-detect AF anywhere in frame; in Face-Priority or subject-tracking AF modes the camera selects the AF point
• Top frame rate in continuous mode 5.5 FPS when shooting NEF or JPEG format
• Dual SD media slots.
• Compatible with over 60 Nikkor lenses including DX-format lenses (some Nikkor DX zooms will fill the full 24x36mp area but not at their widest settings)
• Battery capacity approximately 900 frames
• The built-in pop up flash can also work as a Nikon iTTL commander for two groups and four channels; flash beam is sufficient for a 24mm lens in the full FX format
• The control cluster on the left side of the camera’s pentaprism has an expanded range of functions
• Viewfinder 100% view at 0.7X magnification
• 3.2-inch (diagonal), 921,000-dot wide-angle TFT-LCD preview screen
• A smaller version of Nikon’s long-established 10-pin external control connection
This page contains all entries posted to Professional Photographer Magazine Web Exclusives in September 2012. They are listed from oldest to newest.
August 2012 is the previous archive.
October 2012 is the next archive.