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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. 

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

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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And here is an image from the session:

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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 BPhotoArt.com.

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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 http://en.aspen.co.jp 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:

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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.

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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.

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Here’s the final image taken through the reflector.

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

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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 http://www.fjwestcott.com/reflectors-scrims/omega-reflector.

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

 

July 22, 2015

Can 17hats Fit Your Style of Business?

By Ron Dawson

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.

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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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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Projects must be connected to contacts.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

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

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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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.)

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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.

Accounting

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 Authorize.net.
  • 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.) 

Pricing

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?

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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.

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©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.

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©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.

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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.

June 17, 2015

Adobe Photoshop CC (2015): A Mixed Bag of Changes

By Stan Sholik

After a recent update to the Adobe Creative Cloud (CC) app that seemed to go much smoother on Windows machines than on Macs, Adobe has given us an update to Photoshop, titled Photoshop CC (2015), along with Lightroom and Bridge updates. While there are a few areas where operational speed has improved in the new Photoshop, and some new tools, the biggest news for photographers may be a feature that is external to Photoshop but integrated into the program—Adobe Stock.

But first, the Photoshop news. You should notice speed improvements when using the heal and patch tools, with the heal tool operating in real time while you brush. Landscape photographers will welcome the new DeHaze tool in the Effects tab of Adobe Camera Raw. DeHaze utilizes a combination of other ACR tools to remove or add aerial haze to photos. It is very effective although it introduces color shifts with some images that can usually be corrected with other tools in Camera Raw. But don’t bother using it if faces are visible—you’ll never correct the changes to flesh tones. DeHaze also finds its way into Lightroom and Lightroom Mobile apps for CC members, but not into Lightroom 6, at least at present.

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Side by side views of the effectiveness of the new DeHaze filter in Camera Raw with the original on the left and the DeHaze result on the right. ©Stan Sholik

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The DeHaze tool is effective in removing haze, but the color shift with flesh tones is a challenge to remove. ©Stan Sholik

Another interesting addition is the Transform on Drop checkbox in the tool panel options of the Content-Aware Move Tool. When checked, you can rotate and scale the selection after moving it, and the selection blends automatically into the new position if you have chosen the Structure and Color settings wisely.

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The new Content-Aware checkbox in the Content-Aware Move tool allows you to quickly resize and rotate part of the image after you move it and automatically blend the moved section into your photo. ©Stan Sholik

The latest update to Adobe Camera Raw added HDR and panorama stitching tools. Photoshop 2015 is fighting back by updating its Photomerge tool. There is a new Photomerge dialog box and the ability to use content-aware merging to fill in areas that would otherwise be transparent and require cropping. Given the right content close to those otherwise transparent areas (sky, ground, etc.) this new feature works very well.

The final major addition is a Noise panel for all of the blur tools in the Blur Gallery. In prior versions of Photoshop, using the blur tools resulted in an inconsistent look between the blurred and non-blurred areas because of the smoothness of the blurred areas. In Photoshop 2015 you can add grain, Gaussian, or uniform noise to the blurred areas. There are sliders to control the amount, size, roughness, color and highlights of the noise. Used carefully, the noise options can make for a better match between the two areas.

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There are other features in Photoshop 2015, such as Artboards and enhanced connectivity between Adobe CC apps through the Libraries panel, mainly of interest to designers, particularly web designers. But the most important change, for better or worse for photographers, is the incorporation of a direct link to Adobe Stock photos in the Library panel.

ps2015 _002.pngAt the acquisition of the stock agency Fotolia in January of this year, Adobe promised “to radically simplify the buying and selling of stock content.” Photoshop 2015 begins the fulfillment of this promise. Adobe says that 85% of the buyers of stock content use Adobe products in their work, and 90% of the creators of stock content are Adobe product users. With access to Adobe Stock only a mouse click away in any CC app, the benefits to Adobe are clear. Time will only tell the impact this will have on stock creators and the stock industry as a whole.

Stock photo buyers pay $9.99 to purchase a royalty free Adobe Stock photo. Subscriptions are available to lower the cost to buyers. A ten image per month plan is available for $49.99 per month or $29.99 per month if the buyer is a CC member. A 750 image per month subscription is available for $199.99 per month for everyone.

Photographers are able to contribute images to Adobe Stock directly through www.stock.adobe.com/contribute. You simply need to sign up as a contributor through the Sell Images link barely visible at the bottom of the page. You can also sign up through Fotolia.com. Be sure to read all of the information at https://us.fotolia.com/Info/Contributors about file specs, keywording, and service conditions. Royalties paid to photographers are at best 33% of sales on Adobe Stock, ranging from a high of $3.30 per On Demand (single image) sale to $0.99 if the purchaser is buying through the 10 images a month plan to a minimum guaranteed $0.25 per sale if purchased by a 750 images a month plan buyer.

Photoshop 2015 plays the usual havoc with your plug-ins and any scripts you have created. You must manually move the folders from Photoshop 2014 and hope that they still function. For me, the Alien Skin plug-ins don’t work at all, the onOne extension has disappeared, but other plug-ins work fine. Now the third-party developers have to deal with Photoshop 2015.

So there are features to like, transitions to dislike, and who knows what impact Adobe Stock will have on the market. But clearly, Photoshop CS6 and Lightroom 6 users are losing more ground to the latest releases of Photoshop and Lightroom in the Adobe Creative Cloud.

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

 

PROS

  • Improved speed
  • DeHaze in Adobe Camera Raw
  • Content-Aware in Photomerge
  • Transform on Drop option in Content-Aware Move tool

 

CONS

  • Some plug-ins and extensions no longer work
  • DeHaze filter not usable with people

May 26, 2015

Lensbaby Velvet 56: Step Into the Pictorialist School

By Stan Sholik

Everything old becomes new again, and with the new Velvet 56 lens from Lensbaby that is a very good thing. Long before computers were used to design lenses and long before aspherical lens elements, camera lenses were fairly simple combinations of convex and concave lenses. These lenses tended to exhibit a high level of spherical aberration resulting in soft images and blooming highlights at large apertures, but excellent sharpness when stopped down.

The Pictorialist school of photography, which ruled the photographic world in the first decades of the 20th century, used lenses of this type to show that photographs could produce images of great beauty and expressiveness. As lens design and technology, and photography itself advanced, the f.64 Group revolted against the Pictorialist school and changed photography forever by favoring sharp images with great depth of field.

Now, Lensbaby, well known for their innovative lenses that allow photographers to see in new ways, has created a lens that lets us see in an old way—the way of early portrait and Pictorialist photographers. This new lens is the Velvet 56, a lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.6 that is available for Canon, Nikon, and Pentax full-frame and APS-C DSLRs.

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©Jerome Hart

Utilizing a lens design that consists of four elements in three groups that does not correct for spherical aberration, the Velvet 56 produces beautifully soft images with glowing highlights when used at f/1.6, and crisp, sharp images at its minimum f/16 aperture. Between its maximum and minimum apertures, images smoothly transition from soft and ethereal to sharp and contrasty, but with a smoothness to the tonality that is uncharacteristic of modern lenses designed for digital cameras. By choosing the appropriate aperture you are able to photograph a dreamy backlit photo of the bride and an ultra sharp photo of the wedding party without changing lenses. Soft photos of a new mother with her baby and sharp photos of executives are equally possible with the Velvet 56. And the middle apertures with their smooth tonal gradations are ideal for smoothing skin tones in portraits, minimizing the time needed for later retouching.

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©Victoria Hederer Bell

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An added bonus in the Velvet 56 is the ability to focus to half life size, giving the choice of dreamily soft close-up photos with very shallow depth of field, strikingly sharp images of the same subject with far greater depth of field, or something in between according to your vision. Simply having this capability in one lens has prompted me to experiment with new approaches to some of my close-up images.

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The Velvet 56 focus to 1/2 life size enabling glowing close-up photos wide open, velvety-smooth photos at medium apertures, or sharp captures at f/16. ©Stan Sholik

There are two models of the Velvet 56. Both feature all-metal construction. The Velvet 56 is finished in black; the Velvet 56 SE is silver. Other than the finish, the two are identical, although the SE is not available for Pentax. I tested the SE model on several full-frame Nikon bodies, primarily a Nikon D750.

Using the lens is not without its operational quirks. Accurate focus is the main one. Both Velvet 56 models are manual focus and focusing is no easy task given the softness of the lens at its wider apertures.  This makes focusing something of a hit or miss affair, with a lot of misses at the wider, softer apertures where contrast is low. On the other hand, those final images were interesting for their impressionistic qualities, with emotional response trumping technical considerations.

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Even when your focus is not perfect at f/1.6, the impressionistic result can be satisfying. ©Stan Sholik

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At moderate apertures such as f/5.6, the result is somewhere between sharp and soft, but the tonality is beautiful. ©Stan Sholik

Nikon bodies must be switched to manual focus mode in order for the focus indicator in the viewfinder to confirm that the area of the subject under the focus point is actually in focus. And since the focus ring rotates in the “Canon” direction, focus direction indicators in Nikon bodies show the opposite direction you need to rotate the focus ring to bring the subject into focus.

The lenses are also manual aperture. Stopping the lens down to take advantage of its sharpness darkens the image in the viewfinder, adding another complication if the sensitivity of the camera’s focusing system is not great enough to confirm exposure.

Setting exposure can also be an issue. Nikon photographers have the choice of using the lens in manual or aperture priority mode. On Nikons, aperture is set using an aperture ring like the one found on pre-G series Nikkors for manually setting the aperture, not by using the sub-command dial on the camera body. Fortunately for Nikon users, the aperture ring rotates in the same direction as pre-G series lenses, but opposite to that of older Canon lenses. Unfortunately the aperture value is not displayed in the viewfinder, nor is the aperture recorded in the EXIF metadata. However, exposures in aperture priority mode were consistently accurate as they were using the exposure indicator in the viewfinder in manual exposure mode. Canon photographers are limited to aperture priority exposure mode only using the exposure ring.

The black Lensbaby Velvet 56 retails for $499.95 and the silver LE edition for $599.95. At a time in photographic history when modern lenses and high resolution digital sensors are designed to show the finest detail in our subjects, perhaps it is time to step backward and reinvent part of our imaging style by using a look from the past that served photographers well in the early years of photography.

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.

 

May 21, 2015

Comparing Lightroom 6/CC: New, Notable, Pros, and Cons

By Stan Sholik

LR_boxangle.jpgFor one final release, or so the general consensus feels, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom retains its dual personality. Creative Cloud (CC) versions are labeled CC and perpetual license versions are known as Lightroom 6. The principal difference between the two is connectivity, a concept behind which Adobe is putting a lot of energy and resources, which I'll go over. But first, the similarities between the two versions.

There are enough major and minor new features in Lightroom 6/CC (Lightroom) to warrant the release of a new version, although many may not be particularly relevant to your business. Two new merge tools—High Dynamic Range and Panorama—found in the Photo > Photo Merge dropdown menu are straightforward functions that do their job, but with few options. The previews are limited in size and you cannot zoom in, but the results are saved as DNG files that allow further editing in Lightroom.

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Lightroom’s new HDR merge feature produces natural looking images. They generally require additional adjustments in the Develop module as I have done here. ©Stan Sholik

Facial recognition is also new, although it doesn’t seem to work any better than facial recognition in other software. Heads turned directly to the camera are recognized and successfully stacked. Heads turned even slightly away are more of an issue, and the occasional pet or section of grass find their way into the mix also. With People selected from the View menu, Lightroom runs facial recognition on the active folder. By clicking on the Lightroom identity plate you can un-pause face detection and the program will look for faces in your entire catalog if you have the time and energy for that.

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Facial recognition is a new feature in Lightroom, and it works about as well as it does in competing software.

Should Lightroom miss a person, you can add names to individuals by choosing the Draw Face Region icon in the Library toolbar, drawing a box around the face and adding a name. Just remember to have a unique name for everyone.

Once you tag faces, Lightroom does a decent job of finding the face in other folders. People’s names become keywords and you can search on the name in the Keyword List to show all of the instances where that person appears in a photo in your catalog.

I just have to question the logic behind incorporating simplistic versions of HDR, panorama, and facial recognition into Lightroom. They strike me as more of a lure to move enthusiasts from Photoshop Elements (where facial recognition and panorama creation already exist) to a CC subscription than as serious tools for professionals.

One set of new features in Lightroom that professionals may find useful is the expanded capabilities in the Slideshow module. The Music panel now allows you to include up to 10 mp3, AAC, or ALAC music clips that you can reorder by dragging up or down. Lightroom will fade from one to another so there will be constant music during the entire slideshow.

Bigger changes can be found in the Slideshow Mode section of the Playback panel. In the Automatic mode you can allow Lightroom to automatically add pan and zoom effects to the show, with you selecting the speed of the effects with a slider. You can sync slides to the beat of the music, or you can choose a time for crossfades between slides and click Sync to Music to have Lightroom automatically calculate how long each slide will play based on the total duration of your music. With these new Lightroom features I was able to create an HD video (mp4) slideshow for a local Little League from photos that I had taken, and the League is thinking about ordering them for each of the teams next year.

The ability to view, adjust, and share photos, videos, and slideshows on your iOS devices and Android phone has been available in previous versions of Lightroom, but the added connectivity to social media and your clients, as well as Android tablets, is new to Lightroom CC, and distinguishes the CC version from Lightroom 6.

Connectivity between your desktop, laptop, and mobile devices is handled through collections. You create a collection in Lightroom CC or in the Lightroom Mobile app on your mobile device, and if Sync is active, the collection immediately appears on all synced devices connected to the internet. Collections made on your mobile devices appear in a LR mobile collection in the Lightroom CC Collections panel on your desktop or laptop computer.

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You enable syncing collections from your desktop copy of Lightroom CC to Lightroom mobile by clicking the disclosure triangle next to the nameplate and choosing Sync with Lightroom mobile from the menu.

The synchronization is handled through your personal space in lightroom.adobe.com, which you access with your Adobe CC login. Once logged in you see the synchronized images as a flat view of collections or as a segmented view by day and year. In the Collections view, you can share each collection to social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Google+, Instagram, and more, or you can share each collection privately by sending a link to those whom you want to view it. You can do this from your mobile devices also, but I prefer working through lightroom.adobe.com on my desktop computer. With Lightroom CC on your desktop or laptop it is easy to create a general portfolio collection, a specific portfolio collection for a targeted assignment request, and portrait, wedding, event, sports, or any other portfolio and have them instantly available to show on your mobile device and to send links to potential clients. Updating any portfolio is as simple as adding or replacing photos in the appropriate collection in Lightroom CC.

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By signing in to your account at lightroom.adobe.com or your mobile device you can see and share your synced collections.

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Sharing individual photos privately or to social media is easy with lightroom.adobe.com and from your mobile devices.

And for iPad users, Adobe pushes connectivity even further. Two relatively new free storytelling apps, Adobe Slate and Adobe Voice, allow you to create and share stories based on your images. These could be behind-the scenes insights into a photo session, a wedding story, a travelogue, or whatever you can imagine. Slate offers a variety of templates and themes to get you started. You simply add text using one of the available fonts, and your photos, selection motion options or a magazine-style layout, then share the result publicly or by sending a link. Viewers can see your story on any connected device without the use of an app. Slate stories take only minutes to create and I’m looking forward to sending them to clients as part of email blasts.

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With Lightroom CC you can use a collection to create a story using Adobe Slate on your iPad.

Adobe Voice takes storytelling one step further by letting you tell your story with your own voice for a more personal connection. Where it is becoming increasingly difficult to make personal connections in business and to separate yourself from the competition, Voice creates a possible way. The finished Voice project is a short video that you can upload to social media, add to a blog, or send to clients as a link.

Within both Adobe Slate and Adobe Voice is an option to add images from your Lightroom Mobile collections on the iPad. Lightroom CC in conjunction with Lightroom Mobile creates connectivity options and social media connections that have the potential to increase your marketing options in ways that are open to your creative solutions.

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Lightroom CC now connects to Lightroom Mobile on Apple and Android tablets. Since neither tablet is color managed, images look different on each and likely different than on your color managed desktop or laptop.

Lightroom 6 is available with a perpetual license for $149 ($142.99 street). Lightroom CC is a “free” download as part of the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan and the Adobe Creative Cloud Complete Plan.

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.

April 23, 2015

Color Grading Basics for DSLR Filmmaking

By Ron Dawson

Every Hollywood movie, every TV commercial, and every original series you binge-watch on Netflix is professionally color graded. Doesn’t matter how simple or “normal” a scene may look, before it hits the airwaves or the silver screen, a colorist sat in a dark room, turning knobs or tweaking software parameters to make the scene look and feel the way the director wanted.

Fortunately, many photographers are better prepared to enter the world of color grading than videographers were during the rise of DSLR filmmaking. Most of you are already familiar with levels and curves in Lightroom or Photoshop. You can take those same skill sets and apply them to filmmaking.

Shooting Flat

As is usually the case when it comes to filmmaking, the work you do in post-production starts long before you enter the editing room. When it comes to color grading, it starts with how you capture your image. There are a number of considerations to be best prepared to color grade.

Saturation, sharpness, and contrast all play a significant role in the color grading process. In order to have the most flexibility, experienced filmmakers shoot their footage “flat,” meaning saturation, sharpness, and contrast are slightly to significantly reduced in-camera.

With DSLRs I use a custom setting with sharpness and contrast set as low as possible and two notches down on saturation, a setting made famous by filmmaker and colorist Stu Maschwitz in his blog post prolost.com/flat.

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© Stu Maschwitz.

The image you capture will essentially look lifeless, but you will have the most latitude for making color enhancements in post.

Levels and Curves

One of the first places to start in color grading is levels and curves adjustments. I typically use Nattress Levels and Curves plug-in for Final Cut Pro X (FCPX), but what I’ll explain is applicable to any non-linear editor (NLE).

There are four plug-ins that come with Levels and Curves: Curves, Curves Luma, Curves RGB, and Levels. I’ll show you each using a clip from the raw footage of my short film “S3P4.” Here’s the untreated footage shot with a flat profile on a Canon EOS 7D:

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Curves tweaks the blacks, midrange, and whites along the whole color space. When you first apply the plug-in, a diagonal line appears on the clip. From here you can adjust the whites, mids, and blacks (as well as the “toe” and “knee” values).

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Curves Luma just affects the luma values, not the color. You might use the plug-in if you’re concerned with exposure levels only and don’t want to change saturation or the color temperature. You’ll notice that the color temperature of this is closer to that of the original raw footage. The key difference is the contrast.

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A straight-forward S-curve, commonly used for a cinematic look

Curves RGB allows you to tweak the levels in each of the primary colors: red, green, or blue. In this particular instance, I selected the preset “Cool Highlights, Warm Shadows.”

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Finally, we have the Levels plug-in, used to manipulate black, gamma and white levels in your image. At its basic, gamma is the setting of the greys in your image. Differences in gamma setting is why one image or video may look one way on a Mac and darker on Windows. Often you can “lighten” an image by changing the gamma. This will tend to preserve more of the details than just boosting the highlights.

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Tools of the Trade

There are a wide variety of tools on the market for color grading. All of the major NLEs like Adobe’s Premiere Pro and After Effects, or Apple’s FCPX have built-in color tools for doing basic grading. Typically you’ll use color wheels, HSL sliders, contrast adjustments, etc. One benefit of using these tools is that they usually require less render time than plug-ins and filters.

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FCPX’s “Color Board” is Apple’s replacement of the traditional color wheel.

If you want to beef up your color-grading arsenal, the next step is plug-ins. Some enhance your ability to manipulate levels and curves. Some give you extreme looks that allow you to make significant changes across the board to color, contrast, saturation, etc.

On the Mac, I highly recommend FxFactory by Noise Industries (fxfactory.com). Think of it an App Store for your NLE. Once you purchase a plug-in via the free FxFactory software, wherever you log on to a computer, you’ll have access to those plug-ins. They have plug-ins for FCPX, After Effects, Apple Motion, and Adobe Premiere. Other popular FCPX plug-in providers include CrumplePop.com and RippleTraining.com.

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One of the most respected plug-in developers for both Mac and Windows NLEs is Red Giant Software (www.redgiant.com). Their Magic Bullet Looks plug-in has nearly 200 presets that replicate popular movie and television show looks. Each preset is then customizable, or you can create one from scratch.

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Plug-ins range from as low as $30 to $399 for Magic Bullet Looks ($799 if you opt for Red Giant’s full suite of Magic Bullet products).

If you want to play with the pros and have the most power at your fingertips, then you’ll want to learn one of the stand-alone color grading tools like Black Magic Design’s DaVinci Resolve (https://www.blackmagicdesign.com/products/davinciresolve) or Adobe’s Speedgrade https://creative.adobe.com/products/speedgrade . The learning curve on these programs is more steep, but if you master them the sky’s the limit with where you can take the look of your films.

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DaVinci Resolve is perhaps the leading stand-alone color grading program.

DaVinci Resolve Lite is free, but the full program is just shy of $1,000. I would guess, though, that the Lite version has more features than most of you will ever need.

Scopes are Your Friend

To effectively and precisely color grade footage, it’s important to use your NLE’s built-in scopes, which are virtual monitors used to analyze color and luma levels in your video. My go-to scope is the RGB parade waveform monitor, which will show you the waveform pattern for the three primary colors.

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RGB Parade waveform monitor. 

Another popular one is the vectorscope, often used to gauge the distribution of color in a shot.

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Matching Your Video to a Photo or Another Film

If you see a video whose look you really like, take a screenshot of the scenes you like, import them into your NLE, open your scopes, then tweak your video’s RGB curve settings to match those of the imported scene. I did something similar with a photo to make a “beauty” film I shot as a gift for my wife. 

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The photo I used as the basis for my color grade with the RGB parade waveform of the photo in FCPX (photo ©Atil Inc)

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The RGB parade of the raw footage 

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This is the look of the film after making RGB curve adjustments to match those of the photo. The pattern and values are much closer to the original photo now.

Color Grading Resources

There is so much more to cover, such as LUTs, color space, and bit depth, but these basics should be enough to take your color-graded videos to the next level. Here are some additional resources if you would like to delve deeper into the colorful world of color grading.

Color Grading Central by Denver Riddle

Ripple Training’s Color Grading Tutorial for Final Cut Pro and DaVinci Resolve 

Anything by respected instructor and colorist Alexis Van Hurkman 

Stu Maschwitz’s blog, prolost.com

SnakeClamp: Third Hand Hero

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

Whether you’re working in the studio or on location, chances are you’ve found yourself in a situation where you could use an extra set of hands. Maybe you needed a light or gobo to be held in just the right position, or perhaps your tripod just wasn’t flexible enough to get the angle you wanted. And that’s where SnakeClamp comes in. Their tagline is “hold what you need, where you need it.” And based on my experience with their system, SnakeClamp delivers. 

SnakeClamp is an innovative system that combines a flexible arm with interchangeable mounting bases and attachments. It can be used to hold anything—iPad, smartphone, camera, speedlight. They can even provide custom mounting systems if you need something specialized.

When ordering your SnakeClamp, you get to decide which components you want. When in use, you will only be using three components at one time, but it is possible to swap out parts if desired.

First, you’ll probably want to decide what sort of device you need held. SnakeClamp has the following attachment categories: camera, tablet, e-reader, smartphone, machine guard, workholding, microphone, and reflector lamp. You could also supply your own if it has a compatible 3/8-inch male screw threads.

Next, select the arm. SnakeClamp offers a variety of flexible gooseneck arms (9-,18- and 24-inch lengths), as well as a 12-inch rigid arm (load capacity of 5 pounds). The flexible arms have a load capacity of 2 pounds, with the exception of the normal 18-inch gooseneck, which has a .5-pound load capacity. If you want the 18-inch length with 2-pound load capacity, go with the heavy-duty version.

Finally, you’ll need to consider your mounting base options: table clamp, round base, magnet base, plate mount, rail clamp, and multiclamp. If you're going to use the round base, you may want to get the one with a 1.8-pound magnet for added stability.

For this review, I got to test out the camera mount adapter, the camera ball head, the flexible gooseneck arm, the round base (with optional magnet weight), and the multiclamp. The parts ship unassembled; a hex key was included, but I did need to supply my own flathead screwdriver.

The arm accepts two 3/8-inch screws and has a 4mm set screw on each end, too. The set screw ensures that the 3/8-inch screw threads won’t loosen unintentionally. To assemble, you simply add the attachment and base options to each end of the arm (you could supply your own attachments so long as they have 3/8-inch male screw threads).

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A top-down view of the round base with
the camera ball head attachment

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An underside view of the round base,
with the magnet weight removed

Both camera mounts will work with standard tripod threads. The ball head can support up to 6.6 pounds, so using a DSLR is possible, depending on the body and lens combination you use, but this isn't the best solution for that. For the sake of this review, I tried it anyway. Did it hold? Yes. I’d relegate this sort of use to in-studio, where conditions are controlled. With a lighter camera, I’d have no qualms whatsoever. My main concern was whether the light stand would tip rather than if the SnakeClamp could hold.

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After testing out the round base, I swapped in the multiclamp attachment and decided this was the perfect combination for me.

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The real benefit of this setup? Being able to use the SnakeClamp for off-camera lights. I really enjoyed using the multiclamp base with my speedlights. This would be great for on location, if you didn’t want to carry a light stand with you. There’s almost always somewhere to attach a clamp, so the SnakeClamp expands your lighting placement options.

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My take away? While the SnakeClamp wasn’t designed specifically for photographers, it is definitely an innovative tool that you should consider adding to your arsenal. The SnakeClamp is a great product. I’m not sure I’d use it for my DSLR so much as for other things. When you combine a pro DSLR body with a heavy lens, the weight is going to exceed the load capacity for the flexible gooseneck arm. The SnakeClamp really opened up possibilities so far as where I could place my lights for effective on location lighting. The round base with table attachment might be nice for studio consultations, bridal shows, or other times when you want to have a tablet handy.

Since the SnakeClamp is a build-your-own product, prices will vary, but this investment won’t break the bank. Camera attachments are under $15, gooseneck arms range from $10 to $30, and bases range from $14 to $38. So, depending on the attachments you want, you could have your own customized SnakeClamp for less than $50. To learn more about the different attachment options, or to order, visit snakeclamp.com.

Betsy Finn, M.Photog.Cr.,CPP lives in Michigan. Her studio, Betsy’s Photography, can be found on the web at bphotoart.com.

 

March 24, 2015

Get a Slow-mo 360-degree Video Sweep with OrcaVue

By Joan Sherwood, Senior Editor

When you mention a 360-degree shot, most people will think of a panoramic sweep of the surrounding view from the photographer’s point of view. But imagine you had a film crew and could do one of those iconic cinema takes in which the camera sweeps around the subject in the center, like a couple embracing, or Keanu Reeves in full-airborne fight mode. That’s the sort of three-sixty that OrcaVue can get you, except you won’t need a whole film crew or a crane.

 

At the center of OrcaVue is a stationary platform with current models capable of holding 250 to 300 pounds (the OrcaVue XL is in development and will hold 400 pounds). Your human (or other) subject(s) stands or moves on the center platform as the OrcaVue sweeps its camera-mount arm in full 360-degree circles. The speed of the sweep is designed for 1 to 2 revolutions per second for cameras like the GoPro set to record in a high frame rate, such as 120 or 240 frames per second (fps) or other cameras that can reach 3,200 fps. The result creates a smooth, stunning, slow-motion shot moving around the subject in action.

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©OrcaVue

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The OrcaVue can support small devices like the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus as well as larger recommended camera models up to 7 pounds. Recommended cameras include the Panasonic GH4, Sony Alpha A7s, Canon EOS 70D, 6D, or 5D Mark III, and the Nikon D800. Larger cameras at higer RPMs will be compatible with the OrcaVue XL.

For a full-body shot using a full-frame DSLR, the team recommends using a 14mm lens with the camera arm 42 inches away. It all depends on what shot you want to get.

OrcaVue has two counterweight systems that are used for different situations. The first is the very simple static balance method for low revolutions per minute (RPMs). This is as easy as adding larger counterweights, or sliding the counterweight further from the central axis. The second is a more complex method of balancing dynamic equations, used at much higher RMPs (typically used on cameras with frame rates well above 240 FPS). It may sound complicated, but the OrcaVue app (coming soon) will save you from having to do any math. Simply input your givens (camera weight, distance from subject, desired RPM), and the app will read back the values for the counterweights needed.

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©OrcaVue 

The current asking price for the OrcaVue Life model is $2,499 ($500 off), which will be available for shipment in April. There is also an optional custom-fitted Pelican Case for $300.

There are also rental options available for Video Production Service (VPS) and Crowd Event Service (CES). The services include one-on-one assistance from OrcaVue staff so that you will be able to use the rig to its fullest potential. For VPS, you can rent for 2, 4, or 8 hours and the rental fee, which ranges from $599 to $999, includes an OrcaVue operator; travel and lodging expenses for the operator are tallied separately and billed at cost. Crowd Event Service includes an operator and an event manager’s services and is priced from $749 to $1,349.

The production and design team behind OrcaVue is business developer and engineer Adam Boussouf, head engineer Daniel Rosenberry, chief cinematographer Jonathan Rosenberry, and master builder Robert Rosenberry. Together they have already met with enthusiastic response for the product. Check out sample videos on Instagram at https://instagram.com/orcavue/ .

January 21, 2015

Gateway: Painter Essentials 5 Lets You Jump Right In

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

For the photographer who wants to offer an upsell, painted photos are sometimes a nice option. The problem is, they can take a lot of hours to complete, which drives up the cost. So, the question is, how to create painted photos with minimal time investment?

Corel Painter 2015 is the workhorse of the industry. You probably know several photographers who have spent many hours learning the art of digital painting. Yes, it looks awesome, but learning Corel Painter and practicing your art is a significant commitment in time, and you’re busy running your business.

Enter Corel Painter Essentials 5. It’s built on the code of Painter 2015, so it supports some of the functionality that 2015 does, such as Intel 2-in-1 support and 64-bit for PC and Mac. You’ll even find a number of the Particle Brushes from 2015 in Essentials 5. While Painter 2015 appeals more to professional artist, Painter Essentials 5 is for the more casual user, with a simplified interface.

Upon installing Painter Essentials 5, I decided to jump right in without any training, just to see how intuitive everything was. The welcome screen made things seem pretty easy.

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I wanted to try an auto painting, so I chose Start new Photo Art. The application asked me to open a source file, which needs to be an 8-bit file. I re-saved one of my portraits as 8-bit, and I was in business.

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After opening a file, you’ll see the following menu appear on the interface. Note that there are a couple different options.

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My next step was to select the preset style. I chose Detailed Painting.

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Then I clicked the Play button and waited for my auto painting to be created. On my computer at least, I couldn’t run the application in the background, but the process didn’t take that long to complete, so I waited patiently.

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Once the auto painting was complete, I checked things over. The painting was decent, but obviously needed some touching up. I decided to refine the facial features. Here’s what it looked like before any manual adjustments were done.

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Painter Essentials 5 comes with a number of Photo Brushes. These will paint from your source image, but apply the textures and properties of the media that you select.

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Things worked okay, but then I ran into a glitch. I think my Wacom tablet was causing the problem because the glitch disappeared after I restarted the program and adjusted my tablet’s stylus settings. So you may need to set up your stylus after installation.

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I spent some time playing around with the different brushes, adding detail, and refining the textures and brush strokes in areas until it looked decently finished. (One experience I remember from when I was painting on canvas was that I could never decide when a painting was “done.”)

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Then it was time to save. The output (Save As JPEG) gives you some options, as seen below:

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To save all the layers, source image, and other Painter-specific stuff in the file, you’ll have to save as a .RIFF file. You can save straight to one of many formats, such as .JPG, but if you select something other than .RIFF, it will remind you:

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And that’s that.

I also wanted to try out two other options that you may find of interest. First, painting from scratch. You can choose to create a new blank canvas, and it will give you the setup interface below.

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I’m not going to pretend that I created some photo-realistic masterpiece from scratch in under an hour, but I did spend 15-20 minutes playing with the brushes and creating an abstract painting that evokes the stamen of a flower. At any rate, it was relaxing and I had fun getting to know how my stylus worked in Painter Essentials.

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Now there’s one more option you can do, which is paint “from scratch” but with a source image. For this option, I selected New Photo Art again, but this time, after setting up my source image, I did not start auto paint. Instead, I selected a photo brush and started painting freehand. Each of my strokes revealed the colors and values from the source image, but was able to leave me with a completely custom looking painting. Take a peek at my original image, the progression of the painting, and the final painting:

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I absolutely love how this turned out. This was my first painting done this way, and approximately my fifth painting in Painter Essentials 5.

So, while it may take acclimation, it’s totally possible to produce saleable images after a short learning curve with Corel Painter Essentials 5. I’d say my total time invested in the portrait painting was under 15 minutes, and I probably spent slightly longer on my painting of the flower (I didn’t time that one).

I know I’ve only scratched the surface of the software’s capabilities, but my goal with this review was to see how quickly I could acclimate myself to using Painter Essentials to create a potential upsell item or usable accent art. And on that front, it most certainly delivers. Corel also has free video tutorials online to help you get started.

Bottom line? If you’re considering Corel Painter 2015 but aren’t sure it will be your cup of tea, you could always start with Corel Painter Essentials 5. It is a great learning tool for those looking to enter the digital art world, and can be used as a stepping stone into Painter 2015. Painter Essentials 5 is $49.99, whereas Corel Painter 2015 is $429; a trial of either program can be downloaded at painterartist.com.

Betsy Finn, M.Photog.Cr.,CPP lives in Michigan. Her studio, Betsy’s Photography, can be found on the web at bphotoart.com. 

January 20, 2015

Canon Experience Center Ready to Host and Serve

By Stan Sholik

Canon still photographers and videographers owe themselves a visit to the new Canon Experience Center in Costa Mesa, California. A hybrid of Disneyland and an Apple store (but without sales) for Canon users, the 38,000-square-foot renovated industrial building is part history lesson, part gear showroom, part service facility, part studio, and part Canon Professional Service (CPS) member refuge.

The opening of the facility was celebrated on November 5, with corporate representatives from Canon mingling with media for a ribbon cutting and behind the scenes tour. While there is plenty to entertain enthusiast photographers in the lobby, there is clearly an effort to welcome, inform, and service professional Canon photographers.

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The Canon Experience Center is located in Costa Mesa, CA. Photo courtesy of Canon USA

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Canon executives were present for the ribbon cutting at the grand opening. (Left to right) Joseph Warren, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Human Resources, Canon U.S.A., Inc.; Eliott Peck, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Imaging Technologies & Communications Group, Canon U.S.A., Inc.; Seymour Liebman, Executive Vice President, Chief Administrative Officer and General Counsel, Canon U.S.A., Inc.; Yuichi Ishizuka, President and COO, Imaging Technologies & Communications Group, Canon U.S.A., Inc.; Toru Nishizawa, President and CEO of Canon Virginia Inc.; Charles Womack, Vice President and General Manager of Customer Support Operations, Canon U.S.A., Inc. ©Stan Sholik

Have you ever wondered what the full line of Canon lenses looks like? Or wanted to look through a 600mm f/4 or 800mm f/5.6 lens mounted on the Canon body of your choice? In the lobby is a display of every lens that Canon currently manufactures, and representatives are there to answer questions and mount lenses on bodies for you.

The center of the lobby is dominated by a display featuring miniature trains running through beautifully designed settings. The display is ringed with cameras and lenses, both still and video that you can hold and operate while taking photographs of the trains.

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Photo courtesy of Canon USA

Of course there are large prints displayed around the outer perimeter of the lobby, taken by Canon Explorers of Light and printed on Canon large-format printers, which are also on display in the lobby. There is an alcove with a functioning portrait set, a series of stations for dropping off and picking up repairs, and a lounge for CPS members.

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Photo courtesy of Canon USA

This lounge is particularly impressive. Separated from the main lobby, it offers a quiet place for CPS members to meet with clients, edit images, or simply to relax before heading back into Orange County traffic. Members can also pick up loaner equipment here, or handle Canon gear in relative privacy.

As impressive as the front end of the Canon Experience Center is, it occupies less than an eighth of the building. The greater part is occupied by the service center. Seventeen technicians at present, with a goal of building to 36, handle an average of 70 to 100 repair orders per day. Turnaround time for CPS members is under two days, with many of their repairs completed in one day or less. Where estimates are required, turnaround time averages about 4.5 days. Everything from still cameras and lenses to broadcast video lenses are repaired by techs trained by Canon. While we weren’t allowed to photograph in the service area, the darkrooms we were shown where still and video lenses of any focal length are tested and adjusted are very impressive.

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An area of the lobby is dedicated to managing service drop-off and pick-up. Photo courtesy of Canon USA

After the tour we were escorted to a presentation in the 35-seat theater where Canon Live Learning, Explorers of Light (EOL), and Canon Professional Services events will be held throughout the year. There we learned that the next day would herald the grand opening of Canon’s new 33,682-square-foot support center in Albuquerque. That facility officially began operations in June 2014, providing support to Canon’s professional photographic, cinema, printing, office solutions, and eCommerce customers. It is also an additional U.S. call center, joining the Chesapeake, Virginia, location to ensure uninterrupted US-based customer service operations 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The Costa Mesa and Albuquerque centers join Canon facilities for both professional and consumer clients located in Jamesburg, New Jersey, Itasca, Illinois, and Newport News, Virginia.

At the end of the day it was clear that Canon is seriously committed to providing the highest quality customer experience possible. Even a dedicated Nikon photographer like me is impressed.

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.

December 18, 2014

Sandwich Style Stop-Motion Via HD-SLR, Interview with Animator PES and DOP Adkins

Academy Award nominated director PES (real name Adam Pesapane) recently shared the final of his trio of food-themed stop-motion animation short films, "Submarine Sandwich."

For this project, PES and his team captured the film entirely with a Nikon D810 HD-SLR and a variety of Nikkor lenses, all funded via a Kickstarter campaign. Nikon was the lead sponsor of the campaign and donated a Nikon D810 Animator's kit to be given to one of the top supporters of the project. 

We asked PES and Director of Photography Eric Adkins about the film and how they achieved the consistent look and fine detail of the final product.

Professional Photographer: What type of lights did you use on set to maintain the consistency needed for a stop-motion project? 

Eric Adkins: Fortunately, our studio space was in an old storage facility where the power was clean and dedicated without other industries nearby to dim our lights in time. We used a small, but broad tungsten studio lighting package consisting of a couple 2K Mole Nooklights through a 6x6-foot framed China silk diffusion from the side, one lamp gelled an antique yellow, and one clean to lessen the saturation. A ceiling mounted Zebra (warm) Lamé reflector over the slicer and a half blue gelled Silver Lamé up front side of the counter for daylight, these were both lit by shuttered 750-watt ETC Source4 ellipsoidals to control spill. One more half blue ETC S4 with a glass striped gobo pattern to mimic window blinds, in addition to a half blue LTM 1K lamp filling the unseen wall as "daylighting."

This was all broadly set up to easily shoot in our deli and activate the brushed stainless steel slicer and soft white porcelain surfaced deli cooler, with an added off-set "neon" sign red gelled LTM 400-watt soft light for color accent. The glass surface reflections were blacked out to the camera to add clarity to the sporty deli "meat" case.

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PP: You mentioned the usefulness of the PC-E Micro NIKKOR 45mm f/2.8D ED lens in your making-of interview. Could you elaborate a little on what sort of range of focus you were able to achieve with this perspective control lens, for instance in relation to the types of props you were photographing with it?

PES and Eric Adkins: Perspective control lenses, like the PC-E Micro NIKKOR 45mm f/2.8D ED lens, create unique solutions to achieve split focus when keeping differing z-depth planes in focus, while requiring a minimized depth-of-field look around our deli slicer. Not only does the optics swing and tilt, but it rolls to allow for the z-depth path to be selected on moving objects in the frame. [It's] Perfect for curvy object modeling, such as a deli slicer, as it will hide most perspective distortions and anamorphics created by pushing the limits of the circular lens optics. Added filters to achieve a similar split-focus effect are not subtle and adjustable, create focus dead zones at narrow depth-of-fields, and can create refractive aberrations around highlights.

PP: Many of our readers work closely with a co-photographer on intense projects that last many hours. What do you and your co-animator, Dillon Markey, do to maintain a good working relationship?

PES: First and foremost, Dillon and I get along great and enjoy each other on a personal level, so that is a big factor contributing to our ability to work long periods together. I also really like to maintain regular working hours (9-6) as much as possible during a shoot (many studios typically overwork animators). I treat my shoots like we are running a marathon, so we need to pace ourselves. We don't work late nights at the beginning (although there will inevitably be some required later on). So overall I guess you can say I believe in creating an environment where we work hard during the day and can have a life at night. A happy balance produces the best work in my experience and probably goes a long way to preventing us from getting on each other's nerves. The other thing I believe in is getting out of the studio for a sit-down lunch every day, no exceptions. As we often spend our mornings preparing a shot and our afternoons shooting it, that lunch becomes a very useful way to clear one's head, restore energy, grab a few minutes of sunlight (remember, we work in a black box all day), and get ready to focus on the shot at hand.

___

PES is an American director and stop-motion animator and is best known for his 2013 short film "Fresh Guacamole," which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. 

You can learn more about what went into making "Submarine Sandwich" in this behind the scenes Nikon Focus on Cinema interview.

First Look: Sony a7 II 5-Axis In-Body IS Impressive

By Theano Nikitas

A little more than a year after Sony rocked the photographic world by introducing the a7—the world’s first full-frame mirrorless camera—the company recently released an updated version: the 24-megapixel Sony a7 II. The new model features a number of new under-the-hood and physical improvements including the implementation of 5-axis image stabilization, which Sony claims provides a 4.5-stop benefit. Borrowing algorithms from the a6000 and the a77 II, the a7 II’s AF has been speeded up by about 30 percent (according to Sony).

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Physically, the a7 II’s design has changed: the body is a little thicker than its predecessor and features a larger grip. Some of the other design changes include an all-metal lens mount and minor repositioning of some controls. The shutter button, for example, is now located on the grip and is angled forward. When I read the specs, I was concerned about the camera’s additional girth but was pleasantly surprised that I the a7 II was comfortable to use, especially with the larger grip. The angled shutter button is also a welcome change.

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Sony provided the press with a couple of interesting opportunities to test out the new camera a couple of weeks ago. We visited Hollywood Stunts, a professional training center in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where we photographed people jumping, rappelling, and staging fight scenes. After that, we took off from the East River in Manhattan for a helicopter ride over the city.

The shoot at Hollywood Stunts was designed to challenge the a7 II’s AF system and the camera kept up with the subjects’ movements pretty well in both continuous and single AF modes. I especially liked seeing the focus points move around the frame as it tracked the stunt performers’ movements. Lighting was uneven and not terribly bright, so I had to boost the ISO to get a decent shutter speed. Since I prefer to deal with image noise in post processing, I disabled the in-camera noise reduction. Even if NR had been activated, noise levels were pretty high so images look a little soft. But, overall, the AF was fast and I had more focus hits than anticipated.

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Exposure: 1/250 second at f/4.5, ISO 10,000. ©Theano Nikitas

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Exposure: 1/250 second at f/4.0, ISO 4000. ©Theano Nikitas

Even more challenging was shooting from a helicopter just after dusk. As anyone who has tried to photograph from a helicopter knows, it’s difficult to hold a camera steady and even if your handhold is rock solid, the ’copter’s vibrations and movements can cause unintended blur and motion. But the a7 II’s 5-axis sensor shift stabilization performed admirably through vibrations, turns, altitude changes and all the inherent challenges associated with aerial photography. Again, I wasn’t thrilled with high ISO noise levels and in anticipation of tweaking images in post, I captured in raw + JPG formats.

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Exposure: 1/320 second at f/4.5, ISO 2000. ©Theano Nikitas

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Exposure: 1/400 second at f/4.0, ISO 1250. ©Theano Nikitas

Of all the improvements to the a7 II, the 5-axis image stabilization is the most notable, and not just because it’s the very first full-frame camera to offer 5-axis IS. Like other image stabilization systems, the a7 II compensates for pitch and yaw, but it also counteracts roll and movement on X and Y axes (the latter isn’t even possible with IS lenses). Because stabilization is based on sensor-shift technology, all lenses benefit from the system—at least partially. To gain the benefit of 5-axes, the lens needs to communicate focal length and camera-to-subject focusing distance. If focusing distance is unavailable or focal length needs to be entered manually, then IS on the X and Y axes is not possible. Still, this is a huge benefit for photographers with non-stabilized lenses.

I was most impressed with the 5-axis image stabilization and look forward to putting the camera through its paces in the long term. But, for now, I think Sony ensured that the a7 II is more than just a minor update. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the 5-axis IS and faster AF make their way into the a7R and the a7S.

Sony a7 II
$1,700 (body only)

www.sonystyle.com

November 21, 2014

Flashpoint StreakLight 360 with All the Creative Fixins

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

The Flashpoint StreakLight 360 Ws Creative Collection ($700) from Adorama comes with quite a variety of light modifiers and accessories for this strobe. You'll get a standard 5-inch parabolic reflector (included with the basic StreakLight) along with a 11.6-inch beauty dish with honeycomb grid and diffusion sock, diffused dome, two different snoots with grids, and a 5-inch shallow reflector used to attach an umbrella to the strobe unit. Adorama even offers an optional soft box for this strobe.

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Below, you can see the effects of the various modifiers in action.

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©Don Chick

Other accessories in the kit included a selection of colored gels, a USB cable for charging electronic devices like a smart phones or tablets from the battery pack, an adjustable light boom for holding the flash away from the camera, and, in my opinion, the coolest accessory: a remote trigger with the ability to adjust the power output from camera position. This one accessory will save you a lot of walking back and forth to the strobe.

This is a manual strobe. You can’t set it on an automatic or TTL setting as you might do with your camera manufacturer’s (Canon, Nikon, etc.) strobes, and to set the power setting quickly and accurately, you need to use a light meter. It has four modes—manual, two slave triggering modes and stroboscopic mode—but they all require you to set the power output manually. Once you have your light meter reading, as long as you keep the same distance of subject to strobe, you won’t have to measure it again.

If you do change the distance to your subject, you can either measure for an updated reading or change the power setting with the remote control. If you can accurately gauge distance then you can utilize the inverse square law of light and calculate it mentally.

For example, if you were to read f/8 at 8 feet from the subject, and you moved the light to 16 feet away (doubling the distance), then you will need to increase the output of the strobe by two stops to keep the same reading (f/8) on your subject. If you double the distance you have 1/4 as much light striking your subject, so to keep the same reading you need to increase the output by 2 stops. If you halve the distance you’ll need to reduce the output by two stops to get the same reading on your subject.

When I was using the StreakLight 360 Ws during a client session the Flashpoint Commander Transceiver Set (included in the kit) was extremely helpful. With the receiver plugged into the USB port on the side of the strobe and the transmitter in hand, I could trigger the strobe and measure the flash level amount at the subject position. If I needed to make an adjustment, I could quickly toggle up or down in 1/3-stop increments.

One thing to know about the transmitter, though, is that it doesn’t automatically power off after a certain period of time. You must turn the power switch to the off position when you are finished, or the batteries will be drained by the transmitter by the next day. This happened to me several times; fortunately I was using rechargeable batteries. This issue could easily be remedied by the manufactured by putting a timer on the unit that would shut it off when not in use for a certain amount of time.

I really liked having the reflector that allowed me to attach an umbrella to the flash unit. An umbrella on the main light provides a relatively large light source and therefore a softer quality of light on my subject. In the final image of Kimberly (below, left) I was using the umbrella light modifier and her Mom was holding the unit so it wouldn’t tip over. In the image of my model Terri (below, right) I was using the 5-inch parabolic reflector with the supplied diffusion over the front. I chose the 5-inch parabolic during the session with Terri over the umbrella because I didn’t have an assistant or weights to secure the light stand, and there was a breeze. An umbrella or the beauty dish would have fallen over in the wind.

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If you are going to mount this strobe on anything other than the hot shoe of your camera, I suggest that you don’t use the hot shoe foot with 1/4”-20 thread. Instead, replace the hot shoe mount on the bottom of the unit with the 1/4”-20 thread adaptor. This configuration is much stronger for the unit. When I used the hot shoe foot and mounted it to a 1/4”-20 adaptor, the weight of the strobe and other accessories broke it rather easily.

There are many reasons to consider adding this strobe to your equipment arsenal. The variety of light modifiers can accommodate many lighting situations. You can use the power pack, with the accessory cable, ($35), to power your brand name flash. And you can add a backup battery for only $100.

The fact that it’s a manual strobe may discourage some, but it can actually be a positive. When you set the flash at any given setting, that’s the power output you get every time. The strobe is not trying to interpret the scene; it just gives you the output that you set it to.

I feel that the unit could be improved if a PC connection were added for the wireless remote control. Once during a testing session I would have liked to have put a second strobe on my camera’s hot-shoe, but without a PC cable connection for the wireless control, I couldn’t.

My test for guide number (F stop reading x 10 at ISO 100) did not match the manufacturer’s published guide number of 262. I got slightly less at 220 using the standard reflector without any diffusion. This is still a lot of power for a battery powered flash unit. The manufacturer claims that you’ll get 450 full power flashes from a fully charged battery. I didn’t get that many; however, when I was using the unit on location to augment the lighting in a scene the power setting was often way down on 1/8 or 1/16 power. When set this low it will provide the user with many hundreds of flashes.

What's in the collection:

StreakLight 360
Flash Tube
Remote Kit
Reflector
Diffusor for Reflector
Coiled Connection Cable
Charger
Tripod Baseplate
Hot Shoe Foot (with 1/4"-20 thread)
1 Lithium Battery Pack BP-960
Shoulder Strap
AC Charger
Replacement Battery
Dome Diffuser
11.6" Beauty Dish & Grid
4 Color Filters & Grid
Flash Grip
Snoot
16 ft Cable
1 to 2 Cable
2 to 1 Cable
USB Cable
Speed Pod
1 Year Warranty
Manual

November 20, 2014

Fujifilm X-T1 Has Pro Appeal and Fits Modern Needs

By Stan Sholik

The Fujifilm line of mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras began with the pro-level X-Pro-1, went down-market with several models to appeal to enthusiasts, and is moving back to the pro and serious enthusiast market with the Fujifilm X-T1.

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The X-T1 features a 16.3-megapixel APS-C-sized X-Trans CMOS sensor in a diminutive digital SLR-shaped body, the first of this shape in the line. The “DSLR bump” houses an electronic viewfinder (ELV) rather than a mirror prism. The ELV itself delivers a slightly larger image than many digital SLRs and is extremely responsive. There’s no delay or tracking issues when panning through a scene searching for the subject. The live view in the ELV is instantly and smoothly refreshed. The ELV also offers some neat tricks, like a dual window displaying the overall scene with an inset displaying a magnified view; and in portrait orientation, the shooting data as well as the image rotates for easy reading.

Speed is inherent in nearly all aspects of the camera, not just in the ELV. There’s minimal delay when turning on the camera. Autofocus time is claimed to be “the world’s fastest at 0.08 seconds,” which may be true using High Performance mode and certain lenses, but sucks battery life. Shutter lag seems nonexistent. The camera can capture 8 frames per second, which came in handy shooting auto racing, and it supports ultra-fast (and expensive) UHS-II SD cards for speedy buffer clearing.

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In continuous mode, the X-T1 can track focus and exposure at 8 frames per second using an array of phase detection pixels in the center of the image sensor. ©Stan Sholik

During continuous high-speed shooting, the X-T1 can not only track the subject in focus, it can also adjust exposure as long as its central phase detection pixels are kept on the subject. For a subject moving toward the camera at slow-to-medium speed, this works extremely well. But with a subject moving across the frame or approaching very quickly, the live view can’t refresh fast enough between captures, making it difficult to keep the subject in the frame. Unless you’re trying to shoot a fast-action sporting event, as I was, you’ll probably never notice this.

Strangely, the one place where you notice a serious time delay is when you wake the camera from sleep; you have to press and hold the release button partway down for a second or more, which takes some getting used to. Or, since it’s ready to shoot almost instantly when you turn it on, you can turn the camera off between captures.

There are lots of neat tricks in the camera, so many and some so different from digital SLR options that you’ll need to spend time with the manual discovering the best set of options for your work. For example, the default setting displays the image you’ve just taken in the ELV, which I found disconcerting when I was shooting studio portraits. There are options for displaying the image continuously, for 1.5 or 0.5 seconds, or no display at all after shooting. I chose no display and left the image review option off the entire time I had the camera. Even with the display off, though, the live view ELV can’t refresh quickly enough to track a subject moving across the field in continuous high-speed release mode.

The magnesium alloy body feels solid, and the grip is substantial for a small body. Dials and controls abound on the top plate, and they all have a substantial feel. The ISO dial has settings for 200 to 6400, plus A (automatic), L (100), H1 (12,800), and H2 (25,600). Raw file capture, however, is only available at the dial settings from 200 to 6400. At other ISO settings, images are captured in JPEG, allowing for default in-camera noise reduction. Raw files at 6400 have excellent sharpness and the visible luminance noise in the shadows is not objectionable after minimal post-processing noise reduction.

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Analog dials dominate the top panel for basic camera control, with only a few buttons on the top and back. ©Stan Sholik

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At ISO 6400, the highest ISO for raw capture, image sharpness is excellent and noise is minimal. ©Stan Sholik

Shutter speeds range from bulb to 1/4,000 second. Programmed exposure is available when both the shutter speed dial and XF lens aperture slider are set to A. Programmed mode yielded consistently excellent exposures, needing only small adjustments using the exposure compensation dial. You set shutter priority by leaving the lens set on A and choosing a shutter speed, and aperture priority by moving the lens slider off of A and setting the shutter speed dial on A. Manual exposure requires both the shutter speed dial and the lens slider to be set off of their A settings.

There’s also a large, non-locking exposure compensation dial with settings from +3EV to -3EV in 1/3EV steps on the top panel. It’s a little stiff, saving you from inadvertent changes, but it’s difficult to adjust quickly using only your thumb. Exposure compensation changes are displayed in the ELV, allowing you to adjust for backlighting or overexposure while viewing the live image. The exposure accuracy of the image in the ELV and the captured image is excellent.

It’s a small camera, so some users will find the nearly flush buttons on the top and back difficult to press. And I found the feel of the four-way controller on the back a little mushy and imprecise, particularly when repositioning the autofocus area.

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With a PC sync socket, fast response,
and Astia film simulation, the X-T1 is
an excellent portrait camera in the studio.
©Stan Sholik

Other “pro” features include a 1/180-second flash sync, a PC sync socket on the front of the camera, and the ability to add an optional battery grip to the baseplate. There’s also a choice of film emulations. I chose Astia for portraits and Provia for other shooting, but available options also include Velvia, color neg, black and white, black and white with several filters, and sepia. Also featured are advanced filters and a panorama mode that sometimes delivered perfectly stitched panoramas, and sometimes didn’t (likely operator error rather than a camera issue).

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The in-camera panorama mode delivers excellent results if used carefully. ©Stan Sholik

Image quality with both the 18-55mm f/2.8-4.0 and 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 Fujifilm lenses is very high. The lenses, like the body, are compact and lightweight, but solidly built. While these lenses don’t incorporate the weather-resistant sealing that the X-T1 features, forthcoming lenses do. And if you have a collection of your older non-Fuji lenses with aperture rings, there are adapters for the X-T1. I bought one for my Nikkor lenses and everything works perfectly; although carrying SLR lenses around with the X-T1 somewhat defeats the benefit of carrying a smaller mirrorless interchangeable-lens body. Adapters are available for a wide range of camera lenses, including Leica M-series.

Even more features make the X-T1 appealing. Battery life is excellent, especially if you set the options for power management carefully. I was easily able to shoot 200-plus images during the day and night without setting the power management to its lowest setting. In High Performance mode and with the ELV and LCD brightness turned up, battery life drops dramatically. The back LCD tilts up and down for low- and high-angle viewing, yet nestles snugly into the rear of the camera, fitting like a non-articulating screen.

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The Fujifilm Camera Remote app for iOS and Android phones and tablets allows you to browse the images on the camera, geotag them if your smartphone or tablet has GPS, and even transfer the images to the smartphone or tablet.

Another feature in the early stages of development but with great potential is Wi-Fi connectivity. Using the new Fujifilm Camera Remote app you can remotely trigger the X-T1, browse the images on the camera, geotag them if your smartphone or tablet has GPS, and even transfer the images to an Apple or Android smartphone or tablet. Setting up the wireless link is a simple matter of pushing a few buttons on each device, and being patient while the connection is made. It works as advertised, but I found that every time you change modes, for example from browsing the captures to transferring images from the camera to your device, you had to break the connection and re-establish it for the new mode. I hope future updates will keep the connection open.

The only major area of disappointment with the X-T1 is video quality. I was underwhelmed by both the ergonomics of operating the camera to shoot video and the quality of the results. For enthusiasts, or pros taking family or vacation videos, this is probably not a big issue. 

With the ability to use older lenses from a range of manufacturers, or the ability to carry two small Fuji XF zooms to cover the focal range from 18-200mm (27-300mm equivalent), the X-T1 is an excellent backup camera for pros. And for pros in need of a smaller camera that provides complete control over the photographic process without paging through embedded menus, and a camera with 12 excellent lenses, many of them fast primes, the Fujifilm X-T1 is a serious contender. Street price is about $1,200 for the body only.

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

October 27, 2014

5 Things Every Photographer Learning Video Should Know about the Panasonic GH4 and 4K

… (and 4K Video)

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by Ron Dawson

When I first sat down to write this review, I was in a quandary. What could I contribute to the Panasonic GH4 conversation that has been going on since the beginning of this year? My research was quickly swept into an acronym, spec, and nomenclature-heavy stream of information. Then I stumbled on a forum discussion about the claim that the 4K 4:2:0 8-bit video captured by the GH4 could be converted to 2K 10-bit 4:4:4 color space when transcoded to CineForm or ProRes.

If your eyes glazed over reading that last sentence, I’m not surprised. I consider myself a technically capable and informed filmmaker, and I’ve been doing it professionally now for more than a dozen years. I have instructed on the topic for a number of media outlets and national seminars, and even I felt tech-timidated. Photographers who are just learning video don’t need to be dunked into the deep end head-first like that.

Here are five short GH4/4K nuggets of information that will give you enough information to understand and follow the reviews and information out there and to give you the foundation to make an informed decision when considering this camera and other 4K technology.

1. Two flavors of 4K. There’s true 4K, specifically 4,096x2,160-pixel resolution (Cinema 4K), and then there’s Ultra HD (aka UHD), which is 3,840x2,160. UHD is four times the resolution of the standard HD spec: 1,920x1,080 (twice the length and twice the height). Most consumer TVs are UHD.

2. Micro Four Thirds sensor size. The GH4 is a Micro Four Thirds (MFT) sensor size, which has viewing area of 17.3x13.0mm (21.6 mm diagonal). This is important to know because of the crop factor (just over 2X). Here’s how it compares to other DSLRs.

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Now before you write off this camera because of the tiny crop size, consider that an MFT sensor is larger than Super 16mm film, a format that was used to shoot part of Darren Aronofsky’s Oscar-nominated feature “Black Swan.” Many other well-known feature filmmakers have shot some classic films on Super 16 (e.g. Spike Lee’s “She’s Gotta Have It,” Aronofsky’s “Primer,” Robert Rodriquez’s “El Mariachi,” and Kevin Smith’s “Clerks”). My point: don’t let sensor size prevent you from making a choice to use a camera, unless there is some very specific aspect of a smaller (or larger) sensor that is truly significant.

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For instance, larger sensors do have a shallower depth of field, so if for any reason you need super shallow DoF, a smaller sensor could be an issue.

Another point about MFT sensors worth noting is that there are so many lenses and lens adaptors already out there that can fit these cameras. The Metabones Speedbooster is a popular adapter that will allow you to connect full-frame lenses. They won’t make your field of view full-frame, but you’ll get a field of view closer to an APS-C (1.6X crop).

3. Recording format and quality. The biggest appeal of this camera is its ability to record 4K (both Cinema and UHD) directly to an SD card. When I was first using the camera, I had a heck of a time finding out how to do that. I discovered there are two menus you need to set. Recording Format (either AVCHD, MP4, MP4 LPCM, or MOV) and Recording Quality. It is in the Quality menu where you make the selection for 4K.

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SIDEBAR: Format and quality primer

Here’s where I’d like to provide some filmmaker insight that may cause some of the aforementioned head-spinning. You’ll notice that the GH4 has literally dozens of format and quality settings:

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Where on earth do you start? Here’s a quick primer:

Mbps is Megabits per second. The higher the number, the better the quality of the video. To give you perspective, the Canon EOS 5D Mark II h.264 video is approximately 45Mbps. The Nikon D7100 is in the neighborhood of 24Mbps. Traditional HD camcorders produced in the early to mid-2000s were also in the mid-20s.

All-I is “intra-frame” compression and IPB is “inter-frame” compression. The former looks at and compresses each frame individually. IPB looks at frames before and after and bases its compression on changes in the image. Theoretically, All-I will give you a better quality, but takes up more space and processing power. Which is why you’ll notice that none of the 4K formats are ALL-I. If you’re concerned about file sizes (i.e. hard drive space or SD card size) and processing power (for instance, if your computer is older), then stick with IPB formats.

The formats are AVCHD, MP4, and MOV. These are all what’s called “wrappers.” In the world of video there are codecs (how the image is compressed) and wrappers (the format the compressed video is placed in). The GH4 uses for the aforementioned wrappers for its H.264 compressed video. (Note: the MP4 wrapper here should NOT be confused with the MPEG4 codec.) You can have any number of different codecs for any one kind of wrapper. On the GH4, you’ll find the 4K quality resolution settings in the MP4 and MOV formats. AVCHD is a format common in consumer camcorders and lower end cinema cameras like Canon’s C100. It provides relatively high quality footage with a low Mbps compression rate. It can be tricky editing AVCHD footage, though, depending on which editing software you use. It’s not as easy as just dropping clips into a folder. AVCHD files are self-contained in a “Package.” Just about all the current versions of the major editing programs can “decode” this package and extract the videos you need. But each handles it differently. Know how you’re editing program works before choosing AVCHD.

LPCM and AAC are different audio compression formats. Frankly, I wouldn’t make any kind of decision on which format to choose based on this. If you’re using this camera to record video, and you need audio too, even though this camera will allow you to record (and monitor) audio, I still highly recommend using an audio digital recorder. Note that when choosing a format though, if you decide to go with the MP4, the LPCM option is best suited for video you want to edit later.

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4. High Speed Recording. For my money, in addition to the 4K recording capability, another huge benefit of this camera is the ability to shoot slow motion IN CAMERA, and at full 1080p resolution. As a quick review: most of you will most likely be shooting in either 29.97 frames per second (aka 30p), 23.98 fps (aka 24p) or 25 fps if you’re in a PAL country. You can always slow down video in your editing software, but this reduces the quality and can make it look muddy. To achieve true slow motion with better quality, you need to shoot at a frame rate higher than the rate in which you’re editing. Most traditional DSLRs have been able to shoot up to 60 fps, which in a 24 fps project will yield 40% slow motion (24/60 = 40%). However, they have to drop their resolution down to 1,280x720 (aka 720p) in order to do that.

The GH4 allows you to record up to 96 fps in camera using the Variable Frame Rate (VFR) function. In fact, using this function, you can step your frame rate anywhere from 2 fps (which will give you a sped up video equivalent to 1200% speed at 24p), up to 96 fps, giving you 25% slow motion at 24 fps. All at full 1,920x1,080 resolution.

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The VFR has to first be turned on in the format menu (either MP4 (LPCM) or MOV mode). Once you’ve set the format, you must change the Quality setting to 1080p at either 29.97 or 23.98 fps. You then exit back to the Motion Picture menu to turn VFR on.

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What is very cool about this feature is that the GH4 will now shoot in the target 24 fps, but take into account the VFR setting, in effect, giving you slow motion in camera. Usually, you have to shoot at the higher frame rate, then change that frame rate to your project frame rate in your editing software. This is known as “conforming.” In short, by using GH4s VFR feature, you don’t have to conform your footage. It will be imported into your editing software already slow.

It’s worth mentioning that you can still shoot regular high speed rates (i.e. 60 fps) at full 1080p, then conform later if you like. Why might you do that? Because the VFR functions are only available at the 100Mbps compression level (remember, the higher the Mbps, the better the quality). In the MOV mode, you can shoot up to 60 fps (technically, it’s 59.94) at 200 Mbps, All-I. If you need that extra quality and you don’t need slower than 40% slow motion, you might select this in lieu of the VFR.

5. Downscaling 4K to 1080p. As amazing as it may be to shoot 4K in camera, the truth is, most people do not have the ability to view videos in 4K. Unless you’re shooting something to be shown in a movie theatre, a full-sized 4K video will be useless to your client. But, fear not. There are two very significant reasons why shooting in 4K is better, even if your final output is traditional 1,920x1,080. And both are related to downscaling the video.

If you take a 4K video and edit it in a 1080p project, you now have a video that is 4X the viewing space. That gives you the ability to “push in” for close ups or reposition your image without losing quality. Here are three screen shots from a video I shot at UHD 4K to illustrate:

A 4K UHD image set to 50% of the video size (which fits perfectly into a 1080p project)

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Here’s the same shot, but with the video size adjusted to 75%

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And here’s the shot at 100%, giving me a nice close-up of the subject.

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It’s not uncommon for commercial video jobs to set up two cameras, one for the wide shot and a second for the close up. If you shoot in 4K, you can get both in one shot. Or, do like I did, and use the second camera for a super wide shot. (My second camera was a Canon C100 shooting at 1080p, ungraded using the Wide Dynamic range profile).

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Just think about all the editing options afforded you by having one of your angles shot at 4K resolution.

The second benefit of shooting in 4K actually relates to the head-spinning experience I mentioned at the beginning of this article: the ability to convert the 4:2:0 8-bit 4K video to 10-bit 4:4:4.

As I promised, my goal with this piece is to prevent you from being overwhelmed with all the technical jargon you may not be familiar with if you’re not a classically trained cinematographer (or a color scientist or mathematician). So I’ll keep this simple as possible.

Most DSLRs shoot in a 4:2:0 color space. This is a ratio of luminance and chroma (Wikipedia: Chroma subsampling). Again, the higher the numbers, the better (4 being the highest). The other color space combinations that are popular in the video world are 4:2:2 (as in ProRes 422) and 4:4:4 (or even 4:4:4:4, with the fourth 4 representing an Alpha channel).

Furthermore, the color depth of the GH4 video is only 8-bit (as opposed to 10-bit). Many Professional Photographer readers are well familiar with bit depth. Without getting into all the math, 10-bit is exponentially higher than 8-bit.

The theory is that if you transcode (i.e. convert) 4K footage to a ProRes 444 or CineForm 444 codec, the 4X resolution, when compressed down to 1080p, actually yields a richer color space. The extra pixels, in essence, increase your chroma values (the 2 and the 0), so that 4:2:0 becomes 4:4:4 (FYI: CineForm is created by GoPro and is most common on Windows machines whereas ProRes is common on Macs). The math for this actually works out. However, there is still debate on whether you actually get a 10-bit image from an 8-bit video. But it doesn’t matter. The 4:4:4 color space will give you a higher quality 1080p image than if you shot the video at 1080p. This will allow for better color grading or motion graphics work.

I ran a test where I compared 4K footage (transcoded to ProRes 4444 at 1,920x1,080) to 4K 4:2:0 footage dropped in a 1080p timeline. I then applied a Curves filter to it and adjusted some of the color values. The transcoded footage is on the left. The 4K footage (dropped in the 1080p timeline) is on the right.

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If you click to view the full-size image at 100%, you should be able to see a noticeable quality difference.

(You can download the 200% image on my blog and check it out at http://j.mp/ddmag-gh4test1.)

You’ll need to use a program like MPEG Streamclip (squared5.com) or Apple Compressor, or GoPro’s CineForm to convert the footage. But it’s well worth having that extra color quality, particularly if you plan to do a lot of color grading and/or motion graphics work.

The Final Verdict

In my opinion, this is an amazing camera and deserves serious consideration. I definitely plan to use it for my shoots for all the reasons I mentioned above. And what I haven’t mentioned yet, which you likely already know, is that it’s only $1,700 U.S. (That boggles the mind!) Still, I strongly encourage you to rent it first. Lensprotogo.com is my go-to rental house, and they were kind enough to loan me the camera for this review (Shipping is included in their rates and that every order ships in Pelican cases. Using the code x180 will give you a 10% discount). Whoever you use, there’s no reason why you can’t invest the time and money to at least try this camera out.

I encourage you to do more research. Hopefully this article will provide some insight, fill in the knowledge gaps, and make your exploration all the more effective.

 

August 12, 2014

Photodex ProShow App Update Adds Control, Capability

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

Photodex ProShow has released a new version of their iOS app, which provides a stylish new user interface, more custom controls and effects, text and caption options, better downloading and sharing tools, and more. The original app was nice, but I have to say I like all the improvements.

When you open the ProShow App, you’ll see all of your shows—you can create new ones from here, or open existing shows to edit or view them.

When making a new show, select a theme, then add music, either from your device library or from the extensive online directory. You can view by genre, length, frequently used tracks, etc.

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The next step is to import your images. You can import images from a local directory or from online locations such as Facebook or Instagram. For this example, I imported from Instagram. The app then went through an authentication process where I allowed ProShow to access my Instagram account, and I was able to select the images I wanted to add to the slideshow.

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Once images have been imported, you can edit the slideshow.  Here is the edit show view with the side panel expanded and the show settings that you can edit.

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Now, onto some of the new improvements for the app—text effects. If you want, you can edit the effects for individual images, overriding the automatic effects. You can also change the slide transitions, and add captions to the image slide.

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You can create and apply themes to text slides. The effects for your text slides can be customized just like the image slides (no transition effect customization though), or you can choose to simply have a main heading or a heading and sub-heading.

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Back in the edit show view, now with captions and text slides included, you can add captions to any image slide or add title slides. The images with text captions have a “T” icon in the lower right corner of the thumbnail. You can render the videos from the app as well. A variety of resolutions and formats are available. There are also options to share the slideshow online, via social media, or just a link to copy and paste. 

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I’ve shared a show to YouTube for you to view https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmZSx3bs-94

Overall, I really enjoyed the updates to the ProShow App. The interface is even easier to use than their web application. As for the new ability to customize text slides on the app? Even though I regularly use ProShow to create slideshows for my portrait clients, I rarely add text slides. However, I think these title slides and captioning features would be useful for wedding photography slideshows. I can see using them to make kind of a digital wedding album, complete with captions to designate the details of the day, or for personal scrapbook-style slideshows such as the Instagram show I imported.

Pros

  • easy-to-use interface
  • lots of effects for slides
  • automatic effects can be overriden
  • cloud storage allows updating/editing from any device
  • integrated with social media
  • extensive library of music, effects
  • ability to save finished videos to camera roll for offline viewing
  • expanded effects and text options

Cons

  • only on iOS appstore
  • title slides may be unnecessary feature

As before, the ProShow app remains an extension of the ProShow Web service. The ProShow Web App is available for iOS devices, including the iPhone and iPad (an Android app may be developed in the future). While the app itself is downloaded from the iTunes store at no charge, you do need to register an account with ProShow Web (free, $30/year, or $150/year). There are a number of upgrade options (HD video creation, unbranded videos) that can be purchased from within the app, starting at $4.95. For more information about the ProShow Web App, visit ProShow Web or the Apple App Store.

Betsy Finn, M.Photog.,Cr., CPP is a portrait photographer in Michigan.  http://bphotoart.com

The Case for Prints: Canon Pixma Pro-10 After One Year

By Ellis Vener

Should you be making your own prints? I think you should.

Printing your work closes the circle of creation.

Holding a print in your hands and being able to show it to others makes you look at your work in ways that don’t happen when you only look at your work flashing by on a monitor, even the best monitor.

The longer you look at a photo, the more you see, and the more you see into your work, the more you learn about it and the way you see, and that makes you a better photographer. I think you should make your own prints even if you have no intention to sell fine art prints or never plan on entering your work in competitions or exhibits, and even if you already work with a trusted lab. By taking full responsibility for what you create you get a solid psychological boost in confidence, which also helps when selling your services. Finally, a print is the photograph. What you see on a screen is just an ephemeral visual event, evanescent images flickering in and out of consciousness one after the other. And one more thing: prints make wonderful, personal thank you gifts.

Printing used to be difficult, but it isn’t anymore, not really. As the equipment has gotten better, paper manufacturers have stepped up their game as well. It used to be that to get a really good print you needed to learn how to make your own ICC-compliant profiles and that required expensive equipment, complex software, and time invested in overcoming an arcane learning curve. To be honest, making profiles was boring and expensive. But over the past two years companies like Canon and Epson working together with media manufacturers like Legion’s Moab division have made great strides in eliminating the entire profiling workflow. It’s far simpler to consistently making great quality prints than in any other time in the photographic history. The intuitive and elegant interface of the print engine in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 has also helped simplify the printing process.

The Canon Pixma Pro-10 is a great example of the progress in making affordable and easy-to-use desktop printers. The Pro-10 is a 10-ink pigment printer capable of printing on media up to 13x19 inches. It cannot be classified as a machine built for high production environments—the width limit and lack of a roll feed option rule that out—but for small editions of portfolio and fine art work it does a great job. It can even print on optical disks to customize image delivery.

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The Pixma Pro-10 uses a 10-color LUCIA pigment ink system and Chroma Optimizer; input resolution is best set to either 300 or 600ppi depending on the size of the print and media surface. On rough-textured canvas media you can get excellent results with even lower input resolution, down to about 200ppi. The ink droplet size is 4 picoliters and the print head is equipped with 7,680 nozzles or 768 per ink. In my experience, because of the inkjet technology and sheer number of nozzles per color Canon printers are less prone to the clogging issues that bedevil competing printers. Like its big sister the Pro-1 and the large-format Canon imagePrograf printers, the Pixma Pro-10 uses Canon Lucia Pigment ink system—cyan, gray, magenta, matte black, photo black, photo cyan, photo magenta, red, yellow, and a Chroma Optimizer—each in individual PGI-72 tanks. It’s no secret that ink isn’t cheap, and with individual replacement ink cartridges costing approximately $15.00 each or about $133.00 for a full 10-ink set, cost is a consideration. As do other Canon printers, however, it sips ink compared to its competitors.

More important than ink cost is quality of color. For a printer in this class and price range, print and color quality is excellent and compares favorably to more expensive printers. This general statement holds true whether the subject is portraiture, landscape, or still life, and whether you are printing in high definition on super glossy media or on lower-resolution matte surfaces. An 8x10-inch image prints in three and a half minutes and a 13x19-inch print takes around six minutes.

The Chroma Optimizer is clear coating that Canon says reduces the difference in ink droplet height to form a flat and smooth ink layer, which is especially important with the glossy print surfaces. You can see this to full effect on metallic papers like the very shiny, high contrast Moab Slickrock Metallic Pearl 260. That’s not an appropriate paper choice for most portraits, but if you are shooting highly saturated landscape or still life work, the dynamic visual effect achieved with Canon’s Lucia Inks is impressive.

To test the capabilities of the Pixma Pro-10 for color portraits I worked with a set of images shot for a local school’s annual fifth grade dance. Mardi Gras in New Orleans was the theme, so the color gamut of the costumes ran from extremely saturated to extremely delicate. I chose this set of images as it represents a full panoply of human skin tones from very dark to very pale along with an equally wide array of hair color. In Lightroom 5.3 I created a custom template for printing nine 4x6-inch images on a single A3 (13 x 19inch) sheet of Moab Lasal Photo Gloss 270, at 600dpi. Rather than use my own custom profile, I first tried Canon’s profile for that paper in the Pixma Pro-10. I used the profile available at http://www.usa.canon.com/cusa/consumer/standard_display/3rd_party_papers and was quite happy with the results.

The next test was to see how well it did with black-and-white imagery. Getting monochrome prints to look right can be trickier than color because of its visual simplicity. In a neutral black-and-white print you want to see a large and smooth tonal gradient from deep blacks to pure crisp paper white without unexpected color tints or shifts. Here the Pixma Pro-10 did an excellent job of keeping tones neutral from the highlights down into the blacks. Matte-surface papers are generally a better choice with images where the exciting essence of a well-made print is found in the separation down in the dark tones because matte surfaces absorb more light. Canon thinks enough people will be using the Pixma Pro-10 to print black-and-white that they sell a four-ink package containing only matte black, photo black (gloss), gray and Chroma Optimizer.

Beyond print quality the Pixma Pro-10 has a slew of useful features including Wi-Fi and Apple AirPrint wireless printing options, and the ability to print directly from PictBridge equipped cameras, or print directly onto printable CD-R/DVD and Blu-Ray disks.

What it doesn’t have: Beyond being limited to the 13-inch media width, there is no roll-feed option and wired connections are limited to USB 2.0 and Ethernet. For photography purposes the auto-load is limited to 20 4x6 sheets, 10 8x10 sheets or a single A3 (13 x 19 inch) sheet. The printer is largish—27.2 inches wide, 15.2 inches deep, 8.5 inches tall—and at 43.9 pounds, heavy. You’ll also want to leave a fair amount of room free both behind and in front of the printer. While you could call this a desktop printer, the desk should be pretty sturdy with a fair amount of room around it. 

Over the past year my usage pattern with the Pixma Pro-10 has been spasmodic: intense weeks of daily printing sessions separated by long periods of making no prints at all. Except for a color nozzle that clogged due to user error (I had mistakenly left the printer off for three months), which was quickly resolved, I have had no operating issues with it. Two standard cleaning cycles cleared the clog and I was back in business. To prevent this from happening again I simply leave the printer turned on and in standby mode and make a small print once a week. This keeps the nozzles warm and prevents the ink in them from drying out. 

All in all I’ve been very happy with the Pixma Pro-10. Though I’d like to be able to larger format prints, the print quality easily lives up to the marketing claims and with the one exception noted above, I’ve had no operating issues. This real-world performance explains why it picked up several awards in 2013, including a Professional Photographer Magazine Hot One for Inkjet Printer between $500 and $1,000.

July 23, 2014

Alien Skin Exposure 6

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

If you've been around long enough to appreciate the subtleties of film photographs, you will probably be interested in Alien Skin Exposure 6, which allows you to apply a variety of film exposure effects to your digital images. And if you're looking to convert images to black and white, its capabilities are definitely superior to the defaults in many image editing applications.  

The interface is fairly intuitive. In the middle you’ll find the image you’re editing, as well as thumbnails of the other images simultaneously open in Exposure. To the left are the presets, both color and black-and-white options. You can choose to replicate the look of certain films (e.g. Kodak T-Max 100), enhance the focus (sharpen), add bokeh effects, or cross-process your image. Here’s a view of the Exposure 6 interface.

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There are a variety of views for the preset panel, and you can display by preset name only or show thumbnails of each preset applied to your selected image (two different thumbnail sizes). 

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The presets panel has subtabs to allow easier location of specific presets: all, color, B&W, favorite, user, recent, and search. You can apply presets to multiple images by selecting more than one in the thumbnail scroll. If you find yourself going back to the same presets over and over, there is an option to add your most-used presets to the Favorite tab, and there's a Recent tab as well. You can save presets for later access from the User tab.To save a preset, click the + button and a window will open for saving your preset. 

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The right panel contains a navigator window, overall intensity slider, and all the different aspects of the image that you can tweak (or that the presets adjust for you): basic, color, tone curve, vignette, overlays, focus, grain, IR, bokeh. Each can be turned on or off for a given image (click on the green button) or reset to defaults (the circling arrow icon). 

Basic: Here you can select color or black and white and adjust standard image settings. There are setting sliders for exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, clarity, vibrance, and saturation. You can also type in a positive or negative number value to the right of a given slider.

Color: There are two sections: color filter and color sensitivity. The color filter has several presets (warming, cooling, etc.), or you can create your own with the option to preserve luminosity or not. Color sensitivity can be adjusted through equal weighted presets (RGB or RYGCBM), or presets weighted toward a specific color range, such as reds. There are also sliders for each color if you want to manually adjust the color sensitivity. Both sections of the color panel have an option to save your adjustments as a user preset.

Tone Curve: You can adjust the tone or apply split toning here. Presets for the tone include brighten highlights, crush blacks, shadow recovery, and more. You can use eyedroppers for white, gray, and black points, or adjust sliders for contrast, shadows, midtones, and highlights. If you want to apply split toning, there is an expansive range of options, including platinum, selenium, and sepia. Again, these sections have options to save your settings as a preset.

Vignette: Apply a preset (subtle, distortion, etc.) to create either a black or white vignette on your image. You can adjust the amount, size, roundness, softness, distortion, and even select the vignette location on the image. Saving presets is an option here, too. 

Overlays: A variety of overlays can be applied to your image, including a border, light effect, or texture. You can also select an area of the image to protect from the overlays. The border effect can be zoomed in, and it can be inverted from black to white. Light effects add sun flare or corner light leakage to the print (zoom and opacity can be adjusted). Finally, you can add dust, paper, or scratch textures to the image (zoom, opacity, and black/white inversion are options).

Focus: Adjust the image’s clarity with sharpen and blur. Sharpen sliders include amount, radius, and threshold; blur sliders include opacity, radius, and lens warp. There are a number of presets to choose from (glamour, sharpen, soften), or save your own.

Grain: Create or use an existing preset, and adjust overall grain strength here.  You can fine tune amount (shadow, midtone, highlight), type (roughness, push processing), and size (automatic, film format, etc.).

IR: Adjust color contrast, halation opacity, and halation spread. You can save presets, or use existing ones (glow, IR, no halation).

Bokeh: Choose a focus region (show mask if you want), then adjust lens settings or use a preset (amount, zoom, twist, creamy, curvature, shape, and rotation). There are creative and traditional apertures, including hearts, plus signs, stars, etc. Highlight adjustment sliders include threshold and boost; grain matching sliders are for strength and size.

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Overall, I’ve enjoyed using Exposure 6 with my client images. I appreciated the black-and-white conversions, which definitely have more oomph than the standard desaturation options. One of my other favorite aspects of Exposure 6 is the batch editing feature. This is essential for any photographer looking to efficiently edit images or apply exposure presets. The only shortcoming, as I see it, is that you have to open the images in Exposure 6 to access all the neat presets. But, if that’s something you’re willing to integrate into your workflow, go for it. 

Pros:
Exposure 6 is a standalone software with many presets, allowing you to quickly create and apply a variety of film effects to your digital images. You can save presets, edit images in batches, and tweak settings to your liking. 

Cons:
You may not need many of the presets, and may not want to use a separate interface when editing. Depending on your workflow and image processing style, it may be difficult to integrate Exposure 6 smoothly.

Exposure 6 is $149. For more information, or to download a free trial, visit http://www.alienskin.com/exposure/.

Betsy Finn, M.Photog.Cr., CPP, is a portrait artist in Michigan.

July 21, 2014

Announcing Photoshop CC 2014

by Stan Sholik

With the announcement of Photoshop CC 2014, Adobe has ended speculation about the update cycle of Photoshop. While Creative Cloud members have enjoyed two updates (14.1 and 14.2) since the release of Photoshop CC, Photoshop CC 2014 appears as a new release, equivalent to Photoshop 15.0. But Adobe has abandoned the previous numbering convention and 18-month release cycle. We can now expect yearly releases with the new naming convention, Photoshop CC RELEASE YEAR.

For photographers, the Photoshop CC 2014 release adds some tweaks to the Brush Presets and Color Panel, improved Smart Guides, enhanced Sync Settings, a new Content and Color Aware Fill option, and other changes. But the features of greater interest are additions to the Select and the Filter > Blur Gallery menus.

The Select drop-down menu contains a new Focus Area option. Selecting it opens the Focus Area dialog box while Photoshop automatically makes a selection of the out of focus area in the image. For portraits or other subjects with large differences in sharpness between the in-focus foreground and out of focus background, the selection works extremely well. The dialog box includes brushes for adding or subtracting areas that were not automatically included. Also included in the dialog box is a button that opens the Refine Edges dialog box if you need to more carefully mask a subject’s hair or perform other refinements.

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Because of the similar tonality of the hair, skin, and background, this portrait used to be tricky to outline. Using the new Focus Area tool in the Select menu, the job is much easier.

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When you select Focus Area, Photoshop automatically looks for areas in focus and makes a rough selection. Brushes are available to add to or delete from the selection, as well as a slider to adjust the range of in-focus areas.

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The Focus Area tool, even with the parameter adjustments available only does a rough job. But a button is included in the dialog box to open Refine Edges.

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Using Refine Edges you can complete the outline and send the image back to Photoshop.

The updated Blur Gallery includes two new motion blurs: Spin Blur and Path Blur. Spin Blur creates a circular (or elliptical) motion blur, allowing you to spin the wheels of a stationary vehicle, or make a stopped Ferris wheel appear to be turning. The spin blur overlay on the image allows multiple options to adjust the effect and the Blur Angle slider controls the “speed” of the blur. You can also create strobe effects that “stop” the spinning as many as 100 times within the blur.

The Path Blur tool is even more interesting. With it you can create motion blurs along a Bezier path that you create. Path Blur operates on the entire image or a selection, but masks are not implemented for Path or Spin Blur. With only a short time to play with the path blur, I see a multitude of creative possibilities—how about the wedding party jumping in the air with motion streaks? With the right slider settings, you can also use Path Blur to simulate rear-curtain flash synchronization.

Along with the release of Photoshop CC 2014, Adobe announced other new releases of interest to photographers. Lightroom is upgraded to version 5.5, with a few new features, and remains a standalone as well as Creative Cloud program. With Lightroom 5.5 you are able to use Lightroom Mobile on iPhones as well as iPads, synchronize star ratings as well as flag ratings, and view and sort images with a custom sort order.

The new Photoshop Mix app will be of interest to photographers who can’t stand being separated from Photoshop. Adobe Photoshop Mix focuses on transferring Photoshop’s ability to make non-destructive selections, create masks, and perform compositing to the iPhone and iPad. The mobile app includes Photoshop functionality such as upright, shake reduction, and content-aware fill. All actions are done by touch on the mobile device.

Photoshop Mix is a free download from the Apple App Store, but you must have an Adobe ID to use it. You can use the features in Photoshop Mix on any image in your camera roll, including those taken with the mobile device, or on images you upload to the Creative Cloud. When you are finished using Photoshop Mix on images, the app saves them back to Photoshop CC with the changes in layers for further refinement. Adobe is offering true cloud computing with Photoshop Mix, and it will be exciting to see where this leads.

Stan Sholik is a commercial/advertising photographer in Santa Ana, California. His latest book, “Shoot Macro: Techniques for Photography Up Close” (Amherst Media), is available this fall.

June 25, 2014

Domke Chronicle Is A Rugged Descendent

By Joan Sherwood

The Domke Chronicle, part the Next Generation Journalist series, has to be one of my favorites of the many camera bags I’ve tried in recent years. I’ll admit, though, that my love for the bag is based largely on aesthetics and my partiality for rugged canvas material that will age and soften over the years. There’s a romance to its texture that ripstop nylon just doesn’t deliver.

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Domke bills the Chronicle as the grandchild of the F-2, the bag that Jim Domke had custom made for his own use in 1976 and which is still one of Domke’s most popular bags. The Next Generation Chronicle inherits the side pockets, non-slip Gripper Strap made of durable cotton webbing, and the steel snap hooks from the F-2.

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The current Domke F-2

Modern modifications include double-zipper top access, expandable zippered side pockets, expandable snap front pockets, a web strap across the back for mounting on a rolling cart handle, a padded zippered tablet sleeve that fits devices up to 11x8 inches, side rain hoods, and the removable padded shell and three dividers from the Domke GearProtex Insert System.

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The GearProtex shell is actually five separate rectangles of padding that attach to each other and to the interior of the canvas, so you can use the whole thing or just the panels you want or remove it entirely. It also comes with a .5-inch-thick bottom-stiffening foam pad that adds a layer of impact protection for your gear.

I’m very impressed with the divider system. Even though the attachment surface is only along the edge of the divider instead of the half-inch flap most bags use, it’s extremely secure. It’s so grippy, in fact, that it can be difficult to place the divider exactly where you want it. Try folding a piece of paper around it until you get it in the right spot and then remove the paper barrier between the hook-faced edge and the padded wall.

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Each of the pocket flap hook and loop fasteners come with a Quiet tab that you can fold back, which eliminates the fastening element, but also does away with the riiiiipp noise also associated with hook and loop closure systems. The side pocket flaps can also easily tuck into the pockets for easier access to those compartments. I use one of them with the flap tucked in and the zipper expansion unzipped to hold a large 24-ounce water bottle, but it could just as easily hold a lens that you wanted fast access to during a shoot.

I can’t say I think the side rain flaps would be impervious to foul weather, but they are definitely better than not having them.  The non-slip Gripper shoulder strap is my favorite so far of the non-slip strap designs I’ve tried. It’s grippy enough to stay on one shoulder, but not so grippy that it rips the hair off the back of my neck if I decide to wear it in a cross-body configuration. However, the plastic attachments for the shoulder and grip straps are substandard in comparison with the rest of the bag’s materials, construction, and design. I would happily pay more to have these swapped out with metal hardware. Twice when I’ve used the grab strap, the plastic clip has come undone on one side, and this without even a moderately full load of gear in the bag. That could be disastrous if you weren’t paying attention right in that moment of lifting. The problem is that the thinner plastic of the clip can easily move to the side and slip off the attachment ring. The shoulder strap clip is more beefy and doesn’t have this problem, but I’d still rather have metal than plastic.

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This is a rugged, functional bag that has just enough compartments and features to make it cool but not overly complex. Granted, at a $349.95 street price, I believe you’re paying a little more for some status and style on top of that functionality. You’ll have to decide if it’s worth the investment for you. The Chronicle comes in Canvas Khaki/Black, Cordura Black, RuggedWear black, and RuggedWear military.

Review: FathomFocus In-Person Sales App

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

These days, projection sales are the norm, but is your software limiting your sales experience for your client or even you? Being able to use today’s technology to offer a stress-free sales experience is important, and FathomFocus is a software solution that does just that. It’s an in-person sales app that allows you to use your iPad (2+) in conjunction with your projector to conduct ordering appointments, and it has a number of promising features.

Getting started is pretty easy. You install the app on your iPad, and the correlating desktop software to the computer you will have connected to your projector. There’s also a way to use Apple TV with the iPad directly, but I don’t have the hardware to try out that technology, so I’m going to cover the more standard method.

Once I had software installed on both devices, I went to the desktop interface to set up my first client.  FathomFocus has you first select the screen that it will display the previews on (top dialog box), and then create a new session (or select an existing one). Enter a session name and navigate to an image directory. Note that the browser (in Windows at least) will not display any image files—only folders—because you are supposed to select the folder you want FathomFocus to pull images from rather than the images themselves.  

Windows Firewall did block some features, so I had to allow access via the dialog box that opened after I clicked save on the new session (bottom dialog box). If you’re reopening a session, you’ll be prompted to browse to the *.ffs file that FathomFocus created within the image folder.

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At this point, your desktop should be ready and waiting to receive input from the iPad, so it’s time to switch devices. Select a session to get started. Assuming your computer and iPad can communicate via your network, you’ll be able to select the session you just created. I ran into some problems here; my devices couldn’t see each other, and I couldn’t determine a reason despite referring to FathomFocus’s support page on the subject. After some on-the-phone problem-solving with FathomFocus tech, we determined that the cause was twofold. First, my firewall or antivirus software had prevented something from installing completely on the desktop; second, the mobile hotspot I was using for Wi-Fi connectivity was causing some delays in initial loading. Once we got those two things straightened out, everything worked like a charm.

Continue reading "Review: FathomFocus In-Person Sales App" »

A Guide to Wireless Flash Triggers

A complementary supplement to "Trigger Happy," our July issue technical breakdown of optical and radio flash triggers

By Stan Sholik

It’s a daunting task to sort through and evaluate the more than 60 models of wireless triggers for electronic flash that currently exist on the market. Despite the large number, they all can be categorized into one of two types: optical triggers or radio frequency triggers. Each has advantages and disadvantages. The majority are radio frequency based. Still, there is no shortage of optical triggers available. Prices quoted are approximate street prices.

Speedlight and hot shoe TTL optical flash triggers

Both Canon and Nikon offer powerful speedlights and non-speedlight hot shoe IR triggers. From Canon the Speedlite 430EX II ($259) and Speedlite Transmitter ST-E2 ($220) provide these capabilities. Comparable Nikon offerings are the SB-910 AF Speedlight ($550) and the SU-800 Wireless Speedlight Commander ($250). Other camera manufacturers offer similar models for their cameras.

There are also speedlights with built-in IR wireless capabilities from third party manufacturers for Canon and Nikon bodies. Examples of these would be Metz mecablitz AF 44-1 ($190) and the Sigma EF-610 DG Super Flash ($135).

Non-TTL hot shoe trigger

If your need is for a simple IR trigger for studio flash units with optical slaves, the Wein Sync-Link Universal IR Flash Trigger ($70) may fit your needs. It will also trigger remote speedlights, but does not provide TTL exposure capability.

For Broncolor users, the IRX-2 transmitter ($530) attaches to the camera hotshoe and triggers Broncolor packs, including the Minipuls C, with built-in IR slaves.

Basic radio triggers

Basic radio triggers do not provide TTL exposure control, but can trigger both speedlights and studio flash. The RadioPopper Nano System that operates on four channels consists of two separate units, the Nano transmitter ($70) and the Nano receiver ($70). The system is compatible with other RadioPopper speedlight triggers as well as non-speedlight flash units. The PocketWizard PlusX ($99) is a transceiver capable of operating on 10 channels. 

Radio triggers with separate zones

By assigning remote flash units to separate zones you can test the output of each zone to ensure it is firing, and turn off zones to quickly change the lighting. With the PocketWizard Plus III Transceiver ($150) you can manage four zones, but without TTL capability. The PocketWizard MultiMax 32 Channel Transceiver ($295) also provides this capability along with other advanced capabilities.

TTL radio triggers with separate zones

The ability to assign remote flash units to separate zones gives you the capability to set and adjust light levels in each zone independently of other zones. The speedlights mentioned above provide this capability with IR signals. The PocketWizard FlexTT5 Transceiver ($220) with the PocketWizard AC3 Zone Controller ($80) provides this capability with radio signals.

The Quantum Instruments FreeXwire Radio TTL system separately controls several zones of flash, giving you control of flash exposure ratios from each.  Various FreeXwire components coordinate wireless TTL exposures with Qflash 5, Trio, Pilot, CoPilot, and even Nikon and Canon speedlights. The FreeXwire FW89 Transmitter/Receiver Set ($390) provides eight independent channels and, with the appropriate set of accessories, full TTL exposure control with Quantum flashes as well as speedlights.

Hybrid radio trigger

The RadioPopper PX system consists of a separate transmitter and receiver for Nikon and Canon speedlights and provides wireless radio TTL exposure control. The transmitter ($190) attaches to an on-camera speedlight or hot shoe IR transmitter and converts the IR signal from the unit to a radio signal that it transmits to the receiver attached to a remote speedlight. The receiver ($190) converts the radio signal back to an IR signal to trigger the remote flash.

Semi-proprietary and proprietary radio triggers

A trigger system such as the Elinchrom EL-Skyport Trigger Set ($305) consisting of a transmitter and two receivers is semi-proprietary. Used with select Elinchrom flash units you can change the flash output and control the modeling light and flash synchronization from the on-camera transmitter. With an appropriate flash cable you can also use the Skyport to trigger non-Elinchrom flash units attached to the receivers.

The Paul C. Buff Cyber Commander ($180) is the transmitter for another semi-proprietary radio trigger system. The Cyber Commander controls up to 16 lights on 16 channels. The transmitter controls all of the Paul C. Buff flashes as well as speedlights and flash units from other manufacturers. Each remote unit must be connected to a Paul C. Buff receiver ($90).

A system such as the Profoto Air Remote Transceiver ($300) is proprietary to Profoto Pro-8AAir packs and D-1 Air monoblocs. You can use it to control power and modeling light output of the Profoto flash units. Used in conjunction with the Air Sync Transceiver ($225), the Air Remote can trigger non-Profoto packs. The new Air Remote TTL transmitter ($395), for Canon at present but with a Nikon unit available soon, provides TTL exposure when triggering Profoto B1 500 AirTTL flash units.

Broncolor offers a similar system. The Broncolor RFS 2.1 transmitter ($167) provides wireless triggering and power output control of Broncolor Senso and Move as well as Scoro flash units equipped with RFS 2. When non-Broncolor flash units are connected to a RFS 2.1 receiver ($200) the transmitter operates as a trigger to fire them.

The Bowens Pulsar Tx Rx Set ($210) is available only for Bowens moonlights and only those units with a Pulsar Control slot on the back. The tiny receiver mounts into the Pulsar Control slot and the small transmitter onto the camera hot shoe. The system provides 24 channels. Paired with the Gemini R and Pro Remote Control ($90), you have complete control over power, test flash, modeling lights, and channel setting.

May 21, 2014

Cecilia Camera Straps Put Strength in Style

By Amanda Picone

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©Amanda Picone

As a female photographer, it can be hard to find camera straps that are both stylish and functional. Our choices often involve ruffles and shades of pink and purple, which just aren’t always practical. So when I was given the opportunity to review Cecilia camera straps, I was absolutely delighted. These straps are fashionable without being overwhelming. They fit a range of current styles, from boho-chic to more modern trends. The first thing I noticed when I opened the box was the pleasant smell of the leather; the second thing I noticed was the quality. The third thing? My husband, also known as my second shooter, who owns a wardrobe consisting only of black clothing, wouldn’t be embarrassed holding onto my camera with these straps attached. These straps aren’t just universally appealing, they’re also tough, and I was excited to put them through the wringer.  


I was sent two straps; one brown leather with charcoal baby alpaca wool, and one black leather with the Challaypu pattern alpaca wool. Both are absolutely beautiful. The leather is clearly very high quality. It is very soft and wore easily the first time, but I believe that as it breaks in over time, it will become even more comfortable. The hardware is a sturdy metal, and complements the coloring of each strap. A variety of style options are available, with a couple of patterns, several solid colors (the sandy baby alpaca wool looks gorgeous!) and full leather versions.

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©Amanda Picone

One thing I really liked is that the straps came with information about the construction of the straps, as well as a bit of history about the wool and leather sources and treatment, and there’s even more information on their website. The straps are constructed with durability and strength in mind, and though I haven’t been using them that long, I truly feel they will stand up to the test of time.



Gorgeous workmanship and materials aside, I tend to abuse my straps a bit, and I needed to know that these weren’t just all looks. My first impression was that the Cecilia strap was quite comfortable. It distributes the weight of the camera nicely and doesn’t pull in any areas or become snagged on clothing.  It can be worn comfortably both slung over one shoulder or around the neck, and the softness of the leather means it doesn’t irritate bare skin. The straps perfectly supported my Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a variety of lenses, without any noticeable strain. The length is perfect for me at 5'4", and it can be adjusted a bit. I asked my husband, who is about seven inches taller, and a couple of girlfriends who are a few inches shorter to try it out, and everyone was happy with the fit. The adjustable section of the strap is quite generous, so you can always change it to suit your personal preference.  



Overall, I was very impressed with the Cecilia straps, and very happy to learn about this brand. The straps are beautifully made, functional, and perfect for anyone who prefers a more toned down but still stylish strap. With the high-quality materials and much of the process done by hand, these straps are $80 to $100, but I feel the price tag is justified. It’s not just a high-end price, these straps are high end. While Cecilia straps are great for anyone, I truly feel they will have a specific appeal to those who are more fashion conscious and interested in keeping up with the current trends.  If shops like Anthropologie and Free People sold camera straps, I’m pretty sure they would be made by Cecilia.

May 19, 2014

Time Saver: Retouching in Perfect Photo Suite 8

By Betsy Finn, M.Photog.Cr., CPP 

Retouching is time consuming. There are trade-offs as you scale between customization and automation, and generally the faster and more automated a program is, the fewer options you have for customizing. While many editing applications attempt to bridge the gap and do both, it’s rare to find one that does both well. Earlier this year, I did a review of Perfect Photo Suite 8 (PPS8). Overall, I enjoyed using the interface and thought that it had potential as an add-on to Photoshop for portrait retouching purposes. After delving deeper into PPS8, I was most pleased with how the software handled retouching images. To put it simply, Perfect Photo Suite 8 may be a workflow efficiency boon, depending on how your workflow is set up. 

Basic portrait retouching for PPS8 is pretty straightforward. You open PPS8, select the Portrait Module, and then get to work. PPS8 will automatically detect faces within the image, and identify each by a green box (below). Usually PPS8 does a decent job of finding faces for you, but sometimes you will have to adjust the control markers for eyes and mouth. Profile views tend to have a harder time being recognized and automatically set up. If no faces are detected, you can always click on a face to add an editing box for that individual.

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The toolbar to the left of the image has six buttons (top to bottom): Face Select Tool, Face Edit Tool, Perfect Eraser, Retouch Brush, and the standard Hand and Zoom tools. Face Select displays all the identified faces in the image, while Face Edit allows you to select and work on retouching a specific face. Perfect Eraser removes larger blemishes, dust spots, and other things from your image; Retouch Brush has variable opacity so you can completely touch out skin flaws or just tone down wrinkles depending on your preference.

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The retouching panel to the right of the image includes three sections; Skin Retouching, Color Correction, and Eyes & Mouth. These will be applied to the faces that you (and PPS8) have defined. When refining an individual face (above), you can select how much of the subject’s skin you want to have PPS8 edit. In the skin retouching panel, the first control is Face Size (default is medium). This control (small, medium, large) lets you choose how tightly the edits will be held within the facial mask and whether they extend into the neck or hair. You can further expand the retouching area by unselecting the checkmark that defaults to select Face Only in this section of the retouching panel. Finally, there are slider controls for Blemishes, Smoothing, Shine, Shadows, Texture, and Evenness.

Blemishes: reduces or removes the appearance of blemishes like acne
Smoothing: airbrushes the texture of the skin and removes texture
Shine: evens out and tones down the highlight areas of the face
Shadows: lightens and evens the shadow areas of the face
Texture: adds texture back to the skin
Evenness: flattens out the tonal range and reduces blotchiness or red splotches of the skin 

Continue reading "Time Saver: Retouching in Perfect Photo Suite 8" »

March 25, 2014

Sunshine Photo Cart Works for Wordpress Users

By Betsy Finn, M.Photog.Cr., CPP 

As my website has evolved, I’ve become ever more fond of Wordpress as an operating platform. It’s simple to use, easy to update, and hassle-free. Well, it was until I wanted to create a fully integrated client ordering gallery. My search for a Wordpress gallery plug-in that would allow me to sell specific sets of images to clients led me through a muddle of free and paid Wordpress plug-ins. Then I found Sunshine Photo Cart

Sunshine Photo Cart has a clean and simple ordering gallery interface that I preferred over the other options I’d experimented with. The cart is not standalone software but rather runs as a plug-in from within Wordpress. This means you can take advantage of your existing theme, settings, and database—no need to go reinventing the wheel. I’ve had to try and duplicate, or match my site’s theme in the past when using standalone cart systems, and it’s a big pain.

Installation is easy; I had it installed and running on my site in less than five minutes, as claimed by the company. Of course, if you want to add a huge selection of products and create a number of galleries, that will take additional time; the setup itself, though, is very simple. Here’s a view of the default client gallery view, after I had completed the setup, but before adding any galleries.

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And the same gallery view, once I changed the theme customization to match my current Wordpress theme and added several galleries. You’ll notice that some are password protected (designated by the lock icon to the left of the gallery name/link).

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I installed Sunshine Photo Cart via the Wordpress dashboard (Plugins > Add New). You need to install Wordpress plug-ins in ZIP format, so if you’re not sure how to do that, there are instructions contained within the file you download from Sunshine Photo Cart.

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After installing the plug-in within Wordpress, you’ll need to activate Sunshine Photo Cart by entering a valid license key. You’ll also need to enable user registration so that your clients can register, save favorites, and submit their orders (directions included, as seen below). 

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Sunshine Photo Cart automatically creates several pages within your Wordpress site so that the galleries and carts can work properly. You can use the defaults, or select your own alternate pages if the plug-in wasn’t able to create them.

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Here’s a view of the pages that were automatically added when the plug-in installed:

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You’ll find a Sunshine tab on your Wordpress Admin panel that allows you to access the dashboard, settings, galleries, product categories, price levels, products, orders, discounts, and system info.

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The Sunshine dashboard summarizes recent orders, sales totals, galleries with sales, a list of which users have logged in (if you require clients to log in prior to viewing a gallery), a pie chart of popular items purchased, and a list of the most popular images purchased.

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From the products submenu (Sunshine > products), you can add products individually or in bulk. Each product will have a name, a category that groups them for ordering purposes, a price level, indications on whether it is taxable or downloadable, and the cost. I made two categories prior to adding my items so that I could group smaller prints separately from wall prints.

When you create a gallery (Sunshine > Galleries), you have the option to upload images through the Wordpress Media Library, or you can upload a folder via FTP to your server, which Sunshine Photo Cart will automatically detect and import for you. The benefit of the FTP method is that it allows for downloadable files as well as the web versions.

The gallery options box below appears on every gallery page. You can require users to create an account before viewing the gallery. You can disable ordering (and just have it be a viewing gallery).  Finally, there are two folders options: Images and Download. The former is for the Web viewing size, and the latter is if you want to enable the high-res file purchase or download. Assuming you’ve already uploaded your folder of images via FTP, it will be listed as one of the options to select from the drop-down menu, which also lists how many images are in the folder.

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Each gallery thumbnail can be favorited, added to cart, or clicked on to enlarge to full web viewing size.

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Once you click on an image, the ordering options will be available. In this instance I clicked on gift prints and the corresponding products from which I could make a selection and then add to the cart were displayed.

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You can view the cart at any time, and the images are identified by filename, product type, and quantity; client notes are visible, too. Your client can add a discount code if you’ve supplied one to adjust the price before finalizing the order.

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The checkout phase will capture your client’s billing and shipping information. You can provide options to pay by check (through the mail), Paypal, or if you have a pro account, two other methods as well. Shipping can be calculated on a flat-rate basis, or scaled according to your needs.

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Once the order is submitted, both you and your client will receive an email confirming the order. It looks similar to the cart detail page, as you’ll see below. This is the client’s email; the one received by the studio will be slightly different.

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Sunshine support, when I needed it, was efficient and helpful. There are help articles and documentation, support forums, and a priority support system (below). When you submit a support request, you have the option to give the developer access to your Wordpress admin dashboard by providing a username and password. This makes it easier for them to locate a solution to your problem.

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I ended up submitting several support tickets, and each was resolved in a timely manner.

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A couple of the issues were bugs in the software that the developer fixed upon discovery, while some issues arose from my use of a non-standard Wordpress theme (and desire to have the seamless theme integration). I was in the process of redoing my website anyway, so I switched to a theme that was properly coded, and then all of those issues were promptly resolved.

Overall I was very pleased with the installation and implementation of Sunshine Photo Cart. It smoothly integrated with my theme (once I switched to a properly coded theme), and the gallery creation process has been a breeze. I appreciate that there is no additional login information to remember, as with ordering systems I’ve used in the past, and the one-on-one support I’ve received has been phenomenal. I am nothing but pleased with this product, and if you use Wordpress to run your site, I think you will find this a great option for your Web cart ordering too. 

Sunshine Photo Cart is available for $99, and the Pro version with enhanced support and additional features is $249. Both versions include unlimited galleries, photos, products, no transaction fees, and a 30-day money-back guarantee. A full features comparison list can be viewed at sunshinephotocart.com/pricing.  

Betsy Finn, M.Photog.Cr., CPP is a portrait artist in Michigan. Her website is BPhotoArt.com.

March 20, 2014

BorrowLenses.com: Loaner Equipment Opens Opportunities

By Stan Sholik

Have you ever wished you had a piece of equipment to shoot a commercial assignment, a wedding, or a great idea to update your portfolio? Or maybe you’ll be traveling on assignment and would feel more confident with another body the same as your main camera rather than that old backup you carry. Or it’s time for a little time off and you’d like to take one of those compact mirrorless cameras and a couple of lenses on vacation rather than your heavy digital SLR.

There are many occasions when it just doesn’t make sense to buy a piece of equipment that you may have limited use for in the future. For those times, renting is the better option. And BorrowLenses has become one of the leading online rental houses for photographic and video gear.

If you have access to a local professional photography equipment rental house, I would encourage you to support them first. But if you don’t, or if they don’t have the equipment you need, it’s hard to beat BorrowLenses’ system of ordering online, having your rental delivered to your door, and shipping it back in the packaging it arrived in.

The process couldn’t be simpler. You choose the gear you need from the BorrowLenses website, select your rental duration, log in or create an account, enter start date and payment information, and you’re done. For most items, the FedEx shipping cost is about $25, and that’s round trip, not one way. A return-shipping label is included in the package. BorrowLenses is the only rental outfit with warehouses on both coasts, in California and Massachusetts. There are also 30 pickup sites in twelve states, but there is still a shipping cost to the pickup site.

The rental term begins on the day the first delivery attempt is made and must be shipped back on the day the rental ends. For example, a seven-day rental that begins on a Monday must be shipped back on the following Monday. All this is clearly spelled out in the paperwork when you receive the item, and BorrowLenses sends you an email the day before you should ship it back as a reminder--very neat and efficient.

But what if … The FAQs on the BorrowLenses website has answers for every contingency I could think of and all the ones they have encountered. With the high cost of the equipment you are likely to rent, loss or damage is most photographers’ biggest concern. BorrowLenses has this covered with the availability of a damage waiver fee for each piece of equipment.

The damage waiver covers only the main piece of equipment you rent, and it doesn’t relieve you of liability entirely. If the equipment is damaged beyond normal wear and tear, you are charged a 12-percent deductible for the replacement cost of the item’s value, or repair fees, whichever is cheaper. If you declined the damage waiver, you are responsible for 100 percent of the repair or replacement. And like all rental houses, the equipment carries an inventory tag. Removing the tag is considered damage, and there is a $12 fee per tag.

In my experience, the equipment from BorrowLenses shows less wear and tear than my own, and I shoot mainly in the studio. I have never had an operational issue with their gear, and when I wanted to keep a piece for an extra couple of days, it was no problem. Of course, if someone had been waiting for it, I would have had to return it.

It is best to reserve gear as far in advance as you can, and if FedEx or UPS delivery is not 100-percent reliable in your area, give yourself a extra day buffer if you need the equipment for an important wedding or a trip abroad.

When I first rented from BorrowLenses, the availbable gear was mostly Canon and Nikon, with a few exceptions. Now the equipment ranges from quality point-and-shoots to Leicas and Hasselblad H5D-60s and from GoPro to RED video cameras, with all the accessory items needed.

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A portion of the selection of Canon camera bodies available from BorrowLenses.

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BorrowLenses has a wide selection of Nikon bodies, including the Nikon 1 V1, as well as digital SLRs. The D4s is expected shortly.

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BorrowLenses has packages available for still and video shooters for specific assignments so that it’s easier to order everything you need for an assignment.

In October of 2013, Shutterfly Inc. acquired BorrowLenses. Max Shevyakov, a BorrowLenses founder and now director of marketing at Shutterfly, believes this can only benefit the company. “In the beginning we always felt we were underfunded and couldn’t keep the inventory level we wanted during busy shooting seasons,” Shevyakov said. “Now, with Shutterfly’s financial backing and industry connections, we are able to have the inventory we need when professionals need it. It is also helping us to be one of the first rental houses to have the latest equipment available.”

For frequent and volume renters there is a $99-per-year membership option. Membership advantages include an automatic 10-percent discount on all rentals, an increased level of availability for gear you need that may not be available when you need it, the ability to cancel a rental at any time without a fee, and a BorrowLenses T-shirt. 

BorrowLenses offers other services beside rentals. There is a selection of used gear taken out of rental and offered for sale. The equipment is guaranteed to be in perfect working order but with some cosmetic issues. You can return the purchase within 10 days and pay a restocking fee, or up to four weeks from purchase and be charged a rental fee. If you happen to be around their San Carlos, Calif., location, you can bring your camera in for a cleaning.

In today’s business environment, it’s discouraging to turn down an assignment because you don’t have the equipment to do your best possible work. With access to BorrowLenses, that never needs to happen.

Stan Sholik is a commercial/advertising photographer in Santa Ana, CA, specializing in still life and macro photography. His latest book, Photoshop CC: Top 100 Simplified Tips and Tricks” (Wiley Publishing) is available now.

February 20, 2014

Epitome of Lens Design: Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 ZF.2

Optics manufacturer Carl Zeiss set out to design and produce the ultimate camera lens based on more than a century of knowledge, and the Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 is the result. It is available for Nikon and Canon cameras, and I had the opportunity to use the Nikon version, designated by ZF.2. Considering how good the $1,700 AF-S Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G is for practical shooting, what does the $4,000 Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 have to offer?

For one thing, the Zeiss optic offers manual focusing and only manual focusing. Not only that, the focus ring needs to rotate through 248 degrees to change from its 2-foot close focus distance (about the same as the Nikkor) to infinity. This makes for extremely precise but extremely slow focusing for still photography.

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It’s also a large, heavy lens, beautifully made of metal. It’s about twice the length of the Nikkor and nearly three times the weight. By comparison, the focusing ring on the Zeiss is nearly the size of the Nikkor lens. The focusing ring uses ball bearings like the finest cinematography lenses to ensure a smooth, silky feel free of backlash or play. There are stops at the minimum focusing distance (19.7 inches) and at infinity. And the focusing ring rotates in the proper direction for the camera on which it is mounted.

Distance markings are engraved on the lens and filled with bright yellow. And there are depth-of-field markings for each aperture from f/1.4 to f/16. These are similarly engraved and painted.

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As beautiful as the Zeiss lens is, the real art is in the optical design. Based on the Zeiss Distagon formula, the 55mm Otus utilizes 12 elements in 10 groups. The resulting images are as close to flawless as I have seen. There is barely a hint of vignetting, color fringing, or chromatic aberrations, even at f/1.4. The only noticeable aberration was the smallest amount of coma in point-source light at the edge of the frame at f/1.4. From f/2 to f/16, the images are flawless. Sharpness and contrast from corner to corner are excellent at f/1.4 and remain so throughout the aperture range.

With the lens mounted on a high-resolution digital SLR such as the Nikon D800E and the system on a steady tripod, the image quality is nothing short of outstanding. Even at f/1.4, contrast is high with no veiling glare in the shadows, and there is an almost three dimensional quality to the images.

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Click for larger view. Exposure: 1/125 second at f/1.4, ISO 100. Camera: Nikon D610 with Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 ZF.2 lens. ©Stan Sholik

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Click for larger view. Exposure: 1/125 second at f/1.4, ISO 100. Camera: Nikon D610 with Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 ZF.2 lens. ©Stan Sholik

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Click for larger view. Exposure: 1/500 second at f/1.4, ISO 100. Camera: Nikon D610 with Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 ZF.2 lens. ©Stan Sholik

While it won’t be the lens of choice for action photographers, wedding photographers will benefit from the ability to hold detail in the bride’s dress and the groom’s dark clothes. Landscape photographers will benefit from its ability to hold detail in both highlights and shadows. But portrait photographers will be in for some post-production work smoothing skin tones and blemishes.

Zeiss promises that the Otus 1.4/55 is only the first in a line of Otus lenses designed with fast apertures and the highest optical and mechanical standards. The Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 represents the epitome of the current state of lens design and manufacturing—and at a price representative of that achievement.

January 22, 2014

Epiphanie Bags Keep Function in Style

By Pete Wright, M.Photog.Cr.

It wasn't long ago that the photography industry started seeing a growing influx of products designed for female photographers, and Epiphanie bags was one of the first to come out with quality camera bags designed for the needs and tastes of women in the industry. I spoke with Epiphanie owner Maile Wilson about how she got started and what’s new in the Epiphanie line.

Wilson wanted to create a bag that went beyond basic black poly-vinyl construction and showed some style. She didn't just stop with her original Lola bag, a hybrid shoulder bag style suited for photography or personal-bag needs. The company now offers 12 styles in a range of sizes, each in multiple colors, including styles that also appeal to men. 

The Epiphanie selection ranges from small purse like bags to messenger style bags that quickly convert backpacks. All are made with moveable Velcro pads to allow for customizing the arrangement of gear.  Never sacrificing functionality for fashion, Epiphanie bags have multiple pockets to hold personal items and accessories, and some models can accommodate laptops and tablets. Maile’s bags are available at epiphaniebags.com, ranging in price from $154 to $225.

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The new Sydney bag transfers into backpack just by pulling the straps at the sides. You can wear it on your shoulder or cross body. Versatile.

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The Madison bag is large enough to accomodate a laptop, two bodies, an iPad, and a long lens. It easily converts to a backpack.

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The London bag is one of Epiphanie's designs that appeal to both men and women.

January 21, 2014

Olympus MFT Earns Flagship Status: OM-D E-M1 Review

By Theano Nikitas

Olympus has a new flagship camera, and it’s not a DSLR. In fact, the introduction of the 16-megapixel, Micro Four Thirds (MFT) OM-D E-M1 effectively signals the end of the company’s DSLR line. But even photographers with a stash of Olympus standard Four Thirds lenses will be able to take advantage of the E-M1’s feature set and new on-chip Dual Fast AF autofocus system.

The E-M1 joins the E-M5 as the second model in Olympus’ OM-D line, although it stands a notch above its sibling. Improvements include faster performance (including more responsive focusing with Four Thirds lenses), more sophisticated handling, integrated Wi-Fi, focus peaking, and a larger hand grip.

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Although the appeal of mirrorless cameras and their lenses often revolves around smaller-than-DSLR size and weight, the E-M1 is a little hefty for its class. Its 5.1 x 3.7 x 2.5-inch measurements and body weight of 17.5 ounces is due, in part, to its larger handgrip; but overall, it’s one of the more substantial mirrorless bodies on the market. Add the first model in Olympus’ new PRO line of MFT lenses, the constant aperture, weatherproof M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm, f/2.8 (a second, 40-150mm, f/2.8 PRO lens is in development) and you’ve got some weight in your hands. While the lens is larger and heavier than Olympus’ other MFT lenses, it’s solidly built and delivers excellent results, especially in combination with the E-M1’s five-axis image stabilization. (A quick note to anyone who plans to use the E-M1 with non-MFT lenses: the MMF-1 and MMF-2 lens adapters will work with the new camera but only the MMF-3 is weatherproofed.)

The E-M1’s grip provides a well-balanced handhold, although it’s likely that the longer legacy lenses may offset that balance. Its weather-sealed, magnesium alloy body is splashproof, dustproof and freezeproof, and so the E-M1 can handle outdoor and adventure photography in all kinds of conditions.

Like many mirrorless cameras, the E-M1 doesn’t have a built-in flash. However, it comes with Olympus’ tiny shoe-mount flash, which works fine for fill flash in smaller areas; just be on the lookout for redeye. The hotshoe/accessory shoe accepts larger flashguns as well.

A beautiful, 3-inch, high-resolution, tilt and touch-control LCD monitor occupies much of the camera’s rear real estate. The 2.36 million dot electronic viewfinder (EVF) has an automatic eye sensor as well as manual switching between the tilting touchscreen monitor and the EVF. The LCD’s touchscreen feature is limited to certain functions but includes focus point selection, triggering the shutter, and selection of parameters from the on-screen control panel.

External controls are plentiful and arranged within easy reach across the top and rear surfaces. The on/off switch is on the camera’s left shoulder, a position that’s more convenient than one might imagine (even for right-handed shooters). A design feature that’s especially useful is the center lock button on the mode dial. Unlike those on other cameras, however, you do not have to depress and hold the button to release the dial. Instead, one press-and-release locks the setting in place; another press-and-release leaves it unlocked so you can move quickly from one mode to another.

Dual control dials, function (Fn) buttons, and a wealth of custom options translate into more advanced—albeit complex—operation than the E-M5. The ability to customize controls is welcome, of course, but it can take a little while to assign—and then remember—the function of each custom setup. Once you do, operating the camera is fluid and a real pleasure. 

In addition to an another Diorama II Art Filter, dual HDR options, a Photo Story mode for collages, and an improved time lapse feature, the E-M1 now has built-in Wi-Fi. Setting up the E-M1’s Wi-Fi is quick and easy with a quick QR code scan. Once connected, you can use the Olympus Image Share app (available for iOS and Android) to transfer images, add GPS data to photos and even share images with others. Remote shooting is also possible with the OI Share app and Wi-Fi connection.

Live Time is an interesting and useful feature for long exposures. It’s essentially a bulb mode that allows you to see the progress of the exposure in real time on the LCD. I find it especially useful for light painting since you can watch the exposure increase in real time during the process and then close the shutter when you achieve the look you want.

Naturally, the E-M1 offers HD video capture. And while the camera offers manual exposure controls for video and AF (only with MFT lenses during shooting), the move mode is limited to 30p for all resolutions (1,920 x 1,080, 1,280 x 720 and 640 x 480). That’s too bad since it would be nice to have 60p and 24p options as well.

Olympus has also made some under-the-hood improvements boosting the maximum mechanical shutter speed to 1/8,000 second (the E-M5 maxes out at 1/4,000 second) and a sync speed of up to 1/320 second. Thanks to the E-M1’s TruePic VII engine, continuous shooting can be clocked as fast as 10.5 frames per second (fps) with a maximum of up to 41 raw files (in single AF) at 6.5fps. The camera can capture up to 50 raw files in continuous autofocus. I found that the maximum speed didn’t quite measure up to those numbers, and the camera started to slow down toward the latter part of the sequence. But the camera and continuous autofocus was fast enough to keep up with some rodeo-style action with a 40-150mm MFT lens. When it comes to telephoto work, Olympus’ 2X crop factor really comes in handy.

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Exposed for 1/400 second at f/7.1,
ISO 200, at 40mm with the Olympus
M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO
lens, which provides a 35mm-equivalent
field of view of 24-80mm.

Olympus has improved the performance of their legacy standard Four Thirds lenses on the E-M1 with its Dual Fast AF system, which uses On-Chip Phase Detection AF and Contrast Detection AF. While other Olympus MFT cameras can accommodate Four Thirds lenses via an adapter, achieving speedy autofocus has been an issue since Four Thirds lenses are designed to work with phase detection. With the E-M1, the camera can access phase detection AF for better performance when standard Four Thirds lenses are attached and AF tracking is engaged. MFT lenses still use contrast detection AF, and the camera automatically switches the type of AF used depending on the lens. Though my selection of Four Thirds lenses was limited, from what I can tell there is some improvement in AF; the speed increase isn’t astonishing but it’s detectable. It’s certainly not as fast as, say, my Nikon D3s, but it’s good to know that if you have Four Thirds lenses, you have an option to use them with respectable results on an MFT camera.

Just as on-chip, hybrid autofocus is working its way into more cameras, so is the elimination of the optical low pass filter. The latter is designed to deliver better resolution but with the increased risk of moiré. However, there was very little evidence of moiré with the E-M1, and I presume that the TruPic VII processor was largely responsible.

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This exposure for 1/60 second at f/5.8,
ISO 800, picked up all the fine detail
of the lace in the hat with no moiré
evident. ©Theano Nikitas

I was pleased with most of my test images. They were sharply focused, adn exhibited good detail and accurate colors. Image noise was kept well under control up to about ISO 3200, but even past that, the E-M1 maintained better detail than I expected, though image noise was visible. When necessary, I might push the ISO, but I would prefer to have more in-camera control over noise reduction. As always, however, shooting raw and post-processing for noise delivers the best results.

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At PhotoPlus Expo, Sigma set up a test booth with models, so I checked out the Sigma 60mm F2.8 DN Art lens, which delivered excellent results. ©Theano Nikitas

Under bright and/or high contrast conditions, the E-M1 (set on Natural) had a tendency to blow out some highlights that even the well-implemented highlight and shadow control feature couldn’t manage to fix. Otherwise, exposures were generally well balanced. Colors were accurate and rich, although not overly saturated. If the colors aren’t to your liking, the Color Creator provides a useful tool for adjusting hue and saturation.

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But even with the funky lights on the deck of the USS Intrepid during a press event, the E-M1—and its auto white balance—did a great job of reproducing the neon-like colors.

Despite its somewhat larger-than-average size and increased competition (especially from Sony’s full-frame a7/a7R), the Olympus OM-D EM-1 is one of my favorite mirrorless cameras on the market today. It’s an excellent addition to Olympus’ camera line and delivers superlative image quality and above-average performance.

 

Olympus OM-D E-M1

Price: E-M1 (body only)  $1,400
Kit with Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens: $2,200

December 12, 2013

Sony A7/A7R First Impressions

By Theano Nikitas

Rumors and excitement about Sony’s compact, full-frame mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras were running hot and heavy prior to the announcement of the 24-megapixel a7 (Alpha 7) and 36-megapixel a7R (Alpha 7R). Shortly after the cameras were announced, Sony invited a group of journalists and photographers to Nashville, Tenn., for some hands-on time with both full-frame cameras, along with Sony’s new “bridge” camera, the DSC-RX10.

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These were fairly early production models, and I spent less time with the cameras than I would for a full review, so these first impressions are just that—a quick first look. That said, I did have enough quality time with the cameras to get a feel for what it’s like to shoot with them.

The a7 and a7R are very similar in size, weight, and feature sets. They’re both well made and built around dust and moisture resistant magnesium alloy bodies. Given that they sport full-frame sensors, they are relatively compact, measuring around 5 x 3.75 x 2 inches. The a7 weighs 16.7 ounces, while the a7R is a hair lighter at 16.4 ounces, with battery and media (SD/SDHC/SDXC or Memory Stick) installed. Granted, the a7/a7R aren’t as small or light as Sony’s NEX-series cameras, nor many other mirrorless models on the market, but since they’re similar in design to the Cyber-shot RX1, there’s enough heft to them to feel solid in the hand and help balance longer lenses. A nice-sized handgrip also adds to the camera’s comfortable handhold.

Currently there are only three native full-frame (FE) lenses for the E-mount a7/a7R: the kit 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6, the Zeiss 55mm f/1.8, and Zeiss 35mm f/2.8. Sony’s FE roadmap promises a total of 15 lenses by 2015, with a 24-70mm f/4 lens due early next year. But Sony and third-party adapters, like Metabones, make it possible to attach a wide range of lenses. Of course, you can always attach an APS-C E-mount lens and either choose a crop mode or live with a vignette.

During the time in Nashville, I checked out the 28-70mm, 55mm, and 35mm lenses, along with a prototype of the Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 lens. Of the three native lenses, the 35mm is my favorite. It’s small, lightweight, and delivers great detail and edge-to-edge sharpness. The 55mm is also an excellent lens, and I managed to pull some nice images from the 28-70mm kit lens as well. It goes without saying that the new Zeiss Otus lens is really, really sweet, but it’s large and overwhelms these compact cameras. Since it’s manual focus only, Sony’s focus peaking comes in handy, but I still had some issues with focusing in low light (which I attribute to mostly user error).

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Sony Alpha 7, 35mm lens. Exposure: 1/500 second at f/5.6, ISO 12,800. ©Theano Nikitas

At 36 megapixels, the a7R is the higher-end (and more expensive) camera, and, given the trend in high-resolution digital cameras, it’s no surprise that the a7R lacks an optical low-pass filter (OLPF). In the brief time I shot with the a7R, I noticed very little moiré, but more extensive testing is needed to see how it performs.

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Sony Alpha 7R, 35mm lens. Exposure: 1/30 second at f/20, ISO 160. ©Theano Nikitas

Using the cameras’ EVF was a pleasure, and the 3-inch, 921,600-dot tiltable LCD works well under almost all lighting conditions.

Overall, the cameras handle well and have an impressive number of external controls—many of which are customizable—and that’s one of the cameras’ main strengths. Multiple buttons and dials can be customized from a choice of 46 functions. Essentially, you’re given almost free range to create your own operational workflow. On the other hand, setting up the camera can take a while since you have so many choices. Initially, I found it difficult to remember what functions were assigned to the various dials and buttons, especially given that I set up both cameras differently, but it didn’t take long for everything to fall into place, allowing me to concentrate on shooting and not searching for a feature or function.

The cameras are feature rich (for more details about specific features, visit Alpha 7 or Alpha 7R), with more than enough control to please even fussy photographers. And, true to the latest trends, both models feature Wi-Fi, which is generally easy to set up and use, especially if you have an NFC-enabled smart device.

I’ve never been a fan of Sony’s NEX menu interface and, fortunately, the a7/a7R UI follows the logic and easy navigation of that used in the RX1 instead of the mysterious arrangement and placement of features within the often confusing NEX icons.

Neither camera is a real speed demon, but the a7 chugs along a little faster at up to 5 frames per second (fps) vs. the a7R’s maximum 4 fps. Not a huge difference as far as I’m concerned since neither is designed to shoot sports. On the other hand, both cameras are fast enough to capture action shots such as galloping horses. 

Autofocus worked fairly well, although the a7—which has a hybrid AF system—seemed to be a little faster than the a7R, but at this point that’s difficult to quantify. On the other hand, the a7R’s AF seemed to be more responsive in low light. Notably, the a7R’s shutter is a bit noisy, so if you’re a wedding photographer, hightail it to your local camera shop to take a listen before you buy.

I was a little disappointed in battery life, even when not using Wi-Fi, so extra batteries are a good bet for extended shooting sessions.

Among the journalists and photographers who attended the Nashville event, there was some discussion about the quality of the a7’s JPEGs. Some people were disappointed and said their images were a little soft straight out of the camera, particularly with the kit lens. I found that most of my test images with the 28-70mm lens were sharply focused and provided good detail. The 55mm lens was even better for sharpness and detail, but I think my favorites were the 35mm lens and the Otus 55mm. Not surprising, the a7R’s images were, in some ways, much better. Again, I’ll repeat the caveat that these are only my first impressions working with early production models, but I can say that the a7/a7R perform quite well in low light/high ISO situations.

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Sony Alpha 7, 55mm lens. Exposure: 1/800 second at f/4, ISO 50. ©Theano Nikitas

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Sony Alpha 7, 28-70mm lens. Exposure: 1/800 second at f/4.5, ISO 160. ©Theano Nikitas

Are these cameras perfect? No, but Sony has certainly raised the bar by introducing this new category of full-frame mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras (ILCs), and we won’t be surprised to see a lot of pros and enthusiasts adding the Sony Alpha 7 or Alpha 7R to their kits.

PRICES 

Sony a7R: $2,300 (body only)
Sony a7: $1,700 (body only)
Sony a7: $2,000 (with 28-70mm kit lens)

Sonnar T FE 28-70mm F4: $1,200 (January)
Sonnar T FE 35mm F/2.8: $800

Sonnar T FE 55mm F1.8: $1,000 
Zeiss Otus 55mm F1.4: $4,000


A-Mount fo E-Mount FF Lens Adapter (LA-EA4) with TMT: $350
A-Mount fo E-Mount FF Lens Adapter (LA-EA3): $200



 

November 19, 2013

Pelican ProGear: Unique Laptop Case and Camera Backpack Combinations

Review: Pelican ProGear Sport Elite S115 and S130

By Ellis Vener

I doubt there few experienced photographers alive who haven't owned at least one Pelican case. These are heavy-duty, and heavy, molded crush-proof ABS plastic cases providing excellent shock protection. Pelican is the de facto choice for anyone who needs to keep delicate optics and electronics protected from the elements, errant assistants, and careless baggage handlers. They are also watertight to a depth of one meter for 30 minutes, and are rigid enough to stand on. 

From the beginning Pelican has sold their products to all sorts of people, and photographers have always been a prime market. Recently they began making backpacks designed specifically for photographers. This review covers the S115 Sport Elite Laptop/Camera Pro Pack and the S130 Sport Elite Laptop/Camera Divider Pack.

What really sets these apart from other photography-oriented backpacks? The amount of protection built in. The foundation of the pack is a lowprofile crush-proof padded case for a tablet or laptop computers up to 15.5 x 10.5 x 1.1 inches  (a 17-inch Apple MacBook Pro just fits). The hard case portion is hinged at the bottom, and the spring-loaded latch at the top locks the case shut with a satisfyingly clack and requires two steps to reopen. For additional security you can add one or two padlocks. As with other Pelican cases, the top and bottom halves of the case meet in a tongue-in-groove seal with a rubber O-ring gasket on the groove side, making it water tight down to one meter for at least 30 minutes. A pressure equalization valve prevents vacuum lock situations when moving from a low atmospheric pressure environment to a higher pressure one.

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The S115 Sport Elite Laptop/Camera Pro Pack

The non-watertight backpack portion of S115 is shaped like a traditional soft-sided carrying case: a tough woven nylon shell covers a well padded box. The padded sides and base are integrated into the overall structure of the backpack and the usable internal storage area measures 15.5 x 10.5 x 4.5 inches. The front of the pack opens with a zipper running around three sides of a hard panel that protects against impact damage. Three zippered mesh pockets are sewn to the inside of the front panel and a rigid internal panel separates this storage area from the main compartment. The panel adds another layer of impact protection and reinforces the overall structural integrity. The storage area and movable dividers are padded and bright yellow, making it easy to organize and see what is packed inside.

The exterior sides of the backpack portion have flat zippered compartments, good for a cell phone or a passport. On the right side of the pack is a similar but smaller zippered compartment and in the upper left side corner is a strap for securing a tripod. 

Essentially the S115 is a gear case and computer case combination with backpack webbing. The webbing for the shoulder straps, along with the lumbar, back pads and the main compartment are permanently attached to the case. A removable hip belt is included as well. While there is a hard but rubberized handle at the top of the case, the one major criticism I have of it is that it needs a cloth handle on the side of the case so you can carry it more easily going up and down stairs or getting it in and out of vehicles.  

Empty the S115 weighs 8.65 pounds, and the exterior dimensions are 18.5 x 13 x 10 inches. It retails between $200 and $280 dollars. 

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S130 Sport Elite Laptop/Camera Divider Pack

Built on an identical hard case foundation, the S130 is more like a traditional daypack with a large top-opening compartment and a zippered door covered with a stiff ABS plastic plate protecting the lower portion of the pack. A padded insert holds a medium-size camera kit. You slide into the top opening and down to the bottom of the pack where you can access its contents through the lower door. These insert zippers shut as well for a second level of protection against the elements and potential theives. The soft space above the box can be used for accessories, jacket, or possibly another body with a reasonably large lens attached. I have been carrying a Nikon D800 and AF-S 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED IF VR Nikkor combination, wallet, keys, and a light fleece pullover in there.  On the bottom of the S130 are straps for carrying a tripod, and the top flap has a larger zippered pocket for items you want quick access to.

Depending on how much gear you carry the S130 is reasonably comfortable, at least for me. I'm not sure I'd want to hike 10 or 20 miles wearing it across the Mojave, but I spent a warm fall afternoon wearing a fully loaded S130 while shooting stock images at a local zoo. (Trust me: Baby rhinoceroses and baby lowland gorillas are irresistibly cute.) Like the S115, the S130 external measurements are 18.5 x 13 x 10 inches, but it retails online from $179 to $260.

Fashionwise, the S115 and S130 don't cross the line into paramilitary style but come fairly close. The S115 can carry a full set of image making tools, but it looks exactly like what it is: a gear case with shoulder straps attached. I think the S115 would be perfect for a battery-power lighting kit and the S130 for shoots when the camera and lens choices are simple. Both packs have a crucial feature I wish more photo backpacks had: when you put them down they are stable upright - no more having to lay the pack down on the shoulder straps. 

These are innovative backpack/cases and I look forward to using them in more challenging circumstances. If I can just convince Pelican to add those side handles I'll be very happy. 

Sigma USB Dock: Improving Autofocus Performance

By Ellis Vener

Reliable autofocus is the result of a technological dance between two complex systems: the lens and the camera. Modern high-end DSLR cameras that have active live view come with a second autofocus system based on contrast detection. To avoid overcomplicating things I'll just set contrast-detection autofocus aside to discuss another time. 

So how does standard autofocus, the kind you use when viewing your scene through the viewfinder, work? The big reflex mirror — the one that directs the image-forming light up through the ground glass, pentaprism, and eventually out through the viewfinder has multiple semi-transparent spots in it and some of the light passes through these spots to a secondary mirror that directs the light downward to an array of autofocus sensors in the bottom of the mirror box. The light rays are now directed to a pair of receptors and the computers behind the receptors turn the light into electronic signals and analyze the signal for differences that signify an edge or a tonal differences. As the late Bruce Fraser liked to say, "Difference is detail." The image is in focus when the peaks and valleys in the two signals coincide and come into phase with each other. This is why this is called phase detection autofocus. All this happened in milliseconds.

When it works, and it mostly does, phase detection autofocus works really well. But the individual lens and individual camera body are two complex systems working together. If you want really sharp photos and are not willing to settle for photos that are slightly out of focus, the two unique components need to be calibrated so they work together perfectly, otherwise you get some degree of back focusing or front focusing. This happens because the computer in the camera and the autofocus motor in the lens are not communicating properly.

Until a few years ago this kind of lens/camera tuning could only be done by an authorized repair center. The potential for misalignment also predates both the introduction of digital imaging and autofocus. Some photographers would test multiple lenses of the same model to find one with a real sweet spot for their camera body and would then have the focusing alignment of cameras and lenses recalibrated every so often.

In 2007 both Canon and Nikon started including autofocus micro-adjustment tools into their higher end cameras so individual photographers could do their own testing and AF tuning. Starting with the EOS 5D Mark III and EOS-1DX cameras, Canon went a step further and gave users the ability to tune autofocus accuracy can at the longest and shortest focal lengths of a zoom lens. 

While you can make your own target and use your naked eyes to evaluate the results, there are at least three companies which make targets and software to automate and improve the accuracy of the results. Even though I prefer the LensAlign Mark II plus FocusTune software combination from Michael Tapes Design, Datacolor SpyderLensCal (target only, no software), and Reikan FoCal software also work well.

Whichever target and software you use the process is the same: you shoot several frames of the target at different AF Micro adjust settings and repeat until you find the best setting. I start by shooting 5 frames each at -20, -15, -10, -05, 0, +05, +10, +15, and +20 and have the FocusTune software evaluate the results. I then shoot a second round of tests around the best results. If both my eye and FocusTune agree that the best results were at -05, I'll shoot a second round of five frames each at the -07 to -03 settings. Once I've nailed down an adjustment setting that looks best I go out and make real world photos.

The qualitative difference between the untuned and tuned result are usually pretty obvious. Having your focus perfectly dialed in also has a psychological benefit of boosting your confidence in the quality of your work.

As good as the adjustment might be, though, there can still be problems: the AF might work great at one range of subject-to-camera distances but not quite so great at others. To solve this problem a more complete reprogramming of the lens is necessary.

Recognizing this, Sigma has recently has gone a step further and introduced the Sigma USB Dock and Sigma Optimization Pro software. The dock and software allow you to reprogram autofocus performance and update firmware for the new Global Vision line of Art, Contemporary, and Sports lenses. The 120-300mm F2.8 DG OS HSM Sports lens (there is only one sport lens currently in the Global Vision line) allows for AF speed, focus limiter, and optical stabilization customization as well. 

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To tune the AF performance, shoot a target at four specified distances. With the zoom lenses you can do this for four focal length settings. My experience with Sigma Optimization Pro and the 35mm F1.4 DG HSM is that you can get lucky and need no fine tuning at one distance, but it takes a minimum of two and often three rounds per distance. The process takes roughly 40 minutes with a fixed focal length lens, so plan on about two hours for a zoom.

There are a couple things to consider. First, all of this fine-tuning takes time. Second, you must be very precise about how you attach and remove the lens from the dock. Attach the lens to the dock and then the dock to the computer. After adjusting a lens's setting, the process goes in reverse: disconnect the dock from the computer and then the lens from the dock. I discussed this with a Sigma technician and he advises users to never hot-swap lenses on a camera; turn the camera off first and then swap lenses. Turning off all power to the lens removes the possibility of bridging the contacts on a lens or on a camera body.

If you are using the lens with more than one camera, set your primary body's AF micro adjustment to zero and then fine-tune the focusing using Sigma's software. Set your backup camera bodies' AF Micro-adjustment to match your primary body's AF performance. In practice this works very well.

That's a lot of testing and you are probably wondering if it's really worth all of the time or is it just pointless hairsplitting. The argument for doing it is pretty straightforward: In return for a small investment in time and money (the dock retails for just under $60 and the software is free) you get your full money's worth of image quality out of both your lenses and camera.  

I'm glad to see Sigma innovate in this manner. They seem to really be making an all out quality push these days and perhaps Canon, Nikon and Sony will release similar products to Sigma's Optimization Pro and USB Dock.  It won't take care of all of the performance tuning an authorized service center can perform but it's a start. 

November 12, 2013

Ease Into Video Editing with Adobe Premiere Elements 12 Guided Edits

By Stan Sholik 

201311we_PEboxshot.jpgWith every smartphone and consumer digital camera capable of video as well as still captures, clients expect professional photographers to be able to capture video on their cameras. However, many professionals are not taking advantage of this potential profit center. It's not that the process of capturing video is the issue for photographers; that is pretty straightforward. The issue is editing the video clips once they are captured.

Video editing can certainly be challenging to learn. Adobe recognizes this and has introduced a new feature, Guided Edits, in Adobe Premiere Elements 12, to guide the user through a logical workflow and lower the slope of the video editing learning curve. Guided Edits is a well-designed and welcome new feature for Premiere Elements. After using Guided Edits for a few videos, you are prepared to advance to the Expert mode of Premiere Elements, which includes the full set of tools you need to edit and output videos for your clients.

A good starting point for video editing is shooting video clips of your family using the camera you would use to shoot video for your clients. You can use the Elements Organizer included with Premiere Elements or another program to move the clips onto your hard drive.

When you open Premiere Elements 12, you select New Project after clicking the Video Editor tab. Premiere Elements 12 opens in the Quick Edit mode. Immediately select Guided from the mode selection bar to enter the Guided Edits mode and open a dropdown list of common edits that are often needed with videos.

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Start your first video editing project by choosing Video Editor, then New Project, in the Premiere Elements 12 welcome screen. Click on Guided in the mode selection menu bar to enter the Guided Edits mode. [Click any screen grab for a large view.]

The first guided edit, Getting started with Premiere Elements, quickly walks you through an overview of a simplified edit. You will find it useful to perform the tutorial with a couple of video clips that you have imported to get a feel for the entire workflow, and then to close the tutorial without saving your work. Having seen how simple the process can be, you are ready to proceed.

The first step is to bring the video clips into Premiere Elements. Utilizing the tip from the Getting started tutorial, you click Add Media from the mode selection bar to open a dropdown panel of import options. Since the videos are already on your hard drive, you select Files and Folders, navigate to the files, select them all and click Import.

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The first video in Guided Edits guides you through the entire process. The first step is to Add Media to a project.

The clips appear in the timeline below the main preview window. Since the process of adding media returns you to the Quick mode, you may want to tap the spacebar or click the right-facing triangular Play button to see a quick playback of the clips. Don't worry if the playback isn't smooth at this point. Once you click the Render button to the right of the playback buttons the video will play back smoothly. But it isn't time for that yet. As the video clips play back, the Current Time Indicator (CTI) shows the position of the playback within each clip.

Select Guided again from the mode selection bar to return to Guided Edits mode and continue the process. The first step is to trim unwanted pieces out of the beginning, end, and middle of each clip.

Click the Trimming Unwanted Frames tutorial in the Guided Edits list to begin. The clips expand in the Timeline and an animated yellow arrow at the beginning of the first clip appears. The Guided Edits instruction window advises you to drag the CTI to the location where you want the trim. Click the scissor icon attached to the CTI to make the trim. The trimmed portion is not deleted from the clip. It is only edited out of the current project.  Click the Next button in the instruction window for information on trimming the end of the clip, and for trimming in the middle of the clip. Drag the CTI through all of the clips and trim each one as needed.

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With video clips added to the project, the next Guided Edit step gives you instructions on trimming unwanted frames from the beginnings and ends of the clips.

You can drag a clip to a new position in the timeline to rearrange the order, or click on a clip to select it and then right-click and select Delete and Close Gap to remove the clip from the project. Tap the backslash key to compress the clips to the available space in the Timeline. With this rough cut completed, it is a good time to save the project. Click Save in the mode selection bar and save the project on your hard drive.

Click Guided again to reenter the Guided Edits mode. The next step is to add transitions between the clips. Select Adding Transitions between video clips from the guided edits list. The guided edits instruction window opens and the animated yellow arrow points to the Transitions panel in the Actions bar below the preview window. Click Next in the guided edits instruction window to open the transitions panel. Select one of the nine transitions and drag it between clips. Select a duration and an alignment for the transition in the Transition Adjustments panel and click Done to save the transition. Repeat this to add transitions between each of the clips, and at the beginning and end of the project if you desire.

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Adding transitions between video clips is the next step in Guided Edits after trimming the clips.

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Premiere Elements 12 offers a variety of possible transitions between clips. Guided Edits shows you visually how to add them.

The next step in the Guided Edits list allows you to add sound (a music score or sound effects) to your video. By following the directions in the Guided Edit, you open the Audio panel in the Action bar. Premiere 12 includes seven categories of music available for download. You can click on each of the icons to preview the music. When you find the appropriate music, drag it onto the audio line in the timeline. It takes a few minutes to download and size to the project. The soundtrack adds to any ambient sound you recorded in the video clips. In the Expert mode you can remove the ambient sound if you prefer. You can also use Guided Edits to add a narration track with the option of muting the existing audio while adding the narration. You are guided through the narration process just as you are with the other Guided Edits.

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Adding a music score is another of the Guided Edits options. Premiere Elements 12 includes seven categories of music with downloadable options in each category.

Also available as a Guided Edit is the ability to adjust brightness, contrast, and color, to add a title, to create a picture-in-picture effect, and to animate graphics in your video. And when you are comfortable with the workflow shown in the Guided Edits, you are ready to move on to the video effects in the Action bar, and then to the Expert mode.

The Export mode offers a more detailed Timeline with the ability to add additional audio and video tracks. Here is where you can alt/option click on the ambient audio track to unlink it from the video portion, then right click on it and unclick the Enable checkmark to silence the ambient sound you recorded.

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In the Expert mode you can unlink and mute the ambient audio recorded so that the added music track  is heard, along with any narration you may have added using Guided Edits.

When you are satisfied with your efforts, click the Render button to put everything together into a smooth running video. Click the full screen icon and tap the spacebar to play your video. If it looks good, click Publish+Share and choose and output format appropriate for your needs. It really is that simple.

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After rendering and reviewing the video, clicking Publish+Share opens a panel of output options.

The new Quick Edit mode of Adobe Premiere Elements 12 provides the instructions that still photographers need in order to provide a comfortable transition from still to video editing. The look and feel are similar enough to Adobe Photoshop Elements and Adobe Photoshop that Premiere 12 doesn't appear completely foreign. And when you are ready to move on to professional level video editing, you will find the transition to Adobe Premiere Pro equally comfortable.

Adobe Premiere Elements 12 is available as a standalone boxed program for a street price of less than $100. Adobe provides the usual wide array of video tutorials and helpful information on Premiere Elements at adobe.com.

Stan Sholik is a commercial/advertising photographer in Santa Ana, Calif., specializing in still life and macro photography. His latest book, "Photoshop CC: Top 100 Tips and Tricks" (Wiley), is available now.

 

System Requirements

Windows

2GHz or faster processor with SSE2 support; dual-core processor required for HDV or AVCHD editing and Blu-ray or AVCHD export

Microsoft Windows XP with Service Pack 3, Windows Vista with Service Pack 2, Windows 7, or Windows 8 (Adobe Premiere Elements Editor runs in 32-bit mode on Windows XP and Windows Vista and in 64-bit or 32-bit mode on Windows 7 and Windows 8; all other applications run native on 32-bit operating systems and in 32-bit compatibility mode on 64-bit operating systems)

2GB of RAM

4GB of available hard-disk space to install applications; additional 5GB to download content

Graphics card with the latest updated drivers

Color monitor with 16-bit color video card

1024x768 display resolution

Microsoft DirectX 9 or 10 compatible sound and display driver

DVD-ROM drive (compatible DVD burner required to burn DVDs; compatible Blu-ray burner required to burn Blu-ray discs)

DV/i.LINK/FireWire/IEEE 1394 interface to connect a Digital 8 DV or HDV camcorder

QuickTime 7 software

Windows Media Player (required if importing/exporting Windows Media formats)

Internet connection required for product activation

 

Macintosh

64-bit multicore Intel processor

Mac OS X v10.6 through v10.8

2GB of RAM

4GB of available hard-disk space to install applications; additional 5GB to download content

Graphics card with the latest updated drivers
1024x768 display resolution

DVD-ROM drive (compatible DVD burner required to burn DVDs; compatible Blu-ray burner required to burn Blu-ray discs)

DV/i.LINK/FireWire/IEEE 1394 interface to connect a Digital 8 DV or HDV camcorder

QuickTime 7 software

Internet connection required for product activation

October 16, 2013

X-Rite ColorMunki Smile: Color Management Couldn't Be Easier

By Stan Sholik

I imagine that many photographers, and not just entry-level and advanced amateurs, view color management with the same dread as a visit to the dentist. That’s why I love the choice of name for X-Rite’s latest monitor calibration device, the X-Rite ColorMunki Smile. Despite the dread you may feel before you begin, the latest technology makes the process simple, fast, and painless, and results in a new feeling of confidence. It may bring a smile to your face and you may even become willing to follow up on a regular schedule in the future.

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The ColorMunki Smile is X-Rite’s entry-level monitor calibration system. It consists of the mouse-shaped ColorMunki Smile colorimeter, a software CD, and a Quick Start guide in nine languages. The Smile connects to a powered USB port on your computer and the USB cable includes a counterweight that you position behind your monitor to offset the weight of the colorimeter on the screen side.

Color managing your monitor couldn’t be simpler. With the Smile not connected to your computer, you install the ColorMunki Smile software and reboot. Then you connect the Smile and launch the software. When instructed, you position the Smile in the outline displayed on screen and adjust the counterweight so that the device lies flat against the monitor. With the Smile in position, you click the Begin button and the monitor calibration runs automatically to completion. The automation includes installing the profile in its correct location on your computer and selecting it as the default monitor calibration. With the Smile, there is no need to make choices for, or even know anything about, monitor brightness levels, illuminant white point, gamma, or room brightness. You do not even need to come up with a name for your new calibration. Everything is handled automatically in the wizard interface, including the ability to automatically sense whether you are using an LCD or LED monitor.

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X-Rite ColorMunki Smile positioned on a Windows laptop ready to begin calibration. ©Stan Sholik

On a fast Windows 7 64-bit laptop, the monitor calibration took 5.5 minutes to complete. During the process I counted about 160 color patches that the software presented to the Smile device for measurement. With the calibration complete, you can view a before and after image of the final software screen. The “after” view looks decidedly more color correct than the “before” view, but I had to wonder where the “before” view comes from. Having run the monitor calibration several times in succession on the laptop, the “before” version was always off color and was certainly not from the previous Smile calibration run a few minutes before. That aside, the “after” version looked pretty good.

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Smile reading red patch, one of about 160 patches, during the 5.5 minute calibration with the progress bar shown below. ©Stan Sholik

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Close-up of the business side of the Smile colorimeter. The felt patch surrounding the central sensors protects the screen and eliminates stray light from the sensors. ©Stan Sholik

 

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When the monitor calibration cycle is complete, you have the option of viewing before and after versions of this image. This is the uncalibrated (before) view. It seemed to look the same no matter how many times I ran the monitor calibration, so calling it the “before” view doesn’t seem right. The calibrated (after) view shows the image with your new monitor calibration applied.

I can only give it a “pretty good” rating because I have previously calibrated the laptop with my X-Rite i1Photo Pro, and the calibration using the Photo Pro is visually dimmer and more neutral. While the Smile uses the same D65 illuminant and 2.2 gamma as default that I select for the Photo Pro, there is no monitor brightness option in the Smile software. So you must settle for the native brightness of your monitor, rather than a more appropriate but dimmer 120 candela per square meter if you expect your prints to match the brightness of your LCD monitor.

The Smile can color manage multiple monitors on a system. The Smile software automatically detects multiple monitors when you open it, and the wizard automates the color management of both. You can also install the Smile software on an unlimited number of Mac and Windows computers.

A gear icon in the toolbar at the bottom of the Smile software home screen opens a preferences screen. Here you can change the reminder to recalibrate your monitor from the default setting of weekly to other intervals or never, choose not to automatically check for updates, and set your display type to LCD or LED. The Smile can calibrate both types.

In the same toolbar you can select the help icon. A web page opens with options for help videos, FAQs, and downloads of updates and documentation. These are all helpful to users new to color management and are presented in a non-technical and easily understandable way.

With a street price of about $70 and a wizard interface, the ColorMunki Smile is designed for entry-level users who have avoided color management in the past. While it won’t help you if you need a system to ensure that your prints match your monitor, or your scanner or projector deliver accurate color, it is an easy to use system to improve the color accuracy of all of the monitors, of all types, on all of the computers systems that you own.

Stan Sholik is a commercial/advertising photographer in Santa Ana, Calif., specializing in still life and macro photography. His latest book on macro photography for Amherst Media is available this fall.

System Requirements

Macintosh
• Mac OS X 10.6, 10.7, or 10.8 (with latest upgrades installed)
• Intel Core 2 Duo CPU or better CPU
• 500MB RAM
• 500MB of available disk space
• Powered USB port
• Display resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels or higher
• User must have Administrator rights to install and uninstall the application
• Internet connection required for software update

Windows
• MicrosoftWindows XP 32-bit, Microsoft Windows Vista 32-bit or 64-bit, Microsoft Windows 7 32- or 64- bit, or Microsoft Windows 8 32- or 64-bit. All operating systems should have latest Service Pack installed
• Intel Core 2 Duo or AMD Athlon 64 X2 or better CPU
• 500MB RAM
• 500MB of available disk space
• Powered USB port
• Display resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels or higher
• User must have Administrator rights to install and uninstall the application
• Internet connection required for software update Captions

October 11, 2013

Behind the Scenes: Jaime DeMarco Workflow with Capture One Pro 7

JAIME DEMARCO, fashion and lifestyle photographer

Jaime DeMarco began his career as senior photographer for Urban Outfitters at age 22. Today as a successful fashion and lifestyle photographer, with clients such as DKNY, Free People, E! Entertainment Television, and People Magazine, Jaime is known for his ability to bring to life the unique character of each of his subjects. Like his idol Helmut Newton, he plays the role of a professional 'hired gun,' bringing with him the highest level of creativity, energy and photographic experience to every single assignment.

“What is remarkable with Capture One Pro is that people shooting today who are using the Nikon D800 or Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera can get the same software functionality as I get with a $40,000 Phase One digital back. Granted, the camera itself makes a difference—the hardware, lenses, 16-bit capture. But basically, the software will take whatever you throw at it —whether it’s raw from Leaf, Canon, whatever, no hicupping … From a workflow standpoint it’s unbelievable that it can work in all formats so seamlessly.” —Jaime DeMarco

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PROJECT: EMPIRE BEAUTY SCHOOLS  
EQUIPMENT: Nikon D800e, Capture One Pro 7

BACKGROUND/INTRO: Capture One Pro 7 has an exceptionally versatile workflow. It was designed originally as one of the first available ‘digital presses’ and was created for professionals and agency people who needed to capture and process as quickly as possible. I’ve been using the software for many years. Some people still don’t know that it supports more than 300 different DSLR camera models (as well as medium format).

Capture One Pro 7 now offers two different ways of working: its traditional Sessions and a new Catalog structure. I prefer to work with Sessions because I can control everything from one pane. (Though if I were a stock or wedding photographer, the catalog feature would make a lot of sense, because I’d want to use tag and search, and it would save me time doing that.)

For this workflow, I am describing how I worked with my client Empire Beauty Schools and Nick Arrojo, who joined forces for a collaborative advertising project. I chose to use a Nikon D800E tethered to Capture One Pro 7 and strobes to accomplish it. The shoot took place in a room in the Hershey Convention Center that was made into an impromptu photo studio. I dropped canvas backdrops instead of using set paper. The shoot took place there, because it was the only time both creative teams could get together during a large hair show. 

 

Step One:
Create New Session

The first step on this or any other job is to create a new session. I clicked the plus button in the Library/File pane and named the session because I split the job into 4 sessions. There were a lot of planned looks, so I wanted to make sure it was easier to find them later. I also changed the capture name to a simpler one from the same windows. Finally, I selected where I wanted the images to go.

Where I store images depends on the client and how critical the save is. Right from the initial Session setup paneI I can choose to capture images on the laptop SSD or send them through to my RAID drive, bypassing the computer’s main SSD entirely.

 

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Click any image in this article for larger view.

STEP TWO:
Camera Set-up

I navigate to the camera pane, which I have customized with the tools that I use during capture.

Capture One Pro 7 allows me to set up and save multiple workspace configurations—my tabs and tools—the way I want them and then save the workspace. This is extremely useful because different shooting situations require different tools, some more and some less. I’m able to avoid having unnecessary distractions during capture, but can have all of the tools available during production.

I navigated to Window > Workspace and selected Beauty Tethered, which is my custom workspace for beauty shots. It moves the browser to the right, and then reconfigures the main categories, capture, color to include only the tools that I use for beauty shoots. My custom workspace includes the following tools under the Capture pane: exposure evaluation up top and capture naming underneath it, along with camera controls, information, and capture pilot. Under the Color pane I have base characteristics, white balance, color balance, and color editor. (I have the option to include or eliminate each tool from my workspace. If I find I need it for some reason, I can always add it again with a right-click.) 

I then look at my capture pilot and camera controls, and create a new server name. I use the basic capture version and create an ad hoc network—basically a private network originating from my MacBookPro—and I start the image server and log on my iPads.

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Next, I also check camera controls, ISO, and make sure the camera is tethered, etc.

Then I check to make sure the ICC profile is what I want it to be. I have created my own custom ICC tool that I’ve named d800e Generic. It has my basic, tweaked D800E color profile, which I created in Capture One Pro 7 using the Color Editor.

I shoot a color target, and once that’s in the camera I go to white balance gray, highlight the dropper, and pick middle gray. Then Capture One Pro 7 will set the balance and temperature of the shot.

For this job the creative director wanted me warm the images and push them a bit yellow. I simply pushed the color temp a few hundred degrees higher than the color picker gray balance detects.

STEP THREE:
Color Editor Tool

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This tool allows color editing independent of the simple gray balance; they are separate tools and do different things. The Color editing tool creates a custom profile or LUT for my cinema friends. Basically this process alters how Capture One Pro 7 interprets color information captured by the sensor. This tool lets me fine-tune that whole process and further refine the basic ICC profile correction I have custom made for my cameras.

Assuming you have a calibrated monitor, this is an essential step and probably my favorite tool in Capture One Pro 7. It provides color swatches that correspond to the color swatches on a GretagMacbeth color card. I take the basic color picker to select the color range that corresponds to the square on the color card and adjust the reds, blue, green, etc.

I do this for all of my cameras, but especially with 35mm DSLRs; these cameras just don’t have the same color accuracy as the 16-bit sensors in the medium-format cameras. With medium format, I can just go with the basic profile and the color is close to perfect. With 35mm DSLR sensors, I need to go farther than the profiles provided by the camera manufacturer to get the best result. Properly using the color tool will let you get as close as possible to accurate color and even closely match the color of different cameras used on the same set.

I then go and save it as a user preset, I could also send it out as an ICC profile if I wish.

If I change lighting or location, I can do it over again—it only takes about 5 minutes.

This whole process can also be done later as long as you capture a raw file. In fact, I always repeat it and do a final color pass before final file processing in controlled light on a calibrated monitor.

STEP FOUR:
Set up shooting parameters 

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As you can see, I use a simplified workspace for capture without a lot of junk on screen. Tools can always be added separately (and saved later as another capture workspace). It saves me a lot of time to be able to save a customized capture space to the needs of each job. My workflow changes as the situation changes, and different tools are relevant for different jobs, but here are some of the key tools that I use:

I select my base style from the adjustments pull-down, which places all of my pre-settings on the following tools. I then just tweak the settings for the job; the whole process takes a few minutes. Capture One Pro 7 allows me to save and name multiple styles so that I save time when working with files, and I can preview and switch on the fly. I can show two options to a creative director with one click instead of having to change multiple setting while they wait.

A) EXPOSURE, CONTRAST, SATURATION I like to add a bit of contrast depending on the camera and how my S-Curve has affected the capture. For this shoot I felt it needed a bit more contrast. I then desaturated the captures a few points. I almost always push the exposure 3/10 or a bit more. I prefer to shoot dark and underexpose, then bring it up in Capture One Pro 7.

It’s a leftover habit form shooting Velvia film 1/3-stop dark and pushing it in the darkroom. With the Nikon D800 and Canon EOS 5D Mark III, the HDR slider comes in very handy; you can cheat and get back some dynamic range that would normally be lost when adding the contrast of a curve. This ability to unlock more of the dynamic range of the high-end DSLRs brings them a step closer to medium-format backs and allows me to use them on a broader range of jobs.

B) CLARITY TOOL I selected Punch mode as opposed to Neutral or Classic. I set Punch to Clarity-18 and Structure-8, which added some artificial contrast to the edges of the images for more of a medium-format look. If used properly it can do a nice job of drawing out eyes in beauty shots. 

C) CURVE I made a basic S-Curve to add some more contrast to the images. I have a base setting that I always use that I didn’t change.

STEP FIVE
The Shoot

After I shot a few test shots for lighting and composition I pulled the best test shot up on the iPad with Capture Pilot and spoke about it with the creative director to make sure it works for both clients and the rest of the creative team. Once we were sure we were all on the same page, I called for final hair, make-up, and styling touches, and I began to shoot. I shot until I felt I had a few strong final options and then gave the creative director, her team, and clients the time to make sure they have the options they need for final selection.

The first round of selections were made with Capture Pilot using the rating system to get the top choices, and they ended up with quite a few selects. Once everyone was satisfied that we had a lot of potential winners to choose from we moved on to the next look.

I use Capture Pilot, because it seems like everyone has an iPad and iPhone. I just have the clients download the Capture Pilot app from the App Store. They start the app and select the Job Name. Then the creative director and everyone else can follow the shoot in real time without crowding around the capture computer. It’s great because I don’t have to worry about a client accidently touching a setting or asking the digital tech or me to navigate and star files for them. It frees us up to do more worthwhile things. The client and creatives can select right from their device independent of what we are doing in Capture One Pro 7.

Finally, I backed up everything to a second SSD after each look is selected. I captured the D800E fils as raw NEF and then converted them all to Phase One EIPs once the day wrapped. I convert all of my captures to EIP whether shooting a Phase back or DSLR because it ensures that when the files are opened or moved to another computer, Capture One shows the images as I intended. My settings and copyright information ae saved as part of the file and it retains all of the raw file information and quality. I also know that my raw (EIP) files are not accessible to anyone with Photoshop. This helps limit the people with access to my raw files.

STEP SIX
Web Gallery Export

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After we wrapped for the day I made a web contact sheet of the first round of selects and uploaded them to my server with a blind link from Capture One Pro 7. The client reviewed and narrowed down from the first round of selects made on set that evening. I then remade the contact sheets with their top 10 selects from each look and allowed them a few days to make final selects for processing and retouching. Using the web contact sheet has become my method for allowing clients to select images. It makes my life easy and clients love that they can see the results in the gallery as soon as it's uploaded. It takes less than 15 minutes to build a gallery and does not cost extra because it’s part of Capture One Pro 7. The web contact sheet tool automates the process, making a preview from the selects for web and letting me choose how big (and therefore how much quality is shown).

STEP SEVEN
Production and Processing

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After final selections are made I begin final production and processing. I work on a 10-bit 30-inch color-calibrated monitor. I go through the same steps as earlier and make sure I’m still happy with all of my color and exposure settings. I then go on to correct

A) NOISE REDUCTION I turned this off. I always turn this off when shooting at the native ISO and proper exposure and light with the Nikon D800E, Phase One IQ160, or Mamiya Aptus II.

B) LOCAL ADJUSTMENTS This is a key thing, especially for hair assignments. I can draw my mask over the hair and from there add contrast and exposure. Then, if I get moiré in the clothing, I can correct only the garment. I had seven different zones in one image.  By doing this I’m able to use raw sensor data to add or subtract light and contrast from isolated areas and control light in small areas. No other editing program allows me to edit raw data from the sensor, and it allows so much more latitude than working with a processed file.

C) LENS PROFILES I used the correction filter to add a bit of distortion to narrow the center of the faces. I know it’s the opposite of what the tool is supposed to be used for, but breaking the rules can sometimes bring excellent results.

D) COLOR EDITOR ROUND 2 I fine-tune all of my on-set adjustments in a controlled environment.

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E) PROCESSING I processed the final images as .psd files (from the process pane). I used the Adobe 1998 color profile, which is more suitable for Nikon which uses it as its native color space. I processed the finals as a 16-bit file at 100% size for skin correction in Photoshop. I then embedded my copyright info; a nice feature of the processing in Capture One Pro 7 is that files can be output with copyright and camera information embedded. I then renamed the files EmpireArrojoHershey2013_ with a 2-digit counter to the location that I specified (in this case it goes to the default output for my session).

That completes my workflow with Capture One Pro 7 for this job, and I’m ready to send the files to post for skin, liquify, and fly-away hair. My process keeps color and exposure in my control and not in the hands of a retoucher. That’s something I prefer as someone who loved the darkroom.

For me, Capture One Pro 7 is invaluable; I actually could give up Photoshop at this point for all levels and color correction. I rely on the fact that Capture One Pro 7 accepts so many different cameras—I can plug and unplug them and keep shooting tethered (true plug-and-play).

# # #

An editorial note from Jaime DeMarco:

I’m a Creative Cloud member and have downloaded Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, and it’s a decent program, but not for a professional studio. I could not set up an agency shoot with Lightroom and be taken seriously, at least with my group of clients.

I don’t like Adobe’s new strategy. I don’t like that now I’m renting the software and am forced to keep paying for the ability to use it. That’s what I like about Capture One Pro 7—it’s mine for life, it’s my choice to upgrade. I don’t lose my right to use the program I’ve paid for.

I’ve experienced a few Creative Cloud issues during its monthly check to make sure I’m paying my fees. I’ve had Creative Cloud tell me that I’m not registered to use my products at log-in and had to fiddle with it to make it realize that I’m a licensed user. I don’t need another thing to fix; time is money for most of us using stuff at this level. My purchased version of CS6 opened every time once it was registered. 

September 18, 2013

Pro Image Share Makes Easy Work of Mobile Client Galleries

By TJ McDowell

Successful photographers know how valuable creating digital content is to building a business. Unfortunately, most good photographers don’t have loads of time to dedicate to web content creation. Pro Image Share is a Lightroom Plug-in aimed at making the creation of web-based image galleries quick and easy for busy photographers. 

A quick intro

To get the plug-in installed, you may have to get geeky for a couple minutes. Whether you’re a natural at the computer or not, you’ll be happy to find a step-by-step installation tutorial including screenshots and detailed video instructions on the Pro Image Share website. Getting the plug-in set up on my computer took just a few minutes, and I was up and running. Inside Lightroom, I was a little lost until I re-visited the Pro Image Share website where I watched a video on how to create a simple gallery. After creating my first gallery, it was easy to create new galleries.

Once you choose the folder of images you want for your gallery in Lightroom, go to the Web tab and select the Pro Photo Share plug-in from the Layout Style panel on the upper right. The plug-in will automatically arrange the photos on the web gallery preview panel. In my usage, the preview panel seemed like it has to re-render the entire page including the images frequently. The re-loading of the preview seems like it’s a Lightroom problem, not a plug-in problem, and it doesn’t have an effect on the final product. [Editor's note: I did not experience this issue on an iMac using Lightroom 4. J.Sherwood, Sr.Ed.] After a quick runthrough of the gallery settings, you can either export the gallery to your local computer or upload straight to your website.

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To upload to your website, you’ll need ftp access, which is pretty standard if you’re paying for hosting. (It does not work with services such as Zenfolio, Photobiz, or SmugMug because they are more than just a hosting site and do not give you FTP access to their servers.) For me, it took less than 5 minutes for the plug-in to generate my web gallery and finalize the upload to my website. At that point, I had a professional quality web gallery, and I was ready to shoot off the gallery’s URL to my client and have her start sharing with her friends.

Make it mobile

Pro Image Share was built mainly for mobile marketing. I tested it on my Android-based Galaxy S2 and was impressed with how smart the gallery seemed. The images were sized to fit my phone perfectly when I held my device vertically. Then when I switched to horizontal, I was able to see more than a single image at a time. Either horizontally or vertically, scrolling through the images was a breeze. The gallery was simple with just the images—no zooming, menu, or other confusion to get in the way of the photos. When I saw an image I really liked, I could touch the image to bring up a hi-res version of the picture instead.

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Clockwise from the upper left are screen grabs from an iPhone 4 showing the Pro Image Share gallery as seen from the Safari interface, the app's vertical display, some of the sharing options you can choose displayed at the bottom of the gallery, an individual image shown with the pop-up navigation menu, and the horizontal gallery display. Images ©Larissa Photography

The gallery looked just as impressive on my office computer running Internet Explorer 9. The image gallery positioned the images to fill my entire screen here, too. Just to see how smart the website was, I resized my browser window and was amazed to watch the gallery magic at work as the images continued to move around to fit my browser size. During a couple of my tests, IE9 ended up having issues correctly displaying the gallery with the images stacking on top of each other. There’s supposed to be a fix out shortly for this issue, and as soon as it’s out, I’d feel confident in posting gallery URLs on our social media sites where people would be browsing on both computers and mobile devices. My editor did not experience any glitches on Chrome, Firefox, or Safari on a Mac computer.

On an iPhone, the display at the gallery link will prompt the user to save the gallery as an app (if they desire). You can design the icon that it creates using your studio logo or whatever you feel is appropriate for your brand.

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My app icon for my client Lyndee is on the bottom left.

Control

The Pro Image Share Lightroom plug-in contains probably 30+ options that can be easily modified using the settings interface. While you certainly don’t have to set each one, it’s good to know you have the option to make changes from the default where necessary. Settings are available for everything from studio contact info to what text will be displayed to what colors the gallery will use. You’ve also got the ability to load and save presets for making your gallery look just the way you want it to. Even if there’s a setting you wish you had that’s not configurable through the plug-in, you can always get your hands dirty and dig into the html output yourself after the export to make changes.

I found two settings that were useful right away. The default quality for the thumbnail images wasn’t high enough for me, so I found the section with all image sizes and image quality and made some quick changes. After uploading again, the gallery looked perfect on my phone. I was also having an issue where the progress bar for the images was sticking around even after the images were loaded. I found the setting to completely turn off the loading progress image. Problem solved.

Product value

Pro Image Share only costs $69, and that’s a one-time fee. As long as you already pay for website hosting, a small one-time payment is obviously a good deal. Plus, you’ve got access to perpetual support and upgrades with that one-time cost. I had a talk with John Childress the creator of Pro Image Share, and he says that, for him, it’s more about getting the plug-in in the hands of photographers and helping them out with their mobile marketing than it is about making a buck.

To see the Pro Image Share gallery I created while testing the plug-in, visit www.larissaphotography.com/lyndee_gallery/.

September 10, 2013

Preveal Revamps Interface, Adds Sharing Community

Photographers use the Preveal iPad app to show clients what their images will look like on a generic wall or even in a room in their own home, which in turn helps them sell wall displays.

Preveal's new version 3 debuts the Preveal Community—a free template pool where you can upload your wall layouts to the cloud to share and download others' wall layouts.

The Preveal interface is pretty simple, which is a positive in apps. There are four main buttons: set room image, template groups, build template, and share. To set the room image, choose one of that button's three connected icons, which will allow you to add an existing image from gallery, select one from your Dropbox, or take a new photo.

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If you select the Dropbox option, you will have to log in and complete an authentication and approval dialog. Once you're connected, you can access a folder located at Dropbox > Apps > Preveal, but you won't be able to browse your entire Dropbox. On your desktop (or device), you can place screen resolution image files into this folder, and then access them in Preveal. This same concept will also work in the next step where we add images to the wall display layouts.

Click on template groups and swipe left and right through the templates on your device (including any you create or download). The screenshot below shows a blank template viewed on a room image photo.

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To add images to the layout, tap (single finger) on one of the canvas tiles. A dialog will pop up allowing you to select a gallery or Dropbox file. A two-finger drag and release will allow you to move the wall composite around on the room image.

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A series of circular buttons below the template groups button show all your choices for templates: on your device, Bay Photo, single images, single image framed, your saved templates, Preveal Community, etc. The easiest thing to do is just click through these to get a feel for what each section contains (Bay Photo offers their standard grouping options).

If you want to create your own layout, you can build a template. Templates can include multiple canvas tiles, either plain or with frames and/or mats. Add as many canvas tiles as you want, and make them whatever size you want. 

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Finally, the share button. This allows you to share a screenshot via email, Facebook, twitter, or just to your camera roll (aka IOS gallery). Here's a screenshot of the share via email message that was created for me from within Preveal:

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You can manage the templates from the home screen also. Here's the thumbnail view of twelve templates at a time.

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I've enjoyed using Preveal, and once I got the hang of it, which took only a few minutes, I was could easily create multiple image layouts on the fly. I got a kick out of the visualization process, and I'm sure my clients would too. It definitely would be a great tool to move your clients from “How much is that” to “I need that.”

Preveal is available from the Apple App Store for $74.99 and comes with a 100-percent money back guarantee (that you will make enough to pay for the app in three sales). For more information visit getpreveal.com.

Betsy Finn, M.Photog.Cr.,CPP has a Michigan portrait studio (bphotoart.com) and blogs at betsyfinn.com.

September 6, 2013

A Look at New ProShow Web Features

Betsy Finn, M.Photog.Cr.,CPP

A while back, I reviewed ProShow Web. Since then, Photodex has rolled out some new enhancements and features for their ProShowWeb slideshow creator, including timing control, photo captions, Dropbox support, and interface support for widescreen layout.

The new layout is minimalist, and takes a little getting used to if you have spent any time in ProShow Web, but I think the change is for the better, as it allows you to make full use of large-resolution monitors without having to scroll to view all the images you add to a particular show.

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You have a plethora of options for adding content: Facebook, Flickr, zenfolio, Instagram, SmugMug, Dropbox, etc. The Dropbox method worked smoothly for me. Once you browse to the desired Dropbox folder, you can select individual images, or multiple images (control- or shift-click). Then press the Choose button, and the files will be uploaded to your show.

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While I prefer a single transition style for a slideshow, you have the option to select fade/transitions for each slide and other special effects on a slide-by-slide basis. The screenshot below shows the visual indicators for transitions and special effects. The green bar at the top of the screen (under the navigation bar) displays your music, timing, etc. I appreciated being able to tell with one click whether I had enough music to accompany all the images. In the older version, if you selected a short soundtrack the extra image files would be excluded, which was only discoverable when previewing the slideshow. This new method is much more efficient.

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The video linked above demonstrates many of the transition and fade options.

Show settings can be easily accessed from the button in the lower right of the interface. The settings page is similarly minimalistic in nature, but in a good way. No extra fluff to make fine tuning your shows tricky. I like how everything is on one page. You can add the title to your show, adjust the energy and crossfading, and apply a watermark to the slideshow (among other things).

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For output you can render high-res versions of the video, web resolution, or you can share to social networking sites. There is an option for unbranded output (no Photodex in the URL): http://show-vid.com/view/w9cm2km4 will take you too my show with no ProShow branding.

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I discovered a nice feature that lets you apply special effects for multiple images on one slide. You select multiple images on the interface, click the FX button, and choose from a number of effects designed for multiple image layouts (some free, some paid add-ons). From the iOS tablet app, I was even able to see the new special effect transitions (though you can’t edit them anywhere but the PC interface at present. I would hope to see that change, and I’d love to see an Android version of the app, too).

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Overall, I was impressed with the ProShow Web improvements and look forward to using the more user-friendly interface to create shows. The layout now takes full advantage of larger monitors, and the interface makes it very easy to do lots of customizations in short time. Of course, you can always keep it simple too; sometimes less is more. It is nice to know they are there if you want them. I can see the photo caption feature being very useful for weddings or events where there is a change of location, or if you want to add special details to the show. Previously, you had to create a title slide that was text-only; now you can put that text on the screen with an image.

If you need help with the new interface or just getting started in general, there is an online knowledge base, youtube videos, and standard email/phone contact. As before, free accounts are available at ProShowWeb.com. Plus ($30/year) and Pro ($150/year) subscriptions are available, which allow unlimited video creation, higher quality downloads, and more options.

Betsy Finn, M.Photog.Cr.,CPP has a portrait studio in Michigan (bphotoart.com); she blogs at betsyfinn.com.

August 14, 2013

Review: Portraits on Porcelain

By Betsy Finn, M.Photog.,Cr.

In the search for new products to offer, it may be worth looking to the past. I remember seeing porcelain plates on display in my grandmother’s home as a child, and the porcelain portraits offered by Memory Lane Porcelain Portraits are a contemporary take on the timeless wall hanging. Memory Lane is a wholesaler that creates porcelain and marble pieces from your photographs.

The ordering process is very personal. You can fill out an order form and email your image files or print the form and mail a photo the old fashioned way, and there's a number to call if you have any questions. To evaluate the end product, I ordered two porcelain pieces and one laser-etched marble piece. The porcelain square was easy to design on my end, and I did a pretty good job of estimating how the oval images would look … or so I thought. Fortunately, the folks at Memory Lane are very thorough and emailed me about a potential issue with one of the oval portraits; due to the cropping of the oval, they suggested rotating the image slightly to make it feel more natural. I happily accepted their suggestion.

The three pieces arrived, well packaged in bubble wrap, in a timely manner. Here are the originals I submitted and the three finished pieces:

Finn Family Images

Memory Lane Porcelain Portrait examples

Both the porcelain and marble pieces are about 1/4-inch in thickness. In this image, taken of the laser etched marble, you can see the shiny and non-shiny aspects of the etching process (which results in a black and white image).

Memory Lane Marble Portrait side view

Memory Lane offers a quality guarantee if any porcelain portrait discolors under normal conditions or proves defective in any way that is attributable to their workmanship. It is reassuring to know that they won’t fade or discolor as printed photographs can with direct exposure to sunlight. These porcelain pieces, since they are glazed, should hold up under exposure by a sunny window!

Overall, I have mixed feelings about the produt. I really liked how the landscape picture turned out as a square porcelain. The colors on the oval porcelain didn’t hold true closely enough for my taste—the reddish skin tone hues in the glaze were a little more pronounced than the original image, and the contrast was not as defined. Having worked with ceramics, I understand that the properties of glaze are not going to allow an exact color replication of a printed photo; it’s similar to working in different color spaces. That being said, I would love to see how these would work in black and white on the porcelain.

One other caveat about the differences between a photographic print and the porcelain: these are not as crisp as a print. Based on my understanding of ceramics, that’s just the nature of the beast (it all depends on the smoothness of the ceramic tile and the detail that can be retained with the glaze). I chose a “busy” family portrait for the marble piece to see how the etching would handle detail. It did preserve all the detail, but a simpler image would have more impact on this medium.

 [How Porcelain Portraits Are Made]

When I asked about the image quality, a company representative explained, “The ink is actually crushed minerals, which create a glaze that becomes a permanent part of the porcelain once placed in the kiln. Because of this, the images may not look as crisp to a photographer. Due to the type of keepsake these are, however, we have found that most of our photographers' clients are fond of the softer look on the porcelain.” When you register as a preferred customer, your client ID can be flagged with a preference for softer or crisper images so that they can adjust the image prior to being placed on the porcelain and fired in the kiln. The only other thing you’ll need to know is that the finished pieces do not come ready to hang. You will need to buy wall hangers for plates, or self-standing easels if you want to provide your clients with an immediate display option (or direct them to purchase their own). Typical turnaround time is 5 business days.

Potential applications? I could see these being sold for families, children, and weddings. In talking with the sales rep, she told me about a client who ordered a number of heart tiles as wedding table centerpieces. For a newborn portrait, it would be precious to have a portrait of the baby or little toes along with the birth stats. Personally, I think these are more intriguing as a design add-on rather than a straight portrait.

Pricing for porcelain portraits is $56 to $300, depending on the size, which ranges from 1.96 x 2.75 inches all the way up to 9.45 x 11.81 inches. Several porcelain shapes are available (oval, heart, circle, square, rectangle). Marble pieces are available as rectangles and ovals, in either 5x7 or 8x10 (starting at $75). Sample packages start at $100 and allow access to preferred client benefits such as 20% off porcelain pricing. For more information about Memory Lane Porcelain Portraits, visit www.porcelainportraits.com.

Betsy Finn, M.Photog.,Cr. has a portrait studio in Michigan (bphotoart.com); she also blogs at betsyfinn.com.

August 9, 2013

Compact Design, Pro Quality: Fujifilm X-E1 Review

By Stan Sholik

Hybrid cameras—mirrorless digital cameras with interchangeable lenses—have found a ready market among advanced amateurs moving up from camera phones and compact digitals, but they have been slow to find acceptance among professional photographers who already own a full-featured digital SLR and an array of lenses. Making hybrid cameras more difficult to sell to professionals is their small sensor size, limited feature sets, and often inferior lens quality. While the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and Sony Alpha NEX-7 are notable exceptions to many of these limitations, the Fujifilm X-Pro1 was the best offering for professionals looking for a compact camera that delivers the features and image quality they expect from their digital SLR. Its high cost and surprising bulk for a small camera has slowed its acceptance.

Fujifilm X-E1 review

©Stan Sholik

Fuji has answered the concerns regarding the X-Pro1 with the introduction of the Fujifilm X-E1 and in doing so has created a camera system that professionals could use for event, wedding, school, portrait, and possibly even some commercial assignments. It also serves as an excellent system for personal photographs, street photography, family outings, vacations, and any other time where a big, bulky, multi-lens digital SLR isn’t needed, but the high image quality is wanted.

Fujifilm X-E1 next to Nikon D3s

©Stan Sholik

Where the X-Pro1 gained its bulk from its complex and expensive hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder, the X-E1 is trimmed down by replacing that system with a purely electronic viewfinder. If it weren’t for a slight “shimmering” as you pan the camera while looking through the viewfinder, and the occasional visible moiré, you would think you were looking through an optical viewfinder.

The viewfinder's image quality is so good that you can use it to view the images or videos you have captured when the ambient light is so bright that images on the rear LCD are impossible to see. There is a built-in eye sensor that activates the viewfinder only when your eye is about to look through and a diopter adjustment that works well, unlike the diopter on the X-Pro1.

While it is a little difficult for a Leica rangefinder user like me to admit it, there are a number of advantages to electronic over optical viewfinders in rangefinder-style bodies. One is the ability to use zoom lenses. The image-stabilized 18-55mm f/2.8-4 lens supplied with the camera surely contributed to the excellent image quality, and Fuji plans to introduce other zooms in the future.

Another advantage of an electronic viewfinder is the ability to choose a focus point anywhere in the field of view, something that is even an advantage over SLR cameras. This is compromised somewhat in the X-E1 by the poor placement of the focus point selector button. It is located at the lower left of the LCD screen, making it difficult to reach without poking yourself in the nose when looking through the viewfinder. Moving it to the front would be a big improvement. And having a focus confirmation for manual focus operation would be a big help.

Fujifilm X-E1 body, back

©Stan Sholik

Other differences from the X-Pro1 include a pop-up flash, a 2.5mm stereo microphone input for video sound recording, and the ability to use a remote electronic release (but not at the same time as the microphone). Autofocusing speed is much improved, and you can focus the X-E1 manually with the lens at maximum aperture. Write speed is also improved, but there is still about a two-second delay between single-frame captures, or capture and image review.

The X-E1 inherits the APS-C sensor and image processor from the X-Pro1. The 16.3-megapixel X-Trans sensor is mounted without an anti-alias filter. Image sharpness is exceptional for a compact camera, and though it lacks the 36.3 megapixels of my D800E, I would not be ashamed to deliver X-E1 images to any of my clients. And now that Adobe Lightroom 4.4 and later, as well as Camera Raw 7 and Capture One 7 have algorithms to demosaic the X-Trans sensor, processing raw X-E1 files should fit within your established workflow.

Fujifilm X-E1 review

The camera is a pleasure to carry around when you are just out with visiting friends seeing the sights. ©Stan Sholik

While I rarely shoot anything but raw files, I did test out the RAW+FINE setting and was amazed to find that the JPEG files were excellent quality. I would think that school, event, and even some wedding photographers could shoot JPEGs with the X-E1 and save a lot of post-processing time. Overall, image quality is excellent in all respects. Metering and auto white balance are perfect in nearly every situation. Noise is reasonably well controlled even at the extended ISOs of 12,800 and 25,600, which are only available for JPEG capture, although the images can look more like watercolor paintings than photographs.

Fujifilm X-E1 review, noise

Noise is visible at higher ISO settings, but easily controlled in post-production. This is a 1:1 crop of an event photo taken at ISO 4000 with noise reduction applied in Lightroom 4.4. ©Stan Sholik

Fujifilm X-E1 event photo ISO 400

I shot a client’s birthday party with the camera using only available light in a fairly dark room with mixed lighting. Using the camera’s Auto ISO setting, the majority of photos were shot at 1/30 second at f/4, ISO 4000. The results were sharp thanks to image stabilization in the 18-55mm lens, with good color and minimal noise. Most of the time people were unaware that I was taking pictures. ©Stan Sholik

The X-E1 abounds in other features, including film simulation presets for Fuji Provia (the default), Velvia, and Astia color films. There are obvious color differences in the files with the presets, and they seem to deliver accurate simulations. You can even bracket through three film simulations, which could be these three (the default), or include negative film with high or normal saturation, monochrome, monochrome with a yellow filter, monochrome with a red filter, monochrome with a green filter, or sepia.

Fujifilm X-E1 color bracket

You can bracket through film simulations while shooting. This is a bracket of Provia (left), Velvia (center), and Astia (right). Also available are negative film with high or normal saturation, monochrome, monochrome with a yellow filter, monochrome with a red filter, monochrome with a green filter, or sepia. ©Stan Sholik

Other features include a panorama mode that automatically stitches a series of images into a JPEG panorama, dynamic range bracketing, multiple exposures, exposure bracketing and pretty much every custom function you would find on a digital SLR. There is even a setting for capturing JPEG images in square format, reminiscent of the 2-1/4 medium-format film cameras.

Fujifilm X-E1 review, square format

One of the built-in crop options for capturing JPEGs
is the square format, which is perfect for portraits
and many other subjects. JPEG quality is so good,
as is the white balance and color, that not shooting
in raw format is a real option with the camera. 
©Stan Sholik

However, while it can capture both 720p and 1080p HD video with excellent quality and good stereo sound, the video controls are limited in comparison to its competition. For example, the frame rate is limited to 24 frames per second, and you have no control over shutter speed, although you can control aperture. As with the first generation of digital SLRs with video capabilities, video seems more of an afterthought with the X-E1 than a fully developed feature.

Video aside, the X-E1 is a camera a professional photographer could love for personal work and use for many professional assignments. Although I only tested the 18-55mm f/2.8-4 kit lens, fast f/2.8 14mm and 18mm primes are available along with a 35mm f/1.4 and a 60mm f/2.4 macro. Future lenses include 23mm f/1.4, 27mm f/2.8 and 56mm f/1.4 primes and a 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 telephoto zoom and a 10-24 f/4 super wide zoom.

Street price of the Fujifilm X-E1 body in silver or black is about $1,000. The body with kit zoom lens is $1,400. More information is available at fujifilm.com

Stan Sholik is a commercial/advertising photographer in Santa Ana, Calif., specializing in still life and macro photography. His latest book "Photoshop CC: Top 100 Tips and Tricks" (Wiley Publishing).

Fuji X-E1 Specifications

Sensor: 16.3 effective megapixel X-Trans sensor without anti-aliasing filter "
Image sensor: 23.6x15.6mm APS-C CMOS sensor
Lens: FujiFilm X mount
Exposure modes: Programmed AE, Shutter priority AE, Aperture priority AE, Manual exposure
Flash: Built-in, 1/180-second sync
          Three dedicated TTL hot-shoe flash units available
Display: 2.8-in, approx. 460,000-dot, TFT color LCD monitor
Electronic viewfinder: 0.5-inch, 2,360,000-dot OLED viewfinder
Media: SD, SDHC, SDXC (UHS-I) memory card
Image Stabilization: Lens-based image stabilization
Dimensions (W×H×D): Approx. 127 x 74.9 x 38.3mm (5.1 x 2.9 x 1.5 in.)
Weight: Approx. 350 g (12.3 oz) with battery and SD memory card

Pros:
Professional features
Full 1080p video
Light-weight, all-metal body
Excellent image sharpness

Cons:
Focus point selector button position
RAW mode limited to ISO 6400
Two second delay between exposures
No PC-flash connection
Minimal video controls

August 8, 2013

Hot One Readers' Choice Award Winners

Inevitably, every year when our judges vote for the top products competing in the Hot One Awards, we have a few ties and close seconds, and even close thirds. Those close votes are an indicator of the superior quality of these contenders, and they deserve recognition. This year we got our readers in on the action with a Readers’ Choice poll featuring five of these neck-and-neck races. We gave each contest a two-week window for voting, and we encouraged the competing companies to rally their loyal users to weigh in, and we promoted the polls on our Facebook page. Combined, the contests racked up more than 140,000 votes. Here are the results!

Hot One Awards Readers' Choice Winner

 

Best DSLR Camera $1,000 to $3,000 

The Nikon D800 trumped the Canon EOS 6D.

 

Best Macro Lens

The Tamron SP 90mm F/2.8 Di VC USD 1:1 Macro won over the Sigma APO Macro 180mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM lens.

 

Best Mobile Business App

Shoot & Sell topped Preveal and StudioCloud.

 

Best Presentation Software

Animoto Pro narrowly edged out ProSelect 2012r2.

 

Best Background or Set

Denny Duet Reversible Backdrops led the way over drop it MODERN Sequin Backdrop and Floors from Backdrops by WHCC.

Keep Your Paper and Stay Digitally Organized: Evernote Smart Notebook by Moleskine

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

These days, it’s hard to have a paper idea book. Everything, it seems, needs to end up in the digital world at some point. Which is rough for me, because I have a soft spot for brainstorming, note taking, and list making on old fashioned paper. A year or so ago, I was cajoled into using Evernote by a fellow photographer and was pleasantly surprised about how useful the note-syncing app could be. Having digital notes and the ability to clip content from the internet, email, wherever—all saved to the cloud—was actually quite useful. But I was still pining over my nostalgic desire to jot down notes in a notebook, which obviously couldn’t be synced with Evernote.

But wait. Evernote added page capture technology so that you can photograph your notes, handouts, or printed documents to be filed away in the cloud. Initially it was only available for iOS devices, but this feature is now available for Android devices, too. The Evernote Smart Notebook by Moleskine has specially formatted pages to help Evernote render your notes, designs, and diagrams properly. It is less than half an inch thick, and comes in two sizes (pocket and large). The photos in this review show the large notebook, and I’ve included a pencil and cell phone in the photo to give you a sense of scale.

Evernote Moleskine Notebook

Evernote Moleskine Notebook

And there are even snazzy “smart stickers” you can put on your notebook pages that will tell Evernote to automatically tag the note with a specific category. I used one of the arrow stickers and the purple “work” sticker in this lighting diagram I drew. The stickers store in a pocket inside the back cover of your notebook, so you’ll always have them when you need them.

Evernote Moleskine Notebook Stickers

Evernote Moleskine Notebook

What’s more, you can customize the smart stickers so that the categories actually fit your needs.

 

Evernote Moleskine Notebook settings

The Evernote app's page camera will let you photograph pretty much any kind of document. I also tested it out on a few newsletters from my chiropractor’s office, as they were printed on color paper, which I figured would be tricky to render. While you’re capturing pages, the page camera will also show you how many captures you’ve gotten. In the screenshot below, from my smartphone, I uploaded four pages to Evernote. It did a pretty good job of rotating, adjusting contrast for readability, and cropping out the background junk.

Evernote Page Camera

Once scanned in and processed, you can see the pages as individual thumbnails within a particular Evernote app note. Clicking on a thumbail will allow you to view and edit the page.

Evernote Page Camera Capture

Overall, I was pleased with the unlikely marriage of two opposites—technology and paper. I appreciate that the page camera function has been expanded to work with pages from other sources besides the Evernote Smart Notebook, as I will frequently jot down thoughts on whatever I can find. Now, I don’t have remember to copy down my great lunch idea from that paper napkin at the cafe; I can just take a picture of it with my phone, sync my thoughts to Evernote, and then toss the napkin.

The Evernote Smart Notebook is available directly from Moleskine in pocket (3.5x5.5, $24.95) and large (5x8.25, $29.95) sizes with either ruled or squared pages. You can also find them online at Amazon, Staples, or other large retailers. All purchases of a notebook include a three month trial of Evernote Premium. For more information, visit http://www.moleskineus.com/evernote-smart-notebooks.html

Betsy Finn, M.Photog.Cr.,CPP has a portrait studio in Michigan (BPhotoArt.com) and blogs at betsyfinn.com.

July 23, 2013

Expose 3 Brings Amazing Alignment and De-ghosting to HDR

By Stan Sholik

HDR Expose 3 box

High dynamic range (HDR) photography seems to have passed through its early years of excess and taken on its role as another powerful tool for controlling scene contrast, both globally and locally. Its use is far from universal, however, even among photographers comfortable with HDR imaging, because of three limiting factors: the inability to batch process multiple files from a shoot to create HDR images; the need to use a tripod while shooting to ensure absolute alignment of the original images; and the need to have no or at least minimal movement in the scene during captures.

Several HDR software solutions have addressed some of these issues with reasonable success, but HDR Expose 3 from Unified Color is the first to solve all three successfully in a single product.

Previous versions of HDR Expose are renowned for their ability to create natural-looking HDR images with minimal artifacts and without the grungy HDR “look.” The interface and workflow were a bit unusual however. Version 3 of HDR Expose retains the ability to create natural-looking HDR images, but with completely rewritten algorithms for many operations, along with a clean, modern interface and a rearranged, logical workflow.

Expose 3 installs as a standalone program, with plug-ins for Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Apple Aperture. If you are only processing a single image sequence to an HDR image, using Lightroom or Aperture makes some sense, but part of the power of Expose 3 is its ability as a standalone program to work with multiple sequences of images.

HDR Expose 3 open dialog

The opening screen give three options for opening images in Expose 3:
open a single image, open a single sequence of images to merge to an
HDR image, and batch process a folder of images.

There are three options for opening images on the initial Expose 3 standalone program screen. You can open a single image saved in a variety of 8-, 16-, and 32-bit file formats. This option is especially useful if you have previously used HDR Expose batch processing and saved a number of files as 32-bit HDR images for further processing. A second option is to open a single sequence of images in a folder of images. Expose 3 uniquely stacks image sequences in groups so that you can visually choose what sequence to process, and what images in the sequence to use or discard. There are other options for this choice, including the amazing new automatic and manual alignment and ghost removal functions, which I'll address later.

HDR Expose 3 sequence

When you choose to open a sequence of images to create a single HDR image, HDR Expose 3 stacks all of the sequences in the folder you select and displays thumbnails to make it easy to choose the sequence you want. Buttons are available for automatic or manual alignment and de-ghosting. If your camera was tripod mounted and there was no subject motion during image capture, selecting the Merge Static Photos checkbox speeds the merge process.

HDR Expose 3 batch process 

Photographers doing high volumes of HDR can choose to batch process an entire folder of images. The files can be saved to a 32-bit HDR file for later individual adjustment, or to a final TIFF or JPEG using a prebuilt or custom preset.

The third option is batch processing. Photographers doing high-volume HDR photography, such as real estate interiors and exteriors, can use the batch processing to process entire photo shoots to separate 32-bit files in common formats for later adjustment, or to a final JPEG or 8/16-bit TIFF using a pre-built or custom preset, and save the resulting files to a folder automatically.

Using the first option or the second with automatic alignment and de-ghosting, the image opens in the Expose 3 interface. Presets are available in the filmstrip below the preview window, and the HDR tools are available in panels on the right. While there is a Grunge preset, the result is far less than what is routinely available in Photomatix or even Nik HDR Efex Pro.

The histogram at the top of the tools panel displays the full dynamic range of the HDR image while a shaded overlay indicates the dynamic range that you can display on your monitor. As you use the tools in the Operations panels, the histogram and overlay adjust accordingly. Between the histogram and the Operations panels is a navigator window.

Unlike in previous versions, the seven available operations are now all performed in Unified Color’s 32-bit Beyond RGB color space. No longer do you exit their proprietary color space to perform Veiling Glare or Geometry operations. With Expose 3, the preview image retains its look for Veiling Glare and Geometry, and Geometry is now moved to the final Operation where it logically belongs. The Operations panels are definitely designed to keep the image looking on the natural side of the HDR spectrum. The major shortcoming that I find with the overall processing in Expose 3 is the difficulty the algorithms have in dealing with the sun or other overly bright areas in the HDR image. With nearly every sequence I process with the sun present, the sun and the areas surrounding are too contrasty and look decidedly unnatural.

While I never experienced in Expose 3 the haloing created around areas of high contrast by other HDR software, you can create other artifacts by pushing some of the Expose 3 operations to their maximum. The Color Settings operation allows you to selectively change the color balance of an area, to make the sky a deeper blue for example. But push it too far, and you create a black border at the edge of the blue areas. Similarly, using the Dodge and Burn tools too aggressively also creates black borders around corrected areas. But these are minor annoyances that you can live with in order to take advantage of two of the strengths of Expose 3: the ability to align images that you shoot hand held, and the ability to de-ghost movement that occurred within the frame during the taking of the image sequence.

HDR Expose 3 manual alignment 

With Expose 3 you can manually align images that you captured if your camera was not mounted on a tripod. After choosing a position in the image, thumbnails below the preview show where that position is in each image in the sequence. You simply drag the images in the thumbnails until the positions are identical and apply the correction before merging the sequence. You can set up to eight different positions for alignment. For this image I needed two. ©Stan Sholik

You can use the tools to correct both alignment and de-ghosting automatically or manually while merging an image sequence from the second option of the initial Expose 3 screen as mentioned earlier. By selecting Manual for Merge Align and Deghost, then clicking Preview, you are shown a preview of the merged and aligned image. If each image is not precisely aligned with others, you can manually set up to eight alignment points, and Expose 3 will realign the images based on those points. I never needed more than three points, even for my sloppiest handheld sequence. It works perfectly.

HDR Expose 3 de-ghosting

If there is movement of elements in the images in the sequence, you can manually select the frame with the moving objects in the position you want them, and set that as the key frame, indicated with a “key” icon in the image list. A slider lets you set the amount of weight to give to that frame in the merged HDR image. ©Stan Sholik

But even more amazing is the de-ghosting function. The previous Expose 2 did an excellent job freezing a flag that was blowing around in one of my HDR sequences. But neither it nor any other HDR software was ever able to automatically de-ghost a handheld sequence with people moving through it. Expose 3 accomplished this easily. All I needed to do was manually choose the image where the people were positioned where I wanted them, the “key frame,” and set the relative importance I wanted to give to that image in processing. The preview redraws, and Expose 3 automatically eliminates the ghosts of those people from the image. Once you have aligned and de-ghosted the source images, clicking Merge performs the actual merging and the HDR image opens in Expose 3 ready for adjustment operations.

HDR Expose 3 example image

I selected as the key frame the one image with the seagull in the sky and built the HDR around it. The images in the sequence were hand held, but Expose 3 had no problem automatically aligning them. While I had problems with other images in Expose 3 where the sun or an over bright area is in the frame, here the area around the sun wasn’t a problem. ©Stan Sholik

HDR Expose 3 example image 

Of all the HDR software I have tested, Expose 3 does the best job of aligning and de-ghosting this handheld image sequence with people moving through the various frames. It was less successful with the bright area in the sky. ©Stan Sholik

Concurrent with the release of HDR Expose 3, Unified Color is also releasing 32 Float 3, a new version of its Photoshop HDR plug-in. While the interface and operations tools in 32 Float 3 are identical to those in Expose 3, the workflow is significantly different. You must merge your image sequence using Photoshop’s Merge to HDR Pro, eliminating the alignment and de-ghosting tools found in Expose 3. For optimum results you save the resulting 32-bit HDR image in Unified Color’s BEF file format. 32 Float adds the BEF file format into Photoshop when it installs. You then open the BEF file in Photoshop, select 32 Float from the Filter menu, and proceed with the adjustment operations as you do with Expose 3. You can also open any 32-bit source image saved in file formats other than BEF and perform adjustments with 32 Float.

While this workflow is fine for sequences with your camera mounted on a tripod and no movement in the frames during capture, Photoshop’s merge function is only usable in the most static image-capturing conditions. The advantage to 32 Float is that the final 8- or 16-bit image is now available on a layer for further processing or compositing in Photoshop.

Whether you choose HDR Expose 3 or 32 Float 3, you will find that you have the ability to easily create natural-looking images no matter what the original contrast range of the scene. While HDR is most often used to decrease scene dynamic range, you can also use it to expand dynamic range of scenes. HDR Expose does an excellent job of cutting through the Los Angeles haze, and I have seen it bring back the color and contrast of a friend’s hazy Grand Canyon scene. HDR is an excellent tool for many purposes, and the Unified Color products are interesting options for creating natural-looking images under less than ideal shooting conditions.

The Unified Color website offers many excellent video tutorials on Expose 3, 32 Float 3, and Express 2, a “lite” version of Expose 3. There are also 30-day trial versions of all products. MSRP for HDR Expose 3 is $119, with upgrades from previous versions purchased prior to April 23, 2013 for $59. Upgrades for purchases after April 23, 2013 are free. MSRP of 32 Float 3 is $89, with upgrades from previous versions purchased prior to April 23, 2013 for $49. Upgrades for purchases after April 23, 2013 are free.

Discounts are available when the two products are purchase together. Combination price is $149, with upgrades from Combo Suite 2 purchased prior to April 23, 2013 for $79. Upgrades for purchases after April 23, 2013 are free.

Stan Sholik is a commercial/advertising photographer in Santa Ana, Calif, specializing in still life and macro photography. He is the author of "Nik Software HDR Efex Pro," published by Wiley Publishing.

System Requirements:

HDR Expose 3
OS: Intel-based Mac OS 10.6 (Snow Leopard), 10.7 (Lion), Mac OS 10.8.x (Mountain Lion)
32-bit or 64-bit (recommended) Windows (XP, Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8)
CPU: Dual-core 2.0GHz minimum; quad-core, 2.8GHz is recommended for best performance
RAM: 2GB minimum, recommend 4GB
Video: Recommend 256M video memory minimum

32 Float 3
OS: Intel-based Mac OS 10.6 (Snow Leopard), 10.7 (Lion), Mac OS 10.8.x (Mountain Lion)
32-bit or 64-bit Windows (XP, Vista, Windows 7)
Adobe Photoshop: Requires CS4, CS 5, CS 6 or Photoshop CC (Note: 32 Float will not work with Photoshop Elements)
CPU: Dual-core 2.0GHz minimum; quad-core, 2.8GHz is recommended for best performance
RAM: 2GB minimum, recommend 4GB
Video: Recommend 256M video memory minimum

July 11, 2013

Organize, Share, and Collaborate with Moxtra

By Marianne Drenthe 

201307we_moxtra1_400.jpg

The world of project-based applications continues to evolve and one of the newest additions to this genre is called Moxtra. At first glance you may think “Oh look, it’s another Pinterest,” but Moxtra is capable of so much more than just being a virtual place to collect virtual things.

Moxtra is an iOS, Android, PC & Mac-based productivity application that allows interactive editing and communication between collaborators during management of any project. Its main objective is to increase productivity and enhance sharing with others. You can access Moxtra via the app on your iPad, iPhone, Android, or use the web to access your Moxtra Cloud-based binders from your desktop computer.

What You Can Do With Moxtra

Working with Moxtra begins with creating a binder for a project. You can use multiple binders to collect and organize your pages for multiple projects. The list of what and how you can potentially grab items for binder inclusion is extensive: you can grab images or videos from your iOS or Android device, PC, or Mac; you can take a photo with your mobile device to go directly into your binder; you can use the Moxtra desktop app to communicate with your computer to grab a file from your desktop or laptop; and you can even link your DropBox with your Moxtra.

201307we_moxtra2.jpg 

Once you have your binder set up you can choose to keep it private or you can share it with others: a client, an employee, a second shooter, a designer you’re working with, really the list of potential shares is endless. You can even edit the level of access a user has after you have started your collaboration. You can allow those other members to edit, to manage or simply to view your binder. When you share your binder you can choose to allow binder members to edit any page within your binder via voice, text annotation or any of the other cool tools Moxtra has available for revising your pages within your binder. 

201303we_moxtra_annotation.jpg

If someone on your team edits a page within your binder you can quickly view the details of those changes by looking at the binder’s activity stream. The binder activity stream updates any changes made to your binder in real time. The activity stream displays a clickable thumbnail of the media that has been added or edited by any of the members of your binder. Your binders can be shared via the web so any participating members of your binder do not need to have Moxtra to collaborate with you.

Of course there is also a meeting tool to allow you to instantly set up a conference right from your iPhone or iPad. This feature is beneficial for real time collaboration on a project. This is a welcome feature when coordinating project efforts in a professional setting. 

201307we_moxtra4.jpg

 

Practical Uses for Photographers 

While trialing Moxtra I was trying to think of ways in which it would be relevant to the working professional photographer. Here is my short list of uses for Moxtra:

Communication for sales of wall displays. Engage your portrait client by mocking up and sharing wall display options. The ability to add in members to your binder for collaboration purposes makes changes easy to discuss right within the binder. For example, your client could take a photo of their space, type in wall measurements, and send it to you. You can quickly import the images you took from your photo library, resize them and move them around on your client's wall photo and create an example wall gallery, sharing your ideas with your client via the binder, doing all the back and forth of planning wall displays within your binder rather than through email or phone.

201307we_moxtraIMG_0059.jpg


Cutting edge communication with tech savvy clients. High school senior photographers have a tech savvy client base and could demonstrate their work by scheduling a Moxtra slideshow demo with a potential client and a Moxtra meeting afterward to discuss. The photographer could create a quick slideshow with a few images and include voiceover (via the Voice Recorder) prompts to discuss poses or their thoughts on the image in question. It would be a great way to differentiate your studio as cutting edge while putting your images front and center.
High touch communication. You could create a binder specific to the bride and groom for planning poses for their formal images and other photography for their big day. Moxtra could take the place of back and forth email exchanges and provide a more high touch experience and cultivates your relationship with your clients.
Use of the recording feature. The record feature records both audio and what's on the screen on your iPad. Imagine assembling a dozen or so photos from a wedding ceremony in a binder, handing it to Mom and Dad in a quiet spot before the reception, and pressing the Record button. Moxtra would record their voices as they remark on the couple and the day along with the visual action of them viewing the photos. Once you stop the recording you can e-mail a link to it. Once the e-mail recipient (yourself or the client or whoever) views the link, they can download the slideshow as an mp4 file. With the right equipment you could project it at the reception. There are even more options for saving and sharing the file: save it to your device's album, text the link, post on Facebook, or YouTube. It may not be a sellable product, but it would generate a lot of emotion and buzz.

I’m impressed by the versatility that Moxtra affords the user, the potential uses for the professional photographer are only limited by the users needs and imagination. As apps sometimes do, it can chew up some memory in your iPad. If it starts to act a little buggy, a hard restart will clear up memory and it's fine. The iPad interface seems to be most versatile and practical with the ability to use pinch gestures for resizing on a comfortably sized surface.  

You can download Moxtra for your iPhone or iPad through the Apple iTunes store, or from Google Play for Android; it is free. Take a look and explore what Moxtra has to offer.

July 10, 2013

Tutorial: Nikon R1C1 Close-up Speedlight System

By Stan Sholik

The field of photography encompasses many disciplines, and each has its niche. Manufacturers support those niches with products to simplify the technical side of photography and allow the photographer to concentrate on the creative side. For close-up and macro photographers with Nikons, Nikon created the R1C1 Close-up Speedlight System.

201307we_r1c1_diff_cmyk.jpg

The R1C1 with two SB-R200 Speedlights with ultra close-up diffusers and the SU-800 Commander attached. Product photo courtesy of Nikon

201307we_monarch.jpg 

I captured this female Monarch butterfly with a 3:1 ratio and the camera hand held. I pointed the flash unit on camera right as far as I could to the left to feather it off the wing, and set its power the lowest. ©Stan Sholik

At first glance, the 30-plus pieces in the kit seem impossible to sort out, even when placed in the case supplied with the kit. But all you need to do in order to start taking beautifully lit close-up and macro photos is screw the adapter ring onto your lens, screw the attachment ring to the adapter, attach the two SB-R200 Remote Speedlights, slide the SU-800 Wireless Speedlight Commander into your hot shoe, make a few simple settings, and shoot.

201307we_milkweed_beetle.jpg 

For most of the photos I took this day I used a 3:1
lighting ratio. But for this photo of an adult and
juvenile milkweed beetle on an open milkweed pod,
I dropped the ratio to 2:1 to better see the juvenile.
 
©Stan Sholik

You can use the R1C1 with any Nikon that triggers through its hot shoe, but camera models that do not support the Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS), my N100 film camera for example, require additional connection cords and manual operation. The system takes advantage of Nikon’s i-TTL through the lens metering system in CLS-compatible cameras and requires no connection cables. The SU-800 is not needed for cameras with a Wireless Commander built into the camera’s onboard Speedlight system, and Nikon offers the R1 system for those cameras.

201307we_monarch_pupa.jpg

With a ringlight, this monarch butterfly pupa would
be flat and dimensionless. With a 3:1 lighting ratio,
the shape is defined and the texture of the pupa is
accentuated.
 ©Stan Sholik

The R1C1 adapter, attachment ring and two flash units add surprisingly little weight to the lens, about 6 ounces. With these attached to the lens and the subject framed, you position the flash heads where needed on the attachment ring. They securely lock into place, and tilt forward through 60 degrees with click stops every 15 degrees.

Now you power on the flash units, your camera, and the SU-800 in your hot shoe. The SU-800 display shows you are in wireless close-up mode with a CLS compatible camera. The Select (SEL) button on the SU-800 is the main control button. You press this until the channel number flashes if you want to set the wireless channel to a channel other than channel 1, the default. Set the channel on each flash unit to the same channel you set on the SU-800.

The SU-800 can control multiple flash units in three groups. With just two flash heads, set the rotary switch on one head to A and on the other head to B. Press the SEL button on the SU-800 and the display of the output ratio of group A and group B flashes. Pressing the left-facing arrow to the left of the SEL button changes the lighting ratio from the 1:1 default. The options are 1.5:1, 2:1, 3:1, 4:1, 6:1, and 8:1 ratios, with the A flash unit increasingly more powerful than the B. Pressing the right-facing arrow to the right of the SEL button, changes the lighting ratio in the same way, with the B flash gaining the power. Optionally, by pressing the A – B button above the SEL button, you can set the lighting ratio using exposure values (EV), from -3.0 EV to +3.0 EV in 1/3 EV steps.

r1c1_group_800v.jpg 

(1.) With the camera, Speedlights, and Commander powered on, the Commander LCD screen confirms wireless close-up i-TTL operation on channel 1 with the speedlights set to a 1:1 ratio. (2.) Pressing the Mode button switches the Commander from i-TTL mode to Manual mode. In Manual, you can adjust the power of each group from full power to 1/64 power. (3.) With a third group, you can adjust the power of speedlights in that group from full to 1/64 also. (4.) By pressing the left arrow button, you adjust the lighting ratio. Here the speedlights are set to a 3:1 ratio. The bars show which group has the higher power. (5.) The lighting ratio are adjustable from 1:1 to 8:1, with either flash unit having the greater power. (6.) Each SB-R200s must be set to a group, and all of them must be set to the same channel number.  ©Stan Sholik

And that’s all there is to it. Take pictures. Adjust the lighting ratio at will for different looks. It’s that simple.

But the creative capabilities of the R1C1 system only begin here. There are diffusers in the kit, filters the for the SB-R200 flash units, and stand mounts for using the flash units off the attachment ring. And by pressing the Mode button of the SU-800, you can control the power level of each flash unit from full power to 1/64 power. Since the SU-800 controls other Nikon Speedlights such as the SB-910, these can be added into the lighting for additional effects. The creative possibilities are endless, but the simplicity of its basic use, two light sources with easy ratio control, makes it the ideal tool for close-up and macro photography.

201307we_r1c1_09.jpg

 ©Stan Sholik

Street price of the Nikon R1C1 Close-up Speedlight System is about $720. 

Stan Sholik is a commercial/advertising photographer in Santa Ana, Calif., specializing in still life and macro photography. He is currently working on his second book about close-up and macro photography for Amherst Media.

June 27, 2013

When Products and Ideas Converge

By Joan Sherwood, Senior Editor

A while back Moab by Legion Paper sent me a box of their new Slickrock Metallic Silver paper, a gorgeous glossy metallic ink jet paper with instant dry time. I looked at the sleek model in their example print (below) and thought of my own collection of personal work and couldn’t think of anything that I had photographed that would be suitable for a sleek metallic print like that.

MoabSlickrockSilver.jpg

The image Moab used for their example print, resembling nothing in
my collection of personal photography.
 

A short while after that Alien Skin Software released Exposure 5. It’s a neat piece of plug-in software that gives you easy-to-use sets of presets to apply the look of specific films to your images. The presets are organized in 25 logically named sets, like B&W Films – Vintage, B&W Films – Polaroid 55, Cinema, and Color Films – Slide.

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Photographer Peter Nguyen uses Alien Skin Exposure as part of his workflow.

I chose one of my typical farm shots that I had taken with a Nikon 1 V2 camera, which is compact but sturdy and delivers great quality, and has some excellent lens options (picture angle is 2.7X focal length). I opened it in Photoshop CS6 and accessed Exposure 5 through the filter menu, but you can also use it with Lightroom and Aperture or as a standalone application. I clicked on the black-and-white vintage set and immediately got an array of large previews, using my image, of every style in the set in the left-hand panel. You can choose whether you want to see the thumbnails in two or three columns. On the right are easy-to-use sliders controlling color, tone curve, focus, grain, IR, vignette, borders, and textures.

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The large thumbnails on the left populate quickly and make it easy to find a style that fits your image. The one selected in this example is called Wet Plate - Damaged. You have extensive control over the color, tone, and amount of effect you want to add in the right-hand panels. Image ©Joan Sherwood

Scolling through the cyanotypes, daguerreotypes, and wet plate styles, I felt a smile spread across my face. Here was a way to match my rural-subject photography with Moab’s Slickrock Metallic Silver paper and the Slickrock Metallic Pearl that preceded it.

I turned on the Epson Stylus Photo R3000 printer on my desk, downloaded and installed the free ICC profile from Moab’s site, applied the filter to one of my images, and in moments, I had a fantastic daguerreotype-style print. The Epson print had the perfect amount of warm brown tone on top of the metallic paper surface. It was interesting to look at from any angle. Ideas for print projects and treatments blazed through my head and my creative soul did a little happy dance.

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The Epson Stylus Photo R3000 makes beautiful prints, and worked perfectly
paired with Moab's free ICC profile for the Slickrock Metallic Silver paper.
I've also used it to print on canvas from the roll feeder. Excellent results.

I’m fortunate to have a job where I’m sent paper samples and offered software to try. But if you consider that most paper companies and labs will send you samples on request for little or no charge, and virtually every software maker offers a free 30- or 60-day trial, you have access to that opportunity as well. Keep your mind open to ideas and product convergences that complement your photographic style. Try it, and it might just become a new product to distinguish yourself in your market.

June 20, 2013

New Feature Review: Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5

By Stan Sholik

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Photographers struggling with the concept of Adobe Photoshop CC and the Creative Cloud will be pleased to discover that all of the important image adjustment features added to Adobe Camera Raw 8 (ACR 8) for Photoshop CC (but not ACR 8 for Photoshop CS6) are now available in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5, which remains a boxed product. Also added, in recognition of photographers’ increased use of laptops with limited storage, is the ability to create Smart Previews for any images stored in the Lightroom 5 catalog and to enhance these Smart Preview images when you’re away from your main storage devices. New improvements to the Book module offer more options for editing templates to create a custom look for your photo books.

These may seem like incidental changes, but for many portrait, wedding, and event photographers, the image adjustment changes could make Lightroom 5 a real alternative to Photoshop for anything but the most complex portrait retouching. The revised Spot Removal tool and new Radial Gradient tool may not have been created with portrait retouching in mind, but they are excellent tools for that purpose, as well as for enhancing landscape and scenic images.

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CAPTION: With the revised Spot Removal tool it is now possible to minimize non-circular issues such as wrinkles and smile lines and remove fly-away hair as well as remove blemishes, spots, and sensor dust than can be covered by a circular spot. Image ©Stan Sholik

The revised Spot Removal tool deserves a new label in the tool strip of the Develop module. You can still use it to click on and remove spots or sensor dust. If you press the T key to activate the toolbar, there is a new Visualize Spots option to make this even easier. But you can now click and drag the Spot Removal tool in Lightroom 5 to remove wrinkles, fly-away hair, or other non-circular problems in a portrait. The Opacity slider gives complete control over each correction, allowing you to remove a blemish or fly-away hair completely, or leave a smile line, but simply tone it down.

The Spot Removal tool acts similarly to Photoshop’s Content Aware setting, but seems somewhat less able to consistently find the best area to heal into the problem. This results in the need for manual repositioning of the source area while retouching portraits. But for removing fly-away hair against a portrait backdrop or a power line against the sky, it works perfectly, and is a welcome enhancement to the tool.

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CAPTION: The new Radial Filter allows you to select areas very accurately and apply a wide range of enhancements. For portraits there is a soften skin preset that sets the Clarity slider to -100, but you can move it to less softening if desired. Image ©Stan Sholik

New in the same Develop module tool strip is the Radial Filter, which Adobe also calls the Radial Gradient tool, that lies next to the Adjustment Brush. A more accurate name would be the “elliptical mask and adjustment tool.” While the same adjustment options available for the Graduated Filter are available for the Radial Filter, the adjustments are applied outside of the area you drag out with the Radial Filter rather than inside as they are with the Graduated Filter. However, the Radial Filter includes an Invert Mask checkbox so that you can apply the adjustments inside or outside the shape. There is also a feather slider. Neither of these controls is available for the Graduated Filter.

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CAPTION: With the tools in Lightroom 5 it is possible to retouch an original portrait image (left) to a final output without opening Photoshop. Image ©Stan Sholik

For portrait retouching, you can drag a Radial Filter ellipse over the subject and click on the Effect drop-down menu of presets, one of which is Soften Skin. This sets sets Clarity to -100 and adds a bit of sharpening. You can customize the sliders for the specific image. There are also presets for teeth whitening and iris enhancement as well as for burning and dodging. You can create as many Radial Filter adjustments for the image as you need, and they play nicely with one another. For example, if you create an adjustment to add a stop of exposure correction, then create another to remove a stop and the two overlap, the overlap will revert back to the sum of the two adjustments; in this case the result would be no adjustment.

The Radial Filter is a welcome addition to the Lightroom 5 toolset, as it is to ACR 8, for many uses besides portrait retouching. You can create multiple vignettes in an image to draw the eye to specific areas of a landscape image, or add highlights to areas, or eliminate moiré, or make any other adjustment.

Another addition to Lightroom 5 from ACR 8 is the Upright tool. Portrait photographers will find little use for it, but other photographers certainly will. In Lightroom 5, the Upright tool is located in the Basic tab of the Lens Corrections panel. Upright is useful whenever a photo is taken with a tilted horizon, or the camera is pointed up at a building, or the perspective is distorted. 

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CAPTION: The new Upright tool has four automatic correction options for straightening horizontal and vertical objects. The correction worked so well on this image (left) that the verticals are properly corrected, but the tool wasn’t fooled by the angled smokestack (right). I used the Spot Removal tool to remove the upper power lines to the front stack. Image ©Stan Sholik

Rather than making a set of separate adjustments, there are four Upright modes, Auto, Level, Vertical, and Full, that perform the corrections automatically. With the right circumstances, it can turn any lens into a perspective control lens, making verticals upright, making wall mirrors rectangular without your reflection, as well as correcting tilted horizons. Upright works best with strong lines in the image, and the Full mode can work so well that perspective is completely altered and large areas of the original image end up containing no image information. Other times, none of the modes work well. You need to click through the modes to find the one that you want to use, and be sure to click the Enable Lens Corrections checkbox before you use Upright. When Upright works, it’s great.

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CAPTION: The Upright tool also corrects photos shot at an angle (left) so that it appears that they were shot straight on.  Image ©Stan Sholik

The new Smart Previews function in Lightroom 5 allows you to create a set of high resolution DNG-format copies (up to 2,054 pixels on the long side) to carry on a laptop with limited storage while the full resolution files remain on external high-capacity storage at your studio. You have full use of the Lightroom 5 tools with the Smart Previews, and when you reattach your external storage, Lightroom synchronizes the laptop adjustments with the high resolution images. This worked flawlessly for me when I tested it, but I would be cautious about visually applying sharpening or noise reduction to Smart Previews and expecting the same result with the full-resolution image.

There is no shortage of lesser enhancements in Lightroom 5. Pressing the F key now gives you a true full screen view of the selected image, and the arrow keys allow you to move forward or backward through your image folder with full screen views. You can include videos with full HD output in slideshows in Lightroom 5, and balance music with a video soundtrack. In the Book module you can edit templates, add page numbers, individual captions or captions for an entire page, customize font options, and output a photo book as a JPEG. Soft proofing is enhanced with the ability to compare the original side-by-side with the soft proof. You can set up Smart Collections to gather images by size or by bit depth. GPS-aware users of the Map module can drag photos directly to a saved location, or drag the saved location to a photo. Right-clicking on the histogram in the Develop module lets you change the RGB percentage readouts to Lab numerical values. Even the Crop tool is enhanced with aspect ratio overlays and the ability to select an aspect ratio to display. And there are probably more enhancements that I have yet to discover.

Lightroom began as a program strictly for photographers, and Lightroom 5 builds strongly on that concept. It is not yet a replacement for Photoshop for some users, but with the new and enhanced tools in Lightroom 5, photographers will need to open and adjust far fewer images in Photoshop than they have in the past.

Full boxed versions of Lightroom 5 with a perpetual license have a MSRP of $149. Upgrade cost is $79. Lightroom 5 is also available as part of a subscription to the Adobe Creative Cloud.

Stan Sholik is a commercial/advertising photographer in Santa Ana, CA, specializing in still life and macro photography. His latest book, “Photoshop CC: Top 100 Tips and Tricks,” (Wiley Publishing) is available soon.

SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS

Windows

Processor: Intel® Pentium 4 or AMD Athlon 64 processor
OS: Microsoft® Windows® 7 with Service Pack 1 or Windows 8
RAM: 2 GB (4GB recommended)
Hard Disk: 2 GB of available hard-disk space
Media: DVD-ROM drive
Video card: DirectX 10-capable or later
Display: 1024 x 768 monitor resolution
Internet connection required for Internet-based services

Macintosh

Processor: Multicore Intel processor with 64-bit support
OS: Mac OS X v10.7 or v10.8
RAM: 2 GB (4GB recommended)
Hard Disk: 2 GB of available hard-disk space
Media: DVD-ROM drive
Display: 1024 x 768 Monitor Resolution
Internet connection required for Internet-based services

 

June 11, 2013

Blogging for Photographers: Creating a Community and Dealing with Negative Comments

Jolie O’Dell's new book, "Blogging for Photographers," is a thorough guide to everything you'll need to know about beginning and succeeding in the blogging process. From early preparation that will save you loads of time to more advanced advice on how to navigate the Internet and the potential pitfalls of putting yourself in front of the public. She goes over the technical side and shows you examples of specific successful blogs to illustrate her points. Here we share a small part of her chapter on community, which also includes information on spam, blogger networking, making good impressions with introductions, moving up networking tiers, and integrating social media.   —Joan Sherwood, Senior Editor, Professional Photographer

This article was excerpted from Jolie O’Dell’s “Blogging for Photographers: Showcase Your Creativity and Build Your Audience” book, published by Focal Press last month. “Blogging for Photographers” is available in stores and online for $24.95.

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Community

One of the great parts of being a blogger is the fact that you get to interact with your audience. But when you’ve done your part by creating great content, readers get to do their part by responding to it, sharing it, and getting more involved with you, your blog, and each other.

Building a community is an exciting and sometimes exhausting endeavor, but it brings you close to your audience and creates real connections between you and your readers. And when those connections start to form, you’ll see some interesting “network effects” on your blog.

A thriving network can start to have a gravity-like effect on the surrounding areas of the internet. The stronger your community becomes, the more readers will get pulled into it. One regular reader will share a link in a tweet, another will email his friend about an insightful post you wrote. Little by little, your readership will grow; as you make connections on a personal level, your network will grow. And as your network grows, so does your personal brand, your business, and your overall ranking in the world of photo blogging.

 

Creating a community in comments

Don’t be shy—if your readers were interested enough to leave a comment, you should meet them halfway and start a dialog whenever possible.

The first, easiest, and most obvious way to start building a community is by reading and responding to the comments on your blog.

Note, I did not say by obsessively checking and pondering the deeper meaning of the comments on your blog.

This can be hinky territory for even the most self-assured photo bloggers. Your snaps and scribbles will acquire a diverse crowd of readers, and not all of them will be supportive, pleasant, or sane. That’s the gamble you take when you work in the public eye. Prepare yourself for some positivity, some neutrality, some negativity, and a healthy serving of spam, and try not to take it all too seriously.

If you’re particularly concerned about angry, unpleasant, or profanity-laced comments, your content management system (CMS) will likely give you an option for pre-screening comments before they are publicly published on your blog. If you choose to moderate all your comments this way, try to check for new comments at least once a day, more frequently if you get more than a handful of comments.

With that caveat in mind, know that the comments section on any post can be a lively salon for fascinating conversations between peers. Beginners can ask you questions; you can respond with specific tips. Old pros can offer you suggestions for new techniques to try. Avid fans can give you digital applause, and thoughtful connoisseurs can give you constructive critiques.

You don’t have to respond to every comment you get. In fact, many of your commenters’ thoughts may be along two well-worn lines: “That’s great!” and “Me too!” While these kinds of responses can certainly enliven and flesh out your comments section, they don’t really add much substance to the conversation you started when you published your blog post, and they don’t necessarily require a response from you. If you’d like to respond, you may absolutely do so, but be advised that the blogger who responds to every comment creates a cluttered conversation stream and cultivates an overly eager image.

Rather, it might be best (especially when you start getting more than one or two comments on a given post) to chime into the comments only when you have a specific thought to add, a question to address, or a point to clarify. Think of yourself as the host or hostess at a reception. Your job is to welcome people in, set the tone for the event (both of which you’ve already done in your blog post), and then facilitate a natural and pleasant conversational flow. Too much chatter on your part is as destructive to said flow as stone silence.

When you chime into a conversation in the comments section underneath a post, you can reply to a group or to a specific commenter. Just avoid confusion by being specific about whom you’re addressing, and be as clear as possible with whatever point you’re trying to make or question you’re trying to answer.

In general, your readers will be delighted to know that you’re not only an engaging writer and terrific photographer but also an active participant with your fans and friends online. You’ll probably build ongoing online relationships with at least a few folks who return frequently to read and comment; it’s the very beginning of a community and can end up being one of the strongest parts of your blog if you choose to make it so.

When responding to comments from others, be as personable as you would if you were speaking to them in real life. After all, when you take away all the code and pixels, we’re all flesh and blood, very real and distinct personalities who are quite connected through the internet. Even though we may be physically remote, we should strive to be as polite and respectful as if we were sitting next to one another in a public place.

Practicing such courtesy is easy when you’re answering a simple question or responding to a positive remark from a fan or friend. However, when a reader has a critical comment, it can be difficult to rein yourself in. The web gives us all a powerful feeling of invulnerability, and too often we take this feeling as license to insult and shame others whom we perceive as insulting us.

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DEALING WITH NEGATIVE COMMENTS

No matter how cheerful your posts are, you will invariably have to deal with some naysayers and nasties at some point.

Getting critical comments—be they constructive or otherwise—is absolutely unavoidable for any blogger. In fact, fear of such comments has held many a creative soul back from blogging. But you shouldn’t let your apprehensions about this facet of online life intimidate you or detract your enthusiasm.

In fact, your policy on and reactions to negative comments can be a huge factor in establishing the ethos of your blog’s community. How you respond to these kinds of comments will set you apart and define your character—and, if you’re blogging as a business owner, will send strong signals to your potential commenters.

Different bloggers have different approaches. The thoughtful will carefully engage detractors in an intelligent and reasonable debate. The thick-skinned will poke fun at meanies. The Pollyannas of the internet will post a thorough section on their expectations of positive commenting and will delete anything with a hint of snideness or profanity.

But every seasoned blogger will have developed their own techniques for dealing with negative comments. Here are a few helpful tips and coping mechanisms for the bad/ugly spectrum of comments, from the ugliest insults to well-meant critiques:

Don’t feed the trolls! This is Rule One of online communication. It simply means that while you will encounter “trolls,” i.e., web-dwellers who exist online for the purpose of inflicting emotional pain on others, you are under no circumstances to “feed” them, i.e., show any sign that you notice or are affected in any way by their antics. If you get a “trollish” comment, delete it, do not respond to it, and move forward immediately without paying any further mind.

Take the high road. If someone leaves a nasty comment or one that’s just critical of your work, you can always come out on top by being unflappably gracious. A simple, “I’m sorry you feel that way. Have a great day!” can quickly and successfully close the matter, allowing you to save face, still remain in control of the situation, and not be dragged into a flame war (a heated back-and-forth that sucks everyone involved into a maelstrom of negativity and hyperbole).

Sometimes, you don’t have to respond with a correction or rebuke to an obviously incorrect negative commenter. Your other readers will come to your rescue—a good sign of a healthy community.

Delete, delete, delete. You’re in charge here; this is your playground. You are in no way obliged to publish every comment you get, and you can delete anything that doesn’t fit in with the vibe you’re trying to cultivate. Free speech certainly has its place, but your blog isn’t a public or government-owned property. If detractors want to speak freely, they can darn well set up blogs of their own.

Don’t fear the banhammer. The banhammer is your privilege as a blog owner; in most CMSes, you can permanently ban any commenter who you feel is dragging down the tone of the conversation with verbal abuse, threats, or profanity (if that’s not okay on your blog).

Take a deep breath. If you get a particularly vitriolic comment that just sets your teeth on edge, walk away from your computer (or shut down your smartphone) and go blow off some steam before responding (or not responding, or just deleting the comment altogether). Some low-blow comments will go straight for your emotional jugular. In those moments, you might need a mantra; I have a few of my own! “These people don’t pay my bills” is a perspective-saving personal favorite that reminds me why I blog and reinforces the fact that a bad comment has no real-world impact on me.

Negative isn’t always nasty. Some folks will leave comments that they didn’t like your work or they didn’t understand your story or they hate the lens you’re using, and so on. Don’t let it get to you emotionally, and assume that the commenter meant well. If you start by giving them the benefit of the doubt, you can decide for yourself whether the criticism does, in fact, have any merit; but if it was made without malice, there’s no need to get upset.

Laugh! Sometimes, an overly negative commenter is so off-base that their words go from offensive to just plain bizarre, outlandish, and ludicrous. Feel free to shake your head and chuckle. One seasoned pro in the blogosphere tells me he likes to reply to these commenters with three simple words: “You fascinate me.” It’s a little wink-wink that lets other commenters know you’re in on the joke and don’t take the negativity to heart.

Just remember: Your commenters, positive and negative alike, don’t really know you. Any comments they leave are more a reflection on them than on you. Dark people leave dark comments, and we have to pity them for not having better things to do with their lives.

Finally, there might sometimes be posts that stir up strong reactions or controversies in the community. Likewise, if you do any personal blogging, you might also find yourself delving into some very tender territory. In most blogging software, you can turn comments on and off for an individual post, and on my own blogs, I will very often flip the switch into no-comment mode if I feel that I’ve said all I have to say and I don’t particularly need or want feedback from others.

This might strike some of your readers as a high-handed way of avoiding criticism, but look at all the facts: You took the time and effort to set up a blog, do all your photography, and craft a well-thought-out blog post on a perhaps sensitive subject. It’s your work, and no one is entitled to any part of it. If you don’t feel like subjecting yourself to commentary—positive or negative—you can simply close the comments section.

When I do this on my own blog, I run a brief disclaimer at the bottom of the post, where the comments section would normally be found:

“Comments are closed for this post. You are encouraged to disagree, debate, or expand the conversation on your own blog; you will be linked to via trackbacks and pingbacks.”

It’s a polite but firm way of telling your readers that while you appreciate them, this particular post is a one-way talk or speech or demonstration rather than a roundtable discussion.

It goes without saying that people act differently online than they do in real life. It takes a cool, collected head to rise above the noise sometimes—but patience and an even temper almost always pay off.

May 16, 2013

Lensbaby + Video = Dreamy

By Ron Dawson

Every now and then you see one of those films that is a total gem. A film that makes your jaw drop in awe and your heart pound in anticipation of watching it again. “Last Day Dream” [below; brief explicit language] by commercial director and photographer Chris Milk is one of those films for me. It was made four years ago for the 42 Second Dream Film Festival and shot on a Canon 5D Mark II with Lensbaby lenses.

Last Day Dream from Chris Milk on Vimeo.

Lens-what? That’s what I thought when I first heard the word Lensbaby. Was it a lens for tiny cameras? Was it a sort of training-wheels lens for kids? Most of you reading this probably have at least heard of Lensbaby. The best way I can describe them is as a kind of funky-looking, tilt-shift lens.

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Like a tilt-shift, the Lensbaby has a selective focus, creating a dreamlike blur around the perimeter of the focus spot (or sweet spot). It’s a great lens to use if you want to add a dream-like aesthetic to your photography, or if you want to draw attention to a particular part of your image.

Shooting with Video

As you can see from the Chris Milk film, the Lensbaby can achieve an ethereal effect that takes the look of your video to a different level. In using it for video though, keep a couple of things in mind.

First, how does the use of the lens contribute to the story? The selective-focus, dreamy look can easily be over-used and veer into cliché. But as long as you’ve given thought to your story, the Lensbaby can truly enhance it.

Filmmaking story scenarios where you might use the Lensbaby:
Dream sequence
Flashback or flash-forward
Showing a character’s imagination or what they’re thinking
Timelapse
An exaggerated shot of character's visual point of view (e.g. a guy in a club zeroes in on a woman he wants to pick up; a sniper on a building top zeroes in on her target)
Music video
Illustrate a character’s disorientation
Creating an “otherworldly” experience

The second thing to keep in mind is controlling where the sweet spot is when shooting a moving or tracking shot, or shooting a moving subject. If you’re shooting a still image this isn’t an issue. You adjust your camera settings, find your sweet spot, then shoot. But once you introduce motion into the picture, you as the director need to be mindful of how that motion affects your sweet spot. If at all possible, use an external monitor to facilitate monitoring your image and the sweet spot location.

In-camera vs. In-computer

Some of the effects created with Lensbaby can actually be created in post production—Photoshop for stills or a non-linear editing system like Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere for video. So you may ask, “Why do this in-camera if you can just add it in post?” That’s a fair question. There are three reasons why I think it’s better to create these effects in-camera.

Focus on Story. As I mentioned before, this (or any) effect in a film or video should be done with a purpose in mind. Creating the effect in-camera forces you as the director to be mindful of that purpose and to compose your shots and direction accordingly. If you wait to do it in post, you’re apt to get lazy, or you may discover that you’ve shot it in a way that makes adding the effect in post less effective due to distractions in the shot that take away from the effect.

Realism. I think shots composed in-camera look more realistic than when something is added in post. They have a more organic feel that subconsciously translates to authenticity. I liken it to shooting slow motion. If you shoot at a higher frame rate (60 frames per second) then convert to a slower frame rate in post, your slow motion looks more smooth and realistic than having the computer create “fake” slow motion.

Render time and quality. Last is the practical consideration of render time and quality. If you achieve your effect in-camera, the computer doesn’t have to render it. Also, depending on the computing power and graphics card you’re using, a lot of heavy effects rendering can result in muddy looking video.

Rookie Moves

It is very important to learn how to use a Lensbaby correctly. The first project I ever used it on was a short, edgy documentary film about celebrity wedding photographer Joe Buissink back in 2010. I was using the Composer and noticed that it came with this little magnetic thingamajiggy connected to a round doohickey. I had no idea what they were for and didn’t bother to find out. So on the day of the shoot, which was a very hot and bright day in Beverly Hills, CA, I started shooting with it and noticed that there was no aperture adjustment on the lens (and naturally you can’t adjust aperture via the camera, which at the time I was used to). So I ended up shooting the Composer scenes wide open and I just increased my shutter speed to compensate. Lucky for me, the high shutter speed combined with the dreamy look actually worked out quite nicely. (It was a perfect example of a happy accident).

Mirrors & Shoes: Celebrity Photographer Joe Buissink Uncensored from Ron Dawson | Dare Dreamer Media on Vimeo.

Later I opened the round doo-hickey and found a stack of metallic rings with holes in them. The rings were numbered: 2.8, 4.0, 5.6, etc. This is where I slapped my forehead and exclaimed a loud, Homer Simpson-esque “Doh!” The aperture was controlled by dropping the metallic rings into the front of the lens using that metallic thingamabob. Lesson learned.

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Nowadays, there is no excuse not to learn all you can about using a Lensbaby. They have a full set of instructional and inspirational videos on their site. After you’ve watched the videos, you should practice. The more the better. It really takes getting used to hitting that sweet spot correctly, especially if you’re going to tilt the lens. With your early tries you may want to avoid the wider aperture settings to keep a deeper depth of field. The wider the aperture, the smaller the sweet spot and the harder it is to find.

The Swivel vs. the Squeeze

There are two primary types of Lensbaby lenses: one where you focus with a traditional focus ring and one where you squeeze the lens. The Composer and Composer Pro (below, with Sweet 35 optic) have the focus ring and are perhaps the most popular. Once you focus, you can move the sweet spot by tilting the lens up, down, or side to side. Once you have your sweet spot, you can lock it in then let go of the lens. So the Composer lenses are great for shooting videos.

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The Spark and the Muse (below) are squeeze lenses. You focus by squeezing the lens toward or away from the camera body. Once you get the focus you want, you can adjust the sweet spot by tilting accordingly, but you cannot lock in that sweet spot. You have to manually keep it in place. This may be a good way to grab some quick and experimental still photographs, but it’s a terrible combination for shooting video (unless your story calls for the focus spot to move around sporadically). For that reason, I wouldn’t recommend either of these for video work.

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Optic Systems

Lensbaby has a whole line of optics to enhance your user experience. While shooting a short film about Jerry Ghionis this past March, I had an opportunity to try the latest Composer Pro using the Sweet 35 optic. Without this optic, the Composer and Composer Pro have a 50mm focal length and you adjust the aperture by inserting the appropriate metallic ring (the optic used in place of the 35 is the Double Glass optic). With the Sweet 35 optic, the focal length drops to 35mm and aperture is adjusted with a 12-blade aperture ring that ranges from f/2.8 to f/22 (in full-stop increments). Remember to keep crop factor in mind if you're shooting a camera with an APS-C size sensor instead of a full-frame sensor. So a Composer with a Double-Glass optic on a 60D, for instance, would have the angle of view of an 80mm lens when factoring in the 1.6X crop.

Depending on the optics you use, with full-frame cameras like Canon’s 5D Mark III or Nikon’s D800, you may get varying results. For instance, with the 12mm fisheye optic, you’ll get a nearly full circular image on a full-frame camera, while on a smaller-sensor camera you’ll get some vignetting around the edges. These two looks would render a very different feel when used in a video. Again, it's about the story you want to tell. I could see using the fisheye lens on a full-frame if you want to emulate someone looking through the peephole in a door. The same lens on an APS-C sensor might create a more dreamlike look and feel.

Motion Picture Mounts

Most Lensbaby lenses come with EF-compatible mounts for Canon cameras and F-compatible mounts for Nikon cameras. Now that more filmmakers are using these lenses, they’ve created PL-mount versions that you can use on digital cinema cameras like the RED, Arri Alexa or a PL-mount version of Canon’s C300.

The Price is Right

Lensbaby lenses are relatively inexpensive, ranging from $80 for the Spark to $380 for the Composer Pro with the Sweet 35 Optic. The PL-mount versions are considerably more expensive though: $1,200 for the Composer Pro PL and $400 for the Muse PL. If you’re only going to selectively use the lenses for various projects, consider renting.

Last Word

Lensbaby lenses can be a lot of fun to use and—in the hands of a competent director who knows her story, has taken the time to practice, and has a creative imagination—the results can be magical.

May 14, 2013

Introduction to New Features in Adobe Photoshop CC

By Stan Sholik

All images ©Stan Sholik

The latest version of Photoshop, Photoshop CC (Creative Cloud), is being widely discussed on the Internet, but the discussion has focused more on Adobe's new licensing model rather than on what has changed in the application. This is unfortunate because the majority of new features and improvements to previous features are of value to photographers. While the list is not extensive, it may indicate the future development of Photoshop CC: the ongoing introduction of new features and improvements, some significant to photographers and others not at all of interest, to improve the workflow and capabilities of photographers who need the program because its unique features.

Several of the new features are found in the Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) 8.0 plug-in, with an 8.1 update with additional features due out soon after the 8.0 release. ACR 8.0 introduces a new radial filter, a non-circular healing brush, and an automatic leveling and upright tool. New to Photoshop CC itself is the availability of access to Camera Raw through the filter menu. When you access ACR through Photoshop CC, you can easily use ACR with file formats other than raw formats, and apply ACR as a Smart Filter. 

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New to Photoshop CC is the ability to access Adobe Camera Raw (ACR)from the Filter menu. You can also convert the image to a Smart Image before you edit it in ACR.

 

The new Radial Filter tool is next to the Gradient tool in the toolbar. Clicking the icon opens the Radial Filter panel. Listed in the panel are the same local adjustments available for the graduated filter, along with a feather slider and the ability to apply the adjustments outside or inside the oval filter shape you draw. You can create multiple radial filters on your image, giving you the ability to draw the viewer's eye to precisely where you want, or the ability to create areas of different color temperature, clarity, sharpness and any of the other local adjustments.

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The new Radial Filter in ACR allows you to do everything from creating a simple vignette to applying any of the local adjustments in the Radial Filter panel to the area inside or outside of the shape you draw. Here I have adjusted the exposure, clarity, and sharpening of the lotus blossom.

 

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You can create multiple Radial Filter adjustments. This adjustment sits on top of the adjustment I made to the blossom and darkens, softens, and slightly desaturates the background to draw more attention to the flower.

 

The Heal option in the ACR Spot Removal tool has two new features. First, the brush is no longer a circular spot removal tool, it is now a true brush. Regardless of the shape of the object, you can drag the new healing brush over an object to completely remove it from the image. Of course you can still use Heal to remove spots and sensor dust from the image. This is made easier with the new Visualize Spots option. With Visualize Spots active, you see a high-contrast monochrome representation of your image. By adjusting the Visualize Spots slider, you can easily see round spots or irregular-shaped dust that is easily missed when viewing the color image, even when viewing at 100% magnification.

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The new Healing brush in ACR allows you to paint an area out of your image by dragging over the area as well as do spot healing.

 

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The Healing Brush tool automatically finds an area in the image to heal the selection, but you can adjust the source area manually if needed.

 

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For spot healing, the new Visualize Spots feature presents a high-contrast monochrome image that highlights dust and spots that are easily missed when looking at the color version.

 

Finally, for anyone needing to straighten a horizon, level a tilted photo, or straighten a building, the new Upright tools in the Manual tab of the ACR Lens Corrections panel makes life easy. There are four Upright options: Automatic produces a balanced perspective without fully correcting horizontal or vertical lines, and also crops the image; Level corrects for tilted horizons; Vertical makes strong vertical lines vertical; and, Full provides full level, horizontal and vertical corrections. Sliders are available for each correction to increase or dial back the effect for full manual control.

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The new Auto Upright option in the Lens Corrections panel produces a balanced perspective adjustment and crops the image without totally correcting horizontal or vertical perspective.

 

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The Level Upright option automatically corrects a tilted horizon or a badly tilted photo such as this one.

 

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The Vertical Upright option automatically corrects strong vertical lines to vertical without altering horizontal perspective.

 

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The Full Upright option automatically corrects horizontal, vertical, and leveling, which can severely distort buildings.

 

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The Full Upright option works well to correct images such as this sign that I shot from below and to the side to a flat, straight-on perspective.

 

The major new feature in Photoshop CC itself, which photographers likely didn't think possible, is the Shake Reduction filter in the Filter > Sharpen menu. Under the right conditions, it can do exactly what its name implies—eliminate or at least minimize the image blurring present if the camera vibrated or you shook during the exposure. It won't help if the blurring is caused by subject movement however.

The Shake Reduction filter opens in its own window, sets a bounding box after analyzing the image, and applies the filter automatically. There are adjustment sliders, but I have yet to be able to improve on the automatic correction, although it is easy to mess it up. There is also a Blur Direction tool in the toolbar that you can use to manually set the blur direction and length.

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The new Shake Reduction filter in Photoshop CC is useful for minimizing or eliminating camera shake and vibration. The filter analyzes the image and then applies an automatic correction. You can make manual adjustments and use the loupe to view a specific area of the image.

 

Used as a Smart Filter, you can eliminate blurring in one part of the image, then use other tools to eliminate any halos or artifacts that may appear if there is a different blur, or no blur in other parts of the image. Now it may be possible to salvage an irreplaceable photo with camera movement blurring that you have been living with or had to deliver to a client. Camera Shake Reduction won't replace vibration reduction lenses or tripods, but I have experienced blurring due to wind shaking a tripod-mounted camera as well as hand-held macro photos, and I welcome this new feature. Its mere existence seems pretty amazing to me.

Another filter in the Sharpen list, Smart Sharpen, retains its previous name, but is completely new according to Adobe. It certainly looks different with an expandable interface and a large image preview window. You can compare the new Smart Sharpen to the previous by clicking Use Legacy in the Additional Options menu. I have found the results are better with the new version, with fewer artifacts and improved ability to control sharpening in the highlights and shadows. Unfortunately, it seems slower in producing the results.

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Smart Sharpen in Photoshop CC is all new with an adjustable size dialog box containing a large image preview.

 

Another improvement in Photoshop CC is intelligent upsizing in Edit > Image Size. As with Smart Sharpen, you can enlarge the Image Size dialog box, and there is a large preview image window in which to view the result. The intelligent upsizing option is available by selecting Preserve Details (enlargement) from the Resample drop-down menu, or by leaving the default option Automatic for Resample. Automatic selects the best method for enlarging or reducing the image without your intervention. To compare the new intelligent upsizing to the previous, choose Bicubic Smoother (enlargement) from the Resample drop-down menu.

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Image Size in Photoshop CC also has a large preview image and the upscaling algorithm is rewritten to better preserve detail than the previous Bicubic algorithm, which is still available from the drop-down menu.

 

For Mac users with the latest Retina displays, Photoshop CC provides support for the application and many more plug-ins, such as Liquify, Safe for Web, Merge to HDR, JPEG2000, Vanishing Point, Adaptive Wide Angle, Lens Correction, and Filter Gallery. ACR 8.0 is not enabled for Retina displays, but ACR 8.1 is promised to be when released.

There are a host of other major features included in Photoshop CC and even more minor improvements and minor updates. Many of the major features are related to 3D, with type-handling upgrades and rounded rectangle shapes for designers. Adobe promises that it will support Photoshop CS6 for the foreseeable future and that ACR 8.0 and later versions will be compatible with CS6. However, the new ACR 8 features for Photoshop CC will definitely not be included in the CS6 versions of ACR 8.

Not included in Photoshop CC is a version of Bridge, showing that features can be removed as well as added in the future. Adobe promises to have Bridge CC available for download, including the Bridge Output module that reportedly was not included in early versions of Bridge CC.

For photographers who find the new Photoshop CC features of value, and who need 16-bit file support, layers, blending modes, and other Photoshop features gathered together into one program with which they are already familiar, then joining the Creative Cloud is their only option. Adobe has the market penetration to make this change in its licensing model. Whether this is right model for you depends on how you use Photoshop in your business.

Stan Sholik is a commercial/advertising photographer in Santa Ana, Calif., specializing in still life and macro photography. His new book, "Photoshop CC: 100 Simplified Tips and Tricks" (Wiley Publishing), will be available this summer.

 

May 9, 2013

Understanding Adobe Creative Cloud

By Stan Sholik

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The Adobe Cloud model is here, as it has been for nearly a year, and it doesn’t look like it is going to go away. On March 14, Adobe announced that beginning May 1, 2013, boxed copies of all CS6 applications would no longer be produced or shipped except “under special circumstances.” What these special circumstances are have yet to be disclosed, although Adobe hints that if an internet connection is unavailable on any computer, that may qualify. Owners of the downloaded CS6 programs can request a Creative Suite Backup disc at a nominal cost.

Future Adobe programs that were a part of the Creative Suite will be known as Creative Cloud (CC) desktop applications, and this includes the forthcoming Photoshop CC. Lightroom, having never been a part of the Creative Suite, remains a boxed program for the foreseeable future, although Adobe promises that Lightroom will become available to CC members as well.

Actual membership in the CC is free, and you have access to 30-day trials of any or all programs, with limited access to other CC services. Along with the free membership there is a free version of Adobe Edge Tools and Services and the final version of Adobe Edge Animate 1.0, all for web developers. There are also 500 free Adobe Edge fonts and 2GB of online storage. Not much here for photographers.

So what is the Creative Cloud and how does it affect photographers? What it is not is a system limited to cloud storage of images, although 2 to 20 GB of storage is included when you join. It is also not a suite of web-based applications like Google apps. The Creative Cloud is a subscription-based plan that gives you access, depending on your subscription, to single programs from the previous Creative Suite, or access to all programs in the previous Creative Suite. You join the CC, download the single program or whatever elements of the old Suite you need, and work as you always have. As long as your subscription is active, you never know the difference, other than the advantages Adobe says you have from the CC.

Costs are kind of complex, but they always have been from Adobe. For current Photoshop CS3 or later registered users, the cost is $9.99 per month for the first year, with an annual commitment, for access to Photoshop CC. This offer is good until July 31, 2013. The regular yearly cost for a single program is $19.99 per month with an annual commitment, or $29.99 per month on a month-by-month. You are still limited to installation on two computers, but with the CC, one can be a Mac and one Windows.With a yearly commitment you must still “validate” the program when connected to the internet at least once every 99 or 189 days (Adobe is clearing this up at the moment). This validation can be done over dial-up, tethered, or connected to a mobile device, or at a wireless access point such as a coffee shop.

For access to all CC applications, the cost for existing CS3 to CS5.5 registered users of any individual program or the entire Suite is $29.95 per month and CS6 users for $19.99 per month, both with an annual commitment for the first year. This pricing is also available for a limited time, presumably until July 31, 2013, although that date has not been publicly announced. Regular price of the full CC subscription is $49.99 per month with an annual commitment, or $74.99 per month on a month-by-month basis.

Do you have a box to show for it? No. Are you leasing the software? Yes. Is this different than previous versions? Only in that if the lease expires, you no longer have access to the software. If you read the user agreement of your previous Photoshop software before you clicked “Accept”, you know you were leasing that also. For users who leased a Photoshop CS6 boxed version or who download the program, you have what Adobe is calling a “perpetual license”. Adobe promises support of Photoshop CS6 for at least the next major operating system (OS) upgrade by Apple and Microsoft, and further until CS6 would need to be rewritten due to OS changes. New features will not be added, but bugs will be fixed, and presumably Camera Raw will be updated periodically.

What are the advantages of signing up for the CC to Photoshop users? First is access to Photoshop CC. See Adobe's Photoshop CC Features page for details on the new additions to see if this is meaningful to you, and look for an upcoming hands-on review of the new features in Professional Photographer. Then there is future access to Photoshop CC updates. Adobe announced some tantalizing “sneak peeks” from Adobe Labs at Adobe MAX in May, but time will tell if they are relevant to your work. Adobe promises future updates, but without a set schedule, meaning you won't have to wait 15 months to get new features as you did with the old model.

Next is access to Bridge CC. Bridge as we have known it is no longer shipped as a part of Photoshop CC. Bridge CC is now a free download available with CC membership. At present, the Output Module has been stripped from Bridge CC, but it, too, may be available as a separate download from the CC. MiniBridge is shipped with Photoshop CC, but requires Bridge CC to function.

CC members also gain 2 to 20 GB of storage as stated previously. The CC also allows you to synchronize your preferences across multiple computers and share your images on multiple devices, or with clients, or to collaborate on projects. There is also a free membership in Behance ProSite (about which I am clueless) that is normally $99 per year. And you no longer need to worry about serial numbers or activation, and you can reset your two activations to other computers without contacting customer support.

What happens if you join the CC, use Photoshop and Bridge CC and the new features in Camera Raw for projects, and then decide to let your subscription lapse at some point and revert to an earlier version of Photoshop? If you saved your images as flattened TIFF files, they will open in any version of Photoshop, including 1.0, that supports the bit depth of your flattened file. If your images are saved as PSD or layered TIFF files, you will lose access to any features added since the older version of Photoshop to which you have reverted. This is no different than the situation at present if you try to open a CS6 PSD  in CS5 with features that were added in CS6.

Will I join the CC? I shot film and resisted digital capture for as long as I could. Now innovations brought on by digital photography such as HDR, focus stacking, retouching, and compositing are profit centers for my business. And I can still shoot film for personal work whenever I desire.

Photographers, myself included, rarely welcome change, and like most humans fear the unknown. But we are creative—we learn to use new tools and techniques and turn them to our advantage, and we quickly adapt to changing situations. While Adobe will be fine-tuning the Creative Cloud for months or even years, it is here to stay. All of the wind in the photo blogs will not blow it away. Adobe claims 2.5 million CC subscribers in the 10 months the Cloud has existed, and it is clear to me that Adobe is honestly not interested in users who are reluctant to upgrade from earlier Photoshop releases. Adobe is interested in the revenue stream from the 2.5M CC members and in convincing you that is a good idea for you to join them. Me? I will take advantage of the $19.99 per month pricing for CS6 users for the entire CC suite of programs for a year and see what happens. If Adobe sticks to its word and updates Photoshop CC, Adobe Raw, and Bridge CC with features I can use, I’m in. If not, I’ve spent about the same as the cost of upgrading from Photoshop CS5 to CS6, and far less than starting with a new lease of a boxed version. I still have CS6 on a DVD.

 

April 16, 2013

Review: Tamron 70-200mm F/2.8 Di VC Telephoto Zoom Lens

By Cate Scaglione

Many world-class wedding photographers can cover most of a wedding using a 70-200mm lens. With the versatility of its focal range and the appealing compression it displays at longer working distances, it’s a champion lens in the photographers’ arsenal. As a family photographer, I took a cue from the wedding pros a few years ago and began to use the 70-200mm to transform my children’s portrait work. It offered a practical advantage to capturing little clients on the move. I simply loved the results. It’s quickly become my favorite lens for family and editorial shoots.

 

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I typically work with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L lens. Given the opportunity to test Tamron’s 70-200mm F/2.8 Di VC USD zoom lens, I was naturally curious.

I first put the Tamron to the test at a wedding venue in our brutal Northeast winter. I had arrived an hour early and was doing some leisurely outdoor detail shots, so I gave it a try. It may have been the frigid temperatures, or a malfunction with the unit itself, but the shutter kept freezing in place. Frustrated, I gave up and continued on with my day. I contacted Tamron, who courteously and rapidly replaced my unit with another new lens unit.

For many photographers, that first test may have been a deal-breaker. I’m thankful I did not retire my efforts then. I brought the replacement Tamron 70-200mm F/2.8 Di VC Telephoto Zoom unit with me— again a blustery winter evening at dusk—to photograph an editorial-style children’s fashion session. I was astounded by this lens, primarily by its new VC (Vibration Compensation) feature and beautiful compression.

Photographing an active child in waning light conditions, I was thrilled with the capabilities it offered. If, like me, you’re not bound to a tripod, you generally need to have a very steady hand below a shutter speed of 1/60 second. Tamron’s new and improved Vibration Compensation functionality adds an impressive solution. I was able to shoot as low as 1/15 with acceptably crisp results on low-lit portraits. Personally, I have never achieved this before in a handheld setting.

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This image was captured handheld, exposed for 1/15 second at f/11, ISO 100, to test the Tamron lens's vibration compensation. 

Moving about our old-fashioned gas station location, I observed that while some of the scenery worked as shabby-chic for my purposes, much of it did not. Lens compression was key here. The Tamron glass at 200mm produces a beautiful, creamy bokeh and maintains a deliciously sharp foreground for stunning portraits and crisp clothing detail. 

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At 200mm, the not-so-attractive background fades away
into a creamy blur while the foreground stays vividly sharp.

I also tested the Tamron 70-200mm more intimately as a portrait lens and was very happy with the results. In this charming image of a newborn baby and his older sister, exposed for 1/200 second at f/2.8, it rivals the shots I’d typically achieve with my wide-open 50mm and 85mm prime lenses. Its performance has changed my former assumptions about third-party lenses.

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With its quick and nimble Ultrasonic Silent Drive (USD), its autofocusing capability was entirely accurate. It's smaller and lighter than the competition but still a heavy lens—that is the nature of f/2.8 70-200mm category. It ships with a flower-shaped lens hood, which helps mitigate vignetting at wide focal lengths. Without a lens hood, there were no issues until some of my lower-key shots where I noticed approximately a quarter- to a half-stop of vignetting, which was easily remedied in Lightroom. (I tend to process with vignettes anyway.)

The Tamron 70-200mm is slightly shorter than the comparable Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS models, and it has a solid build. As with other Tamron lenses I’ve used, I prefer its rubberized focus ring, which enables smooth and effortless manual focusing. It’s important to note that the zoom ring is further from the camera body than Canon or Nikkor lenses, which I find helpful, but Canon or Nikon lens users may need some time to get accustomed to that. The lens also features four low-dispersion elements to combat chromatic aberration.

Priced at $1,499 and covered with a 6-year manufacturer warranty, this lens gives a lot of bang for the buck. The optical quality is very good for the price and can stand up to its competition in a variety of situations. The question remains if you are ready to invest in its pricier competitors – the Canon’s 70-200mm f2.8L IS II ($2,199, with a 1 year warranty) or Nikon’s AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II ($2,096 with a 5 year warranty). The Tamron stands as a solid, economical lens that won’t disappoint.

March 20, 2013

More Bags and Cases (May Issue Extra)

Add these to the fine selection of camera bags and cases featured in the May issue of Professional Photographer magazine.

 

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ONA: The Brixton

A classically styled messenger bag, the Brixton features four removable dividers to customize the interior. There’s enough room for a DSLR, two to three lenses, and up to a 13-inch laptop, with a duo of front pockets for miscellaneous accessories, including lens caps, batteries, and media cards. Side flaps protect gear from the elements.

Constructed of either weather-resistant waxed canvas or leather, design details such as an antique brass tuck-clasp closure add to this bag’s visual appeal. The leather model is available in antique cognac, while the canvas models come in black, smoke, or field tan. Additional camera bag dividers, straps and wax to maintain the canvas bag surface can be purchased separately. Both handsome and practical, Brixton works well for stylishly and inconspicuously carrying basic camera gear and a laptop. $269; $469 in leather, onabags.com 

 

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Tamrac: Evolution Speed Roller Backpack (model 5797)

Easily converted from roller bag to backpack, the Tamrac Evolution Speed Roller makes it a breeze to truck gear through airports, Drop the telescoping handle into place, untuck the harness straps, and you have a handy backpack. Large enough to fit a wide range of gear as well as personal items and up to a 15.6-inch screen laptop, the Evolution is great for assignments that require a couple of DSLRs and several lenses. The bottom compartment accommodates a DSLR with up to 70-200mm f/2.8 lens attached.

This bag’s duality extends to its two foam-padded compartments. Interior and exterior pockets provide options for organizing memory cards, batteries, and other accessories as well as travel documents and a water bottle. Add a tripod with Tamrac’s Quick-Clip tripod attachment system and you—and your gear—are good to go.

Given its durability and rollerbag-to-backpack design, the Evolution weighs a hefty 7.8 pounds, but with this pack, the only thing you’ll have to leave behind is the kitchen sink (and studio lighting). $380, tamrac.com

 

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Tenba: Photo/Laptop Messenger Bag

Available in a trio of sizes (mini, small, and large), the Photo/Laptop Messenger Bag has been one of my go-to’s for a while for its great combination of ruggedness and flexibility. With a 1,000 denier nylon exterior, he bag has a removable and configurable photo insert and offers lots of pockets inside and out.

A padded interior compartment holds up to a 17-inch laptop (large model), and the rear exterior features a full-size, padded zipper pocket. Velcro and strap closures keep the bag snuggly closed, while a top zipper allows easy top access. The main handle and detachable shoulder strap (on the large model) are comfortably padded.

Web straps at the sides accommodate optional clip-on accessories. Although it’s designed for a DSLR, 2-3 lenses and a flash, I manage to fit two smaller DSLRs, a 70-200mm f/4 lens, a flash, a wide angle lens, and a 15-inch MacBook Pro.

Choose one of seven colors (black, olive, blue, burnt orange, plum, chocolate, or platinum) to add a little pizzazz to your gear. It’s a great bag for traveling when you need to bring basic gear and a laptop. Mini: $94, small: $105, large: $110, tenba.com

—Theano Nikitas

March 15, 2013

Tiffen Dfx 3.0: Creative Control

By Cate Scaglione

As a portrait photographer specializing in fine art prints, I'm keen to try new digital processing methods. I was introduced to The Tiffen Co. 20 years ago as an art student when I was using a film camera and trying out Tiffen's lens filters. Today, I'm delighted to discover Tiffen Dfx 3.0 software, which combines the company's expertise in photo filters, gels, and photo effect accessories in one package.

Dfx 3.0 is available in four configurations: a plug-in for Lightroom and Photoshop ($199.95); for video and film ($599.95); a stand-alone software license ($169.95); and a bundled application ($309.95). I use Lightroom and Photoshop as my primary editing applications, so I tested the plug-in version.

Installation to Photoshop was simple, though I had some problems installing it for Lightroom. Tiffen's customer service promptly replied by email with a set of instructions that helped me resolve the problem. (Phone tech support is not available.)

Once you've selected an image in Lightroom, choose Edit in Dfx from the Photo menu and the Dfx interface launches. As a Photoshop plug-in, Tiffen is a selection in the Filter menu. Work with a duplicate of your original layer, and Dfx effects will be applied as a layer that can be adjusted or removed. I tested the Dfx creative capabilities using filters, special effects, and various image correction modules. The Tiffen website features excellent tutorials that quickly bring you up to speed on how to use each module, and there's an extensive user guide available as a PDF.

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The original image (above) is underexposed and needs some color and artifact corrections. I found it easier to take care of those issues in Photoshop, though with time I could learn to do it with Dfx. My final image (below) combines Dfx effects with Photoshop adjustments and creates a look that represents my signature style. ©2013 Cate Scaglione

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I found Dfx 3.0 to be most useful with Photoshop as its host application. When you launch Dfx, it opens as a plug-in with a full view along the bottom of the screen of seven categories of filters: Film Lab, HFX Diffusion, HFX Grads/Tints, Image, Lens, Light, and Special Effects. The application populates each effect with your image, creating a thumbnail preview of the effect before you select it. Once you make a selection from the general categories, you get even more available presets for that selection displayed in a large panel on the right. I could then quickly choose the functions and features to enhance my photograph.

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Here you can see the original image with the Film Lab module selected. Each of the options within Film Lab has additional presets with adjustable parameters. ©Cate Scaglione

You can apply multiple effects in stackable layers and adjust the parameters for opacity, blending, masking, and presets. Tiffen combines the best of Photoshop and Lightroom's interface in one application. When you finish making enhancements with Dfx 3.0, you can return to Photoshop, where the Dfx effects will appear on a single image layer.

The Dfx interface is simple to use and easy to learn. Advanced Photoshop users will enjoy adding solid creative innovation to their workflow with the plug-in's stackable layer combinations. The number of processing choices could easily overwhelm a novice.

To get the look of historical and alternative film processing effects, Dfx 3.0 supplies scores of accurate film and filter process effects. There are thousands of permutations available of filters, special effects, and film. Software programs such as onOne Perfect Effects have similar capabilities and effects, although for historical processing, Tiffen may have an advantage.

To test Tiffen's creative functionality, I selected a slightly underexposed image in need of color and artifact correction. While Dfx enables you to fully adjust images and remove unwanted details, I find Photoshop and Lightroom are easier and more accurate for color correction and fine-tuning. In time, I believe I could adapt Dfx as my sole means of image correction. However, the true beauty of Dfx 3.0 is its filter, film, and photo effects capabilities.

I made some minor corrective adjustments in Photoshop, then opened Dfx to begin my new creative recipe. Using a combination of Ambient Light, Special Effect module halos, warm color filters, and texture combinations, I was able to enhance the image to my liking, then save the processing layers as a favorite, much like setting a user preset in Lightroom or creating an Action in Photoshop.

I particularly love Tiffen's diffusion, special effects, and light modules, which enabled me to recreate a dreamy, surreal look, despite the hard light and deep shade conditions I faced when photographing the image.

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The Rays effect in the Light Module allows you to set parameters for the rays’ length and threshold, color and brightness, shimmer, and opacity. ©2013 Cate Scaglione

The Dfx lens module is interesting. It allows you to modify the photograph through a series of lens correction tools (chromatic aberration, wide angle lens distortion, and depth of field adjustments, for example).

Once I finished building my Dfx layers, I clicked the Done button, and the plug-in returned me to Photoshop, where I continued to build a fine-art recipe with my own proprietary elements that contribute to my signature look. With final tonal, texture, and painted layers in Photoshop, I was able to complete a fine-art execution in less than an hour. This process done in Photoshop or Lightroom would take exponentially longer.

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Here you see the image with multiple effects stacked in layers. Each layer is still fully editable. ©2013 Cate Scaglione

I am fond of onOne Perfect Effects software ($99) for its ease and versatility of editing module choices. It's a solid choice for the novice user. For a more advanced or sophisticated editor accustomed to film processing techniques, Tiffen's Dfx 3.0 Plug-In offers extraordinary authenticity for film-like replication, traditional camera effects, and wonderful efficiency when paired with Photoshop or Lightroom.

Cate Scaglione is a freelance writer and fine art portrait photographer based in N.Y./N.J. She specializes in family lifestyle, women's beauty and commercial photography. Cate is also a brand consultant to artists and creative businesses across the country.

March 6, 2013

Stable and Able: Dougmon Camera Support System

By Travis Orton

The Dougmon handheld camera support system ensures stability through the use of a vertical grip combined with a brace strapped to your forearm. The friction ball head system in the grip, unique to this stabilizer, allows you to move the camera to any angle that your hand and arm can accommodate. The tension can be adjusted to your preference for smooth rotation, or it can be locked in. In other configurations you can use the stabilizer as a short monopod, a top grip for low-angle follow shots, and more.

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Designed by cameraman Doug Monroe, the Dougmon weighs 28.5 ounces and supports cameras weighing up to 5.5 pounds. I tested it over several days with a Panasonic P2 HPX170 camcorder, which weighs in at about 5 pounds.

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To adjust the Dougmon to fit your arm, you place the grip in the palm of your hand and hold it comfortably, then extend the forearm piece until the padded portion is tucked into your bent elbow joint. The arm strap is tightened with a backpack-type buckle cinch. Once mounted to the Dougmon, my camera worked like an extension of my arm.

It performs solidly as a stabilizer. Though it’s not the best I’ve used, it’s close. I’d give its effectiveness an 8 out of 10 rating. I’m happy with the footage I got while using it, including a variety of high- and low-angle shots.

I tested the Dougmon at Imaging USA in January. The maximum duration of any of my exposures was just a few minutes, but I wore the Dougmon on my arm for well over an hour while moving around for different shots. After a few minutes I did feel a degree of strain in my forearm, but it wasn’t prohibitive. This rig allowed me to be mobile and set up different shot angles in seconds.

The Dougmon is distributed exclusively in North and South America by International Supplies and is available from online retailers like B&H Photo and Video. It’s priced at $529.99, which is a little steep but not outrageous. There’s an optional accessory called a Slingmon for $199. This over-the-shoulder pocket brace lets you use the Dougmon similar to the way a stabilizer is used when clipped to a waist belt. The Dougmon/ Slingmon combo is available for $699.99.

Travis Orton is the producer and studio manager of the PPA Education Department.

March 4, 2013

Video Lighting on a Budget

By Ron Dawson

Ask any experienced filmmaker or videographer what is the most essential element of any shoot (other than the camera), and good lighting should be right at the top of the list. When you’re working with a huge production budget, you can pretty much get any kind of lights you want. As the budgets (and crews) become smaller, being able to get good lighting becomes a bigger challenge.

I own a small, independent production company, and many of the commercial video shoots I do fall into that latter category—small budgets ($3,000 to $10,000) and small crews (often just me and an assistant). That means I have to make both the dollars and the labor go as far as possible. I need something powerful and portable in the lighting department.

I’ve used a broad range of lights in the various film and video projects I’ve produced. As is the case with most things, the best of the best are worth the money you invest, but under budget constraints, they can be cost prohibitive. Luckily, there is a range of alternative solutions that offer similar lighting at a fraction of the cost.

Tungsten Lights

About seven years ago, when I first invested in a light kit, I got a small Lowel kit. Lowel is a leading brand in the film and video lighting business. The kit I chose came with four tungsten lights, stands, scrims, an umbrella, power cables, removable barn doors, and a case to carry them all in. It was a good kit for doing traditional three-point lighting setups.

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My Lowel light kit comes with a hard case. You get a
good workout carrying this bad boy around.

The downside to this kind of kit is that it is very heavy to lug around, and the bulbs get extremely hot. Within literally seconds of turning them on, the surrounding casings and barn doors can sear your flesh if you’re not careful.

Arri is another popular tungsten light brand. I see a lot of Arri lights on film shoots, probably more than any other lighting brand. But, like the Lowel lights, Arri lights can get very hot and can be heavy.

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Arri is a trusted brand that's very common on traditional movie sets.

Both Lowel and Arri lights can tend to be on the expensive side. I believe I invested nearly $1,500 in my kit (in 2006 dollars).

For most of the work I do now, I choose fluorescent and LED lights.

 

Fluorescents

About two years ago I was introduced to Kino Flo fluorescent lights. Kino Flos are one of the most trusted and popular brands for shooting commercial videos. They range in size and style, are dimmable, come in carrying cases, and do not get hot. You can use them with either daylight-balanced (cooler) or tungsten-balanced (warmer) fluorescent bulbs. The downside to Kino Flos is size and cost. Some of them can be relatively weighty and require large C-stands—heavy, three-legged metal stands used to hold everything from lights to boom poles to light blocking flags. Second, they are expensive. The cost of the light alone for a typical 4-foot 2Bank Kino Flo is more than $1,000 (2Bank indicates the number of fluorescent bulbs the unit takes). A 2-foot 2Bank Diva-Lite (another type of KinoFlo) can set you back more than $800 for the light alone, over $1,000 if you get a full kit. But, you get what you pay for. These lights are durable and powerful.

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I used a 4-foot 2Bank daylight-balanced Kino Flo to light the desk from above in this scene from my 48 Hour Film Project. Notice it’s mounted on a C-stand. One of my soft box fluorescent lights acts as a fill light to the side.

If I had my druthers, I’d use Kino Flos for all my shoots, but my budget doesn’t always allow me to rent them. I seldom use my Lowel kit, but opt instead to light with a set of fluorescent soft box light kits that my filmmaking partners or I own. They’re light, don’t get hot, and are quick to set up. The downside is that they’re troublesome to transport. The ones in the brand I own don’t fold up, and the ones in the brand my filmmaking partner owns requires a lot of time to take apart and break down—so much that whenever we use them, we don’t even bother dismantling them. We just throw them in the car.

The great thing about this lighting set is that it’s very inexpensive. The Cowboy Studio lighting set we use costs just north of $200 for a three-light kit that includes stands and a carrying case. The build-quality is not particularly durable though. We’ve broken a lot of bulbs on sets.

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The Cowboy Studio soft box lighting kit on a recent commercial video shoot.

 

LEDs

A few months ago I helped out on a shoot where my filmmaker partner had rented an ikan 500 LED daylight-balanced light kit. (FYI, 500 does not indicate wattage; it’s the actual number of tiny LED bulbs in the light. The wattage is equivalent to 350W). I immediately fell in love with them. They ran cool (both the color temperature as well as the actual temperature of the bulbs), were compact, lightweight, dimmable, and had a strong metal build. It was like having the lighting power of a Kino Flo without the high rental cost or size. I also loved the fact that they came in a padded, easy-to-carry case that included stands. In addition to dimmable lights, the back has switches for turning the four main panels of lights on and off. They run on AC power and can also be powered by Anton Bauer’s V-mount battery if an outlet is not available. Another popular feature of this kit is a remote control that allows you to control dimming and power from a distance. The light by itself runs around $430 at Adorama. You can get the three-light kit with case and stands for just over $1,400.

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The ikan 500 comes with attached barn doors, metallic body with handle, power, and remote.

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I’ve rented these ikan lights myself from a local rental house for as little as $105 for the three-light kit. Compare that to $165 to rent three 4-foot 2Bank Kino Flos, which are heavier, don’t include a remote and also require three C-stands (which most rental houses include with your rental). What’s also nice about the ikan kit is that they can actually be shipped (that’s how I received them when I rented them). That’s how compact they are. They can be mounted vertically or horizontally.

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Here’s a commercial video shoot with a traditional three-point lighting setup using three rented ikans. In the background you can see my Cowboy Studio lighting up the back wall to give the shot some depth. Image ©Mighty 8th Media.

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Here’s the reverse angle of the three-point ikan setup. You can see the third light (the hair light) under the moose head. Image ©Mighty 8th Media.

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Here I’m setting up the ikan lights outside. The lights can be mounted on light (i.e. non-heavy) stands that are easy to transport—a nice change from the heavy C-stands. Image ©Mighty 8th Media.

 

An ikan Competitor

Recently I had the opportunity to use a Flashpoint 500 C LED light kit from Adorama. This is an obvious alternative and competitor to ikan’s light. It has a similar build with metallic body, barn doors, handle, AC power, and dimmable lights. The Flashpoint model does not have a remote.

Whereas the ikan light has four sets of panels that can each be turned off by its own switch, the Flashpoint has two groups of lights, each controlled by its own dimmable switch. I tested two models: The Flashpoint 500 has all daylight-balanced (5,600K) LEDs, and the Flashpoint 500C has half the lights daylight-balanced (controlled by the dimmer on the left) and the other half tungsten balanced (2,700 to 3,500K and controlled by the dimmer on the right).

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The light on the left is the Flashpoint 500C model that’s half daylight-balanced and half tungsten (although in this image only the tungsten-balanced lights are activated). The image on the right is the model with all daylight-balanced LEDs.

Other than the fact that the daylight-balanced-only model has larger dimmer knobs, there's nothing to indicate the model on the unit itself. The LED 500C is the one with both types of balanced lights, but the paperwork I received for that light just read LED 500. So, if you order either light, test it right away to make sure you received the correct model.

If you want the flexibility of lighting with either a warmer or a cooler tone, then obviously order the 500C. However, the tradeoff is that you cannot use both knobs for more light (unless you want to mix color temperatures, which is not a good idea unless your video will be black and white). If you get the daylight-only model, then you can crank both knobs to their maximum setting to boost light output.

I had the opportunity to use the daylight-only 500 model on a shoot and I was pleased with the results. I was lighting my subject with an entirely black background. For creative reasons I did not want a traditional three-point light setup. I used only a key light, no fill or hair light. The Flahspoint 500, with both dimmers turned up all the way worked perfectly.

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Ungraded, raw footage screen grab from my video shoot. The subject is lit solely with the Flashpoint 500.

 

Flashpoint Pros and Cons

In comparison with the ikan, the Flashpoint build has less quality. For instance, the dimmer switches have a lower quality construction, and the Flashpoint 500 lights did not come on until the knob was at the fifth power mark. On the 500C, the lights did not turn on until the sixth power mark.

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Intuitively, as soon as the dimmer clicks on, there should be some light at the lowest power setting. However, the lights did not come on until the dimmer was all the way to the fifth power-level mark.

Also, from a design aspect, I would prefer it had a more traditional on/off switch as well as the dimmer. (You turn it on via the dimmer switches). In addition to dimmers, the ikan lights have on/off switches for each of the four banks of LEDs.

Those were the only issues I had with the unit. In doing research for this article, I did come across user reviews reporting other quality issues on adorama.com. I had no such issues.

As cons go, the ones I encountered are relatively minor when you consider the main pro: the cost. It’s about $240 for the Flashpoint 500C LED vs. $430 for the ikan. So if you’re on a budget and need a relatively sturdy, lightweight and powerful light for video production, the Flashpoint is not a bad investment.

 

Rent and Experiment

This article only touches on a small set of the possibilities at your disposal for lighting a video or film shoot. I strongly encourage you to test different options by renting first, then seeing what works best for you. Ultimately, you will get what you pay for, but even if in the short term you can get by with the lower priced options, you can still produce quality work, and hopefully earn the money to upgrade to the “big boys” later.

February 14, 2013

Preveal: Super Sales, Living Off The Wall

By Cate Scaglione

A friend of mine runs a successful high-end family portrait business from her home. She shoots mostly outdoors and conducts the majority of her preview/sales sessions in the client’s home. I’ve always admired the fact that about 80 percent of her portrait sales are wall art canvas arrangements, or clusters. With a higher than average sale, she’d consistently “move the wall” in these sessions. I absolutely love to sell fine art wall portraits to clients. It’s not just for their higher margins and a reduced production workflow, but more important it’s the best way to showcase my work. This said, wall art sales have always required a bit more client persuasion on my part. Clients always seemed to naturally gravitate toward my albums or image presentation boxes. Could this simply be a lack of “visualization”? While I owned several Photoshop wall templates, they were inefficient and could not be done in real-time. My friend kindly revealed the secret to her success… Preveal.

Preveal is a simple, intuitive iPad application that transforms the dynamics of both in-home, or even in-studio sales sessions. After watching a brief video tutorial, I downloaded Preveal onto my iPad and was set up in less than 10 minutes.

The beauty of this application lies in its simplicity. After configuring the app with your free Dropbox subscription, you can simply load your session’s images at the touch of a button in an organized fashion.

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Wall images ©2013 Cate Scaglione

Preveal enables three options for your virtual room setup. You can pre-load a JPEG of the client’s wall space (before the viewing session) in your Dropbox, use one of the many available standard room templates, or take a photo of the client’s wall from your iPad. If you want to use the real-time iPad photo, you’ll need to have strong natural or artificial light, otherwise your presentation will appear grainy and muddy. Clients truly appreciate the effort that you are configuring a product—not simply selling a product—to fit their home environment. With the quick glide of your fingers, clients will be impressed with your design savvy and high-end customization. This app made me feel as proficient with my iPad skills as the Geniuses at my local Apple store.

There’s not much work or preparation entailed with this application. Preveal contains pre-configured wall arrangements from top vendors like Bay Photo, Pro DPI, and Design Aglow so you don’t need to start from scratch. Although, you could choose to reconfigure any of these to your liking, by saving it as a favorite.

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Continue reading "Preveal: Super Sales, Living Off The Wall" »

January 16, 2013

"Capturing Love" Delivers Sage Same-Sex Wedding Photography Guidance

 By Joan Sherwood, Senior Editor

“Capturing Love”
By Thea Dodds and Kathryn Hamm  
Authentic Weddings, $32.95

Same-sex wedding photography, which has been a very small niche market, has the potential to grow exponentially in the next decade and beyond. Same-sex marriage is now legally recognized in nine U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and all of Canada. Consider that many of the couples first in line for their license have already been together for years and often decades. They may not splurge on all the lavish trappings that some young couples do, but they typically seek out good, professional photography to document their special day. They want a photographer who “gets” them, who understands just how much it means to them to be able to marry, and who knows that “square one is understanding that a one-size-fits-all approach to working with same-sex couples will not be effective,” say the authors of “Capturing Love: The Art of Lesbian & Gay Wedding Photography.”

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Cover photo ©It's Bliss Photography

This book is an insightful, practical, visual guide to photographing same-sex weddings. It features a gorgeous selection of photographs from 38 outstanding gay and lesbian wedding photographers depicting the real-life happy moments of 46 same-sex couples.

Co-authors Kathryn Hamm and Thea Dodds complement each other well in their areas of expertise. Hamm is the president of GayWeddings.com, an online boutique and resource dedicated to serving same-sex couples since 1999. Dodds is an award-winning photojournalist, co-founder of the non-profit organization Greener Photography, and a PPA member. Dodds’ influence is evident in the book’s emphasis that wedding photographers must have a solid foundation in technique, posing, and professionalism, because to shoot same-sex weddings, the photographer will have to develop an expanded skill set and understand how and when to revise the traditional rules to best serve their same-sex clients.

Weddings are changing, and photography education needs to change too. For wedding photographers, it can be a challenge to pose and set up a wedding portrait in a way that truly reflects the uniqueness of each couple, especially when they’ve been trained to use a certain set of poses that were designed for a man and a woman. We hope “Capturing Love” inspires every photographer shooting a same-sex wedding to think outside the box, and to create photos that truly capture the one-of-a-kind magic present at each couple’s wedding day.  —Thea Dodds

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Left ©Andrea Flanagan Photography; Right ©Tammy Watson Photography

The main body of the book does an excellent job of explaining the importance of getting to know the couple and understanding how they see themselves, what the elements of their ceremony mean to them, who among the guests should be included in photographs, and the role they have in the couple’s life. There are wonderfully informative sections on poses and composition for engagement sessions and wedding day photos of two brides and two grooms and how some popular shots can be altered to showcase the same-sex dynamic. The illustrations reflect a natural style with real couples who feel free to be themselves in front of the camera. In the examples, the photographer describes the circumstances and challenges of the shoot, and why they made the decisions they did. These are accompanied by an analysis of the image from the authors, noting what makes it a good image and offering relevant suggestions to the reader.

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Left ©Cean One Photography; Center ©Brian Pepper & Associates; Right ©Maggie Winters Photography 

Hamm and Dodds emphasize how important it is to capture authentic images that reveal who the couple is and how they feel about each other. The marvelous selection of photographs that illustrate this book do that so well that I felt I was sharing the moment as I viewed them. I found myself smiling over the brilliant joy and tenderness portrayed in the photographs, some even bringing a tear to my eye. I may be a little more sentimental about the topic than others, though. My own wife and I were together for 13 years before we were able to marry legally in Toronto in 2004. Our wedding gift from my family was flying in our photographer from Seattle to document our special day and the courthouse ceremony. She captured a tear rolling down my cheek then, too.

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©Kristin Chalmers Photography

“Capturing Love” is a fantastic resource for anyone who wants to become the go-to same-sex wedding photographer in their market by earning their clients’ trust and adoration. Its message is imbued with the warmth and understanding its authors feel for this market, the advice is solid, and the collection of same-sex couple photography is the best I’ve ever seen. Follow this advice and your clients will love you.

“Capturing Love” will be released in a limited run from publisher Authentic Weddings on Jan. 16, with a full release to follow in March. The book is available for purchase at Lulu Press, for $32.95 USD.

Thea Dodds will be at Imaging USA Jan. 21 and 22. You can reach her at thea@capturingloveguide.com or phone/text: 617-759-3964.

January 15, 2013

Give Clients a Custom Preview with Shoot and Sell App

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

Today’s client often wants to see, or visualize, a product before they are certain about making an investment. Fortunately, this need for on-the-fly visual aids can be satisfied—at least if you have the right app on your iPad. Shoot and Sell allows you to create instant wall displays whether you are at your clients’ home or in the studio—anywhere.

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After installing Shoot and Sell (from Apple’s App Store), my first visit to the app began with a walk-through tutorial. While there is an option to “get started now,” I did appreciate learning about all the features, and about the intuitive controls and options.

Then it was on to the home screen of the app, which is simply a background image, or “wall.” The default wall features a modern teal couch and a neutral tan wall. There are three main controls: +Display, +Image, and Edit Wall. The first two buttons add image units to the wall; +Display adds groupings of multiple images, and +Image adds a single empty canvas.

The Edit Wall button allows you to change the background image to another default background or you can even use your iPad’s camera to take a photo of your client’s wall on the spot. There is a measuring feature that will help you to calibrate image sizes within the app, so that a 20x30 will be displayed in accurate proportion to the dimensions of your client’s room. I thought this was a great feature, as it allows you to show your clients’ images true to actual size on their own wall.

 

You can also tap directly on an image or grouping to edit, resize, or reposition it. The standard two-finger pinch and rotate commands for an iPad will also work within Shoot and Sell. An additional menu bar appears when editing an image canvas, giving you the ability to do things like rotate, flip, add frame, duplicate canvas, replace image, or delete canvas. When done editing an image, just tap on the wall to apply your changes. Multi-image displays respond similarly to individual image canvases, except that the image display is rotated, and moved as a unit rather than individual canvases.

Continue reading "Give Clients a Custom Preview with Shoot and Sell App" »

December 12, 2012

Review: "The Digital Negative" by Jeff Schewe

By Ellis Vener

“The Digital Negative”  201212we_digitalneg.jpgBy Jeff Schewe
Published by Pearson / Imprint: Peachpit Press 

As an admitted perfection freak of a commercial photographer, an unpaid alpha tester of Photoshop since the early ’90s, and one of the original drivers in the creation of Lightroom, Jeff Schewe belongs to an elite echelon who know the ins and outs of Photoshop and Lightroom better than anyone save Adobe’s development teams. Taking as his model Ansel Adams’ classic “The Negative,” this Schewe’s first solo effort as an author. “The Digital Negative” concentrates on the use of Lightroom’s Develop Module and Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) and the use of Photoshop to perfect a digital negative. What you can learn here is somewhat applicable to other image processing applications as well. Copiously illustrated with photographs and screen shots, and weighing in at fewer than 300 pages, the book does a fine job of laying out practical and useful explanations of raw processing procedures for all working photographers.

The first chapter in “The Digital Negative” defines the capture technology, what a raw file is, why “expose to the right” makes for technically better files, the components of digital noise, and why raw trumps JPEGs processed in-camera. Getting the exposure right—and by right Schewe means as much of the luminance information into the richest data fields (which are represented on the right side of a histogram—hence “expose to the right”) is the foundation everything else is built on.

After that the heart of the book explores the panels, sub panels, and individual controls and what they do in Lightroom’s Development Module (which is much like the current version of Adobe Camera Raw but with a different and more user-friendly interface). Of particular note there is a clear, short exploration of the current state of both global and localized sharpening tools and their capabilities in ACR and Lightroom. Since Schewe is co-author (with the late Bruce Fraser) of the second edition of the classic “Real World Image Sharpening with Adobe Photoshop, Camera Raw, and Lightroom.” he has a deep understanding of the sharpening process.

If you want to take things a step further, Chapter Five discusses various post-processing Photoshop techniques to improve color, use creative localized sharpening techniques, enhance mid-tone contrast and texture—all involving the use of layers, masks, and blend modes. If you have ever been curious about working with the various layer blend modes in Photoshop, the two-page Blending Mode Magic breakdown is as concise as you’ll find anywhere. The very basics of retouching and compositing multiple images are also covered.

Chapter Six is unique among dozens of digital darkroom manuals I've examined because it covers something all photographers and studios must wrestle with: creating and implementing time- and resource-efficient workflows. Whether or not you think what you are doing is fine art doesn’t mean you don’t have to get it out the door as quickly as possible if you want happy clients.

So what is missing? A discussion of printing and other output methods. You’ll have to wait for the upcoming “The Digital Print” (not to be confused with Martin Juergens older work of the same title, aimed at curators and conservators).

New Ilford Galerie Prestige Inkjet Papers

By Stan Sholik

Ilford Imaging Switzerland GmbH traces its roots back more than a century to the early days of photography. Through the years, companies under the Ilford name have produced high-quality photographic papers from darkroom days to the inkjet present. Now owned again by the British, the current inkjet paper offerings from Ilford Imaging Switzerland are grouped into two lines: Galerie Premium and Galerie Prestige. The more affordable Galerie Premium papers are aimed at enthusiasts, amateurs, and students. The Galerie Prestige line products are designed to meet the tastes and needs of professional photographers.

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Ilford recently introduced four new papers in their Galerie Prestige line: Gold Cotton Smooth and Textured, and Fine Art Smooth and Textured. At 330 grams per square meter (gsm), the Gold Cotton papers are the heaviest papers in the Prestige line except for the Smooth Fine Art Canvas. The Fine Art papers weigh in at 220gsm. Ilford’s 190gsm Galerie Prestige Smooth Fine Art paper remains available despite the similar name to the new Prestige Fine Art Smooth paper.

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The color of all four papers is the same slightly creamy white with a matte finish. The two smooth papers are indeed smooth, similar to hot press fine art papers from other manufacturers, while the two textured papers have a subtle texture reminiscent of cold press papers. Despite the smooth vs. textured surfaces, prints are virtually indistinguishable in color, contrast, and saturation when printed using the downloadable Ilford printer profiles. The most obvious difference when handling the papers is the weight difference of the heavier Gold papers over the Fine Art, and the more subtle differences in surface texture.

The Gold Cotton papers are mold-made without optical brighteners from 100-percent cotton rag. No optical brighteners are used, ensuring that the colors will not fade or shift over time. While archival information is not available, images printed on these papers should be very long lasting.

The Fine Art papers are also mold made, but rather than 100-percent cotton rag the paper contains a high cellulose content giving it a similar feel to cotton rag papers. Other than the weight difference, the Fine Art papers do feel very much like the Gold Cottons.

Despite the similarities, there is a major difference between the papers. The Fine Art papers are coated on both sides for printing, making them ideal for wedding albums or other projects requiring double-sided printing. The Fine Art papers are heavy enough to ensure no bleed through of images, but light enough to work well as pages of an album. The creamy white matte finishes, and for me the textured surface, make a beautiful setting for wedding photos.

Handling and printing the papers is straightforward. As mentioned, printer profiles for many Canon, Epson, HP, Kodak and Lexmark printers are available at Ilford.com for each paper. On Canon PIXMA Pro printers, the media type is “Other Fine Art Paper,” while for Epson it is “Ultra Smooth Fine Art Photo.” Using the correct profile and media type is essential to obtain optimum quality output with these papers. As with any heavy fine art paper, you must load sheets one at a time through the proper loading slot for the paper to feed properly.

The new Ilford Galerie Prestige papers are available in cut sizes from 4 x 6 inches to 17 x 22 inches as well as 24-inch and 44-inch rolls. Street price is about $60 for 100 sheets of 8.5 x 11 paper. 

Stan Sholik is a commercial/advertising photographer in Santa Ana, Calif., specializing in still life and macro photography. His latest book is "Lightroom 4 FAQs" (Wiley Publishing).

Unified Color HDR Express 2: Perfect for the Natural Look

By Stan Sholik

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Creating high dynamic range (HDR) images with most software is a complex, time-consuming task that can frustrate photographers new to the process. This is particularly true when you simply want to create a natural looking image with increased highlight and shadow detail, not a surrealistic HDR image.

Unified Color provides software with extensive controls for creating complex interpretive HDR composites with its HDR Expose 2 and 32 Float v2 software for photographers wishing to immerse themselves in the full HDR process. But Unified Color also provides a simplified but still highly capable program now in its second version, HDR Express 2. It's the perfect HDR solution for photographers getting started with HDR, and for photographers looking for HDR software that creates natural, rather than interpretive, images.

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HDR Express 2 excels in quickly creating natural looking images that don’t even appear to have been processed through HDR software. ©Stan Sholik

HDR Express 2 distills the HDR user controls down to seven basic sliders: exposure, highlights, shadows, black point, contrast, saturation and white balance. All but the black point slider allow you to increase or decrease their respective settings; black point can only be increased. The contrast slider is more a control of local (micro) contrast rather than overall contrast. But even at the highest contrast setting and with the saturation slider at maximum, the HDR image just looks contrasty and over saturated, not especially "grungy."

HDR Express 2 installs as a standalone application and as a Lightroom plug-in on Mac and Windows systems running the latest operating systems, and additionally as an Aperture plug-in on Macs. System requirements are minimal compared to some HDR software, and HDR Express 2 runs far faster than the previous version. Still, a fast computer, a 64-bit operating system, and more than 4GB of RAM available ensures the fastest image processing.

Not only is HDR Express 2 faster than its predecessor, it allows you to work more efficiently. One of the new features is the ability to automatically arrange, sort and group bracketed exposures from the folder you choose. RAW files are sorted separately from JPEGs and TIFFs, and you can choose to only show the file type of your choice. This is a great feature if you shoot both RAW and JPEGs at the same time but want to use the RAW files for HDR.

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When you choose to create a new HDR image from the opening screen, this screen opens. Here you choose a folder of images and HDR Express2 groups bracketed exposures into sets while displaying image thumbnails. Even with the sets of very similar images here, HDR Express 2 grouped them accurately. A histogram allows you to choose only those images you need.

Continue reading "Unified Color HDR Express 2: Perfect for the Natural Look" »

December 4, 2012

StickyAlbums: Practically an App for Instant Referrals

By Cate Scaglione

When our friend and fellow PPA member, Kristi Sutton Elias of Long Beach, Calif., told us about StickyAlbums, we knew we had to give it a try. At her suggestion, we did the free trial and were immediately hooked on the concept.

The bottom line is this: If you need a tool that lets your clients enthusiastically share your work with their entire social network, StickyAlbums are the way to go.

In our studio, Je Revele, we believe there's only one thing that generates business more than a solid referral: the solid visual referral. An online endorsement with an accompanying visual is as good as gold. That's the premise behind StickyAlbums. If you want your studio and your work to go viral, StickyAlbums could be the tipping point. Global retail brands and major marketing pioneers are always looking for new ways to infiltrate the mobile communication space. StickyAlbums, founded by photographer Nate Grahek, gave us a leg up in our own industry. So, enough hype.

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HOW IT WORKS
A StickyAlbum is a mobile smartphone app that allows you to share your client's session images in a mobile "mini-website" format, complete with your studio's own branding. In turn, your client can show off your work to family and friends straight from their mobile phone or tablet. It gives clients the choice of several social media platforms to share their album using text message, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or email. Your images can be passed forward and shared in a crisp format, without the ability for a client to download, or right-click copy. Genius.

Here's a simple run-through:

1. You set up your album from the user-friendly StickyAlbum site according to your branding and specifications. They even provide optional downloadable branding template files to help you design it. They also provide a great tutorial online to guide you through your first album. You need to think strategically about where and how your customers will get to link to your website, because that's where the new site traffic flow begins.

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2. Once your settings are arranged, you can create individual client albums and upload your images. It allows a maximum of 30 to 40 images per album, which could be considered a drawback. But still, a great sampling of your work. Images must be resized to meet StickyAlbum dimensions. Here at Je Revele we set up a batch Photoshop action to resize for us. StickyAlbums can resize images for you, but it doesn't always work with large files or images you want to appear at a specific ratio. I'm optimistic that this function will be improved in future; StickyAlbums upgrades frequently. According to Grahek, "The StickyAlbums Builder ... creates a lower-res image (1,600 pixels) that is delivered to users on phone-sized screens and then a 2,048-pixel image for users on a computer or iPad 3. However we recommend users process their images down to 2,048-pixels on the longest edge before uploading to the builder to save upload time."

3. Next, you have StickyAlbums’ latest feature, the option to embed YouTube or other site links. We embedded our Animoto slideshow set to music into a client's album recently, and she loved being able to access her slideshow presentation to share with friends. It's great to be able to use two vendors that we use frequently in tandem and have it work so well. It could also be a great way to visually promote our client experience in the future.

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4. As a final step, you simply copy and paste a link and email it to your clients. When they receive it, they'll get a prompt to add the app to their phone. When they tap the app on their screen, it is a mini-website, complete with a link to our studio phone and website. It couldn't be easier for them, or for us. When your client shares the album, the recipient must then upload your studio's app on their phone too. A small number of clients consider it a drawback when they want to share a single image rather than the entire album, but I like it. StickyAlbums is considering single-photo sharing for future upgrades.

Continue reading "StickyAlbums: Practically an App for Instant Referrals " »

November 28, 2012

If Style Is Your Bag: A Roundup of Fashion Camera Bags

By Robyn L. Pollman

The rules for my bag test are simple. I select camera and electronic equipment I own and use for both personal and professional photography to put into each carrier. With the exception of laptop and iPad pockets, I don’t put other items into exterior or interior pockets. To fit all my usual gear into the bag, I may or may not use all of the removable protective padding that comes with the bag.

All the bag contents shown here fit inside each bag while still allowing the zipper or snap to be closed.

SAILING INTO COMFORT
Jo Totes; $107; jototes.com
This classically styled and comfortable Georgia Nautical satchel has plenty of pockets to keep photographic and personal gear organized. The faux leather exterior is complemented by a dark blue cotton lining.

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Best feature: Security. The antiqued metal hardware locks, and the iPad pocket zips.
In this bag:
Nikon D700 body with grip
Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G ED
Nikon SB-800
HTC Evo Shift 4G phone
Abie Designs camera strap
Wallet-size WhiBal card

 

NEW CONVERTIBLE
Epiphanie; $224.99; epiphaniebags.com
Brooklyn is that rarest of photographic accessories: a fashionable camera backpack. Load up this chic bag and you can carry it all day. It accommodates a 15-inch laptop, iPad or tablet, camera with attached lens, one long lens, one short lens, flash, battery pack, and wallet.
Best feature: Easily converts from a backpack to a messenger bag to accommodate your travel and shooting needs.

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In this bag:
Nikon D700 body with grip
Nikon 50mm f/1.4G
Nikon 85mm f/1.4D
Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8D
Lensbaby 2.0
Nikon SB-800
Apple 15-inch MacBook Pro
Speck SeeThru Case for MacBook Pro
HTC Evo Shift 4G phone
Abie Designs camera strap

 

BYE-BYE BOXY
Emera; $169; emerabags.com
Move over, boxy camera carrier, there’s a new bag in town. She’s well bred but knows how to hang. An ideal merger of function and style, the Classic Canvas bag boasts seven customizable, padded compartments for stashing, and room for a laptop and water bottle as well.

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Best feature: Looks and carries like a handbag, and you’ll love the extra protection of the metal feet on the bottom.
In this bag:
Nikon D700 body with grip
Nikon 50mm f/1.4G
Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G ED
Nikon SB-800
Apple iPad2
Speck iPad2 FitFolio Cover
Abie Designs camera strap

 

DO-GOODER
Kelly Moore; $229; kellymoorebag.com
A portion of the proceeds from the purchase of the Thirst Relief Bag will provide a lifetime of clean drinking water for up to four people through thirstrelief.org. Inside this bag you can carry a camera body, 10-inch lens, flash, phone, batteries, 17-inch laptop, and accessories. The outside back pocket can hold a 15-inch laptop or tablet.

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Best feature: The handle is exceptionally durable and secure.
In this bag:
Nikon D700 body with grip
Nikon 50mm f/1.4G
Nikon SB-800
Apple 15-inch MacBook Pro
Speck SeeThru Case for MacBook Pro
Abie Designs camera strap

 

 

Continue reading "If Style Is Your Bag: A Roundup of Fashion Camera Bags" »

November 20, 2012

iLapse: Awesome Time Lapse Video Creator

By Joan Sherwood, Sr.Ed.

iLapse from Mea Mobile is a fantastically simple intervalometer for your iPhone or iPad. The app records your video at 1280 x 720 for output at 24, 25, or 30 fps. at intervals from .5 to 20 seconds, and for a total of up to 10,000 frames. It tells you how long your sequence will take and how long the resulting video will be at your chosen frame rate. You can lock exposure and tone, or leave it to the camera to adjust as conditions change. It works tethered to USB power or with the phone’s battery. If you do a long sequence, your phone will heat up noticeably. Once the sequence is finished, the app automatically processes it to High Definition time-lapse video, and you can watch it immediately and save it to your camera roll to use as you’d like.

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If you want to take a sequence of stills, you can do that, too. It’s amazingly fun and simple, and it’s only $1.99.

SPECIAL: ALL MEA MOBILE APPS FREE THROUGH WEDNESDAY, NOV. 21: www.meamobile.com/72for72/

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HP MagCloud Is Just About All You Can Ask for in Budget Self-Publishing

By Joan Sherwood, Sr.Ed.

For any photographer who wants to self-publish a look book, brochure or calendar, HP offers a high-quality, low-cost option with MagCloud. One of its most impressive features is the ability to publish your work and offer a digital version for free. Over a minimal baseline price, you have control over the price of your printed and digital product. There is no minimum to how many print versions you or your client must buy. If it came with it's own mini downloadable graphic designer, it would be perfect.

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The only minor barrier I’ve discovered in using HP MagCloud is that you (or someone you hire) will have to design the pages. Photographers are not often skilled page layout and graphic designers with a flair for typography. Though HP provides templates for their various formats for multiple applications, including Photoshop, InDesign, Word, Pages, Aperture, and others, designing a page is not the same as composing a photo. Once the designing is done, you only have to convert to PDF and upload. On the other hand, you may have materials already designed and ready to go in your existing marketing materials and templates (double-check trim and bleed areas).

The last caveat is that your readers will have to register on the MagCloud.com site to be able to see and download your publication.

We had samples of the print products sent to us (a large calendar and square and rectangular perfect-bound books), and the quality is absolutely top notch for its price. The MagCloud blog has helpful entries, including one that demonstrates what implements can write on their uncoated satin paper stock if you intend to make a calendar (most pass the smudge test).

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There are too many positives to mention, but my short list is that your digital publication can include active hyperlinks, the print quality is fantastic, binding is sturdy, and the digital version is fully functional with iPad.

Review: "The Passionate Photographer: Ten Steps Toward Becoming Great"

By Ellis Vener

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“The Passionate Photographer, Ten Steps Toward Becoming Great”
By Steve Simon
Published by New Riders 

This book may change your life.

Newspaper photographers are by their nature storytellers who most often must collapse a complex narrative into a single frame. This is the training Steve Simon brought with him when he moved his career from being a newspaper shooter for the Canadian Edmonton Journal daily toward doing longer-term documentary projects for other editorial outlets as well as corporate and non-profit clients. Simon began that evolution back in the mid-1990s with a self-directed project about what life was like on the United States side of the border at a time when the Canadian press was full of stories about how Canada was becoming more like the USA. Since beginning his freelance career and moving to New York City, he has been acknowledged by groups like the Art Directors Club of New York, and he has won a National Press Photographers Picture of the Year. His clients include Nikon, Lexar, Apple, The New York Times Magazine, and Mother Jones. He also lectures at the prestigious School of Visual Arts in New York City, and teaches workshops and seminars. In short he’s not only successful but respected by clients and peers. Mr. Simon has also written and photographed four books of which “The Passionate Photographer” is the latest.

Mr. Simon’s evolution from daily news shooter to freelance documentary photographer frames the narrative of “The Passionate Photographer” in which he shares what he’s learned about creative and professional growth. These lessons are applicable to all professional photographers even if you have never had an interest in being a photojournalist. The book is written cleanly and concisely, and its path is not complicated: Discover or rediscover the kind of photography that inspires you to great depths of passion, which Step One defines as “an inch wide, a mile deep.” Once you have figured out that critical first step, the rest of the steps flow toward the natural goal: sharing your passion for the subject. Simon’s passion is photographing people in their cultures, and he’s turned that passion into a career that regularly takes him around the world.

“The Passionate Photographer” contains some very basic technical information scattered throughout, and Step Six (a useful conceit of the book is that chapters are called Steps) is a 16-page discussion about light and color, but this is not a book about technology or photographic technique. Instead it’s about psychological states that lead to creative breakthroughs. The meat, potatoes, and gravy here are the interrelated topics of how to get yourself out of your comfort zone because being passionate about what you do means being willing to take (sometimes calculated, sometimes not) risks, how to engage more creatively and more closely with your subjects, and how to keep failure from discouraging you (“Step Seven, The Art of the Edit: Choose Well and Be The Best You Can Be,” “Step Eight, Assessing Strengths and Weaknesses: Never Stop Learning And Growing,” “Step Nine, Action Plan: Setting Goals And Creating Strategies”).

Step Ten covers the crucial part: “Follow Through: Share Your Vision With the World.” Steve Simon’s final words in “The Passionate Photographer” summarize not only this last chapter but it seems his entire approach to his career: “Shoot, share, learn; and shoot some more. Repeat. Enjoy. Become the great and passionate photographer you dream of being.”

Nanoha Macro Lens for Mirrorless Cameras Delivers 5X Detail

By Joan Sherwood, Sr.Ed.

This specialized lens takes macro to an extreme level, achieving 4X to 5X magnification. The built-in LED illumination lights the plane of focus perfectly with a simple USB controller. Four aperture settings (f/11, f/16, f/22 and f/32) give you some control, but even at f/32 the depth of field is so shallow that I could focus on the ridge of a dime and have the plane of the coin be out of focus.

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The lens comes with four target holders that snap into the lighting module, which is also removable.

If you have a Micro Four Thirds Olympus or Panasonic camera or Sony NEX camera, and you want to do some extreme macro exploration, with possible stock photography or creative background uses, this $499.99 lens from International Supplies will open a new creative window for you.

Pictured: crapemyrtle petal (top),
guinea feather (center),
edge of dime (bottom).
Click image for 900x900 pixel image, downsampled from 3,024x3,024 pixels.

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November 19, 2012

Booksmart Studio Metal Media Adds Shine, Depth, and Unconventionality

By Stan Sholik

As photographers strive to set themselves apart from their competition, many find offering a unique look to their clients for their prints is a brand-enhancing way to stand out. Booksmart Studio is providing just such an option with inkjet printable aluminum. Photographers with a compatible inkjet printer can create samples, portfolio pieces, and final prints for clients as easily as they create inkjet prints on common media. The look is unique, often three dimensional, and is sure to set your work apart from your competitors.

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The five available surfaces of inkjet printable media are, left to right, Satin White, Matte Silver, Satin Silver, Brushed Silver, and Satin Gold.

Five different surfaces are available for the fine art media aluminum sheets that are coated to accept most dye and pigment inks. Satin White has the look of smooth luster paper and is best for images with high detail and saturated colors. Satin Silver has a very fine grain structure that also lends itself to detailed images, and the surface reflects light back through the image making it almost three dimensional when viewed from certain angles.

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The Satin White media has the look of smooth luster paper with
high sharpness and saturation. I muted the saturation somewhat
when making this print.

The surface of Satin Gold media is similar in reflectance to Satin Silver, but has an appearance somewhere between brass and 24k gold. This tends to mute saturated colors, and I found it perfect for a bridal portrait where softness is a virtue. Booksmart’s Matte Silver media also provides a muted look, but without the three dimensionality of Satin Gold. Matte Silver also appears somewhat yellowish under certain lighting conditions, but far less so than Satin Gold.

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This photo doesn't begin to do justice to the Satin Gold print that
is far more beautiful. As light reflects from the print at different
angles, the depth of the photo changes from two dimensional
to three dimensional.

Brushed Silver is the final surface option and it is my personal favorite. With the texture of brushed aluminum sheet metal, it’s probably not the choice for romantic portraits or for weddings. But the infrared landscape photo I printed on it is just amazing, as is a commercial still life. The illusion of depth is outstanding, as is the ability to hold a deep black and clean white.

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An infrared image printed on Brushed Silver appears positive in
some areas and almost negative in others while retaining the
surface pattern of a brushed aluminum sheet metal. Blacks are
deep and rich, and whites are clean with good detail.

Continue reading "Booksmart Studio Metal Media Adds Shine, Depth, and Unconventionality" »

November 16, 2012

ProShow App Mobilizes Slideshow Creation

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

Wouldn’t it be nice to spontaneously create a professional-looking photo video for your clients when you are on the job? Well, if you are a Photodex ProShow Web user, you can now do that in addition to accessing your existing shows directly from your iOS device.

The ProShow App is easy to download and install from the Apple App store. Once installed, you will need to log into your account (so that your shows will be saved, etc). It is free to create a basic account, but you may find the upgraded accounts more suitable. There are three levels available: Free, Plus for $30 per year, and Premium for $150 per year. Free accounts have the ProShow Web watermark on videos, Plus and Premium account holders can upload their own custom watermark. The Premium account will also give you totally unbranded videos (Free and Plus videos have a ProShow Web outro), and full 1080p HD video output.

Since I already had an existing account with ProShow Web, once I logged into the app for the first time, I already had shows in the app. I really appreciate the cloud-based storage of slideshows and such, because it is frankly a pain to try to manually sync multiple devices, let alone remember on which device you created a particular project. In the screenshot below, you can see a few slideshows, ranging from completed shows to works-in-progress.

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Four shows are displayed on the screen at a time. To view or edit additional shows, you do have to swipe over to the next page. To create a new show, you simply click on the “new” icon. Alongside that button is a refresh button, in case you don’t see a new show that was added (e.g. from another device). It is pretty easy to delete shows; the app follows typical iOS delete behavior—long hold on a show until the show pictures begin to shake, and then you can delete any show by clicking on the bubble X at the upper-right. When you are finished, just click the red Done button.

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Continue reading "ProShow App Mobilizes Slideshow Creation" »

October 15, 2012

Arca-Swiss d4m Tripod Head: Light Weight, Strong Features

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By Ellis Vener

The Arca-Swiss d4m tripod head is one of the more beautiful photographic instruments I’ve seen as well as being a pleasure to work with—the movements are smooth and there is virtually no head creep even with heavy off-balance loads.

Starting at the top, the head mount: You can order the d4m with a variety of mounting systems—a standard 1/4-inch or 3/8-inch screw, or several variations on the open-ended channel quick-release system Arca-Swiss pioneered back in the 1980s. The clamp that came with the d4m I was sent to evaluate is a dual-level model that tightens with a knob, which I recommend over the Arca-Swiss lever-locking design that is also available.

While Arca-Swiss’ original QR design is now the most widely copied quick-release design available, the problem is that not all brands that make "Arca-Swiss standard" quick-release components strictly adhere to Arca-Swiss’ specifications: some plates are a hair wider, some slightly narrower, and some use a different bevel angle. In my tests, the wider upper channel worked securely on every brand I tried with it: Really Right Stuff, Kirk, Novoflex, Acratech, Induro/Benro, Foba, Sunway Foto, Graf and Markins plates, brackets and rails all were secured with no slipping or binding.

The lower level in this clamp is narrower and works with Arca-Swiss’ new lighter Slidefix plates. I like the way the Slidefix system works, especially with smaller cameras and for keeping weight and bulk down when hiking long distances. The d4m camera platform also features two half-inch long bar type levels that are easy to read at eye level. One is on the back and one is on the left side of the round platform.

Continue reading "Arca-Swiss d4m Tripod Head: Light Weight, Strong Features" »

October 9, 2012

Picking the Right Video Stabilizer for your DSLR

By Ron Dawson

One of the tell-tell signs of a rookie DSLR filmmaker is a hand-held video that is so shaky you get sea-sick from watching it. A big drawback to DSLRs for shooting video is that their small size combined with the "line skipping" aspect of the CMOS sensor (every other line of resolution on the sensor is skipped in order to get that much data on a small card) makes hand-held video look awful.

Unless you're going for a very specific kind of cinema verité look, you absolutely should be using some sort of stabilization device when shooting video with DSLRs. The most basic and simple is your tripod. If you need to move around and get hand-held shots, you may want to use a rig. These create multiple points of contact from the camera to your body, thereby reducing the shakiness.

The game totally changes, however, if you need to walk or run with a DSLR while shooting. In that case, your only option to get steady, fluid shots is some kind of tracking stabilization device. One of the most common questions I get from my photographer friends looking into such devices is which one to get. There are two that I generally recommend: the SteadyTracker or the Glidecam.

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The SteadyTracker Xtreme and a Sony HD camcorder.

The SteadyTracker
For over six years, the stabilizer that has served me well is a CobraCrane SteadyTracker. I own the Xtreme model because I purchased it when a larger, traditional camcorder was my main camera. But the UltraLite model would be perfect for DSLRs (retails around $190). The first thing you may notice about the SteadyTracker is that unlike most other popular tracking devices, this one does NOT have a gimbal. The plate that attaches to the bottom of the camera allows you to slide it left to right, and forward and backward. This helps you find the perfect center of balance. It also makes it exponentially easier to balance than a gimballed device. You will literally be up and running in under 10 minutes the first time using it. (Click here to see someone putting it together and balancing it in 3 minutes.)

Continue reading "Picking the Right Video Stabilizer for your DSLR" »

GoPro HD Hero2: Compact Problem Solver

By Chris A.

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Image ©Court Leve

Recently I photographed a wedding at a beautiful, historic New England church. While the setting was perfect for romantic, sophisticated wedding images, I found myself faced with two church rules about photography inside the building. First, strobes were not permitted (which isn't uncommon), but the second and most disconcerting was that I was restricted to photographing the ceremony from the balcony only. This was apparently so my presence wouldn't distract the participants and guests during the wedding ceremony. Not being able to shoot from the main floor of the church was frustrating. Typically, I carefully, quietly, and discreetly move all around the wedding venue to get a variety of angles and perspectives. But not that day.

It was there, stuck in the balcony, when I wished I had my GoPro HD Hero2 camera with me.

The GoPro HD Hero2 has taken the video world by storm. From the X-Games, pro sports and Olympics, to television shows and rock n roll concerts, clever and creative applications for this diminutive professional video camera seem endless. But the Hero2’s video prowess is only half of the story as the pocket-size powerhouse offers versatile still photo capabilities as well.

As a still camera, the Hero2 is a well thought out, auto-mode point and shoot, offering minimal setting options for photographers. However, the lack of a pure manual mode shouldn’t dissuade a creative photographer from seriously considering adding one of these amazing cameras to their image-creating arsenal. While designed primarily for shooting video of action sports, put all of the HD Hero2 capabilities into the hands of an innovative professional photographer, and opportunities to capture amazing, dynamic images are sure to follow.

Continue reading "GoPro HD Hero2: Compact Problem Solver" »

September 18, 2012

Hands-on Preview: Nikon D600

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.

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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

Continue reading "Hands-on Preview: Nikon D600" »

Entry to Fun: Lensbaby Spark

By Marianne Drenthe

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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.

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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.

Continue reading "Entry to Fun: Lensbaby Spark" »

September 12, 2012

Testimonial: Say Goodbye to Neck Pain with SpiderPro Camera Holster

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. 

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Securely screwed onto this plate is the stainless steel pin that slides into the SpiderPro holster. 

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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!

Continue reading "Testimonial: Say Goodbye to Neck Pain with SpiderPro Camera Holster" »

September 11, 2012

Cinema and DSLR Comparison: Canon EOS C300 vs. 5D Mark III

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).

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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.

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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).

Continue reading "Cinema and DSLR Comparison: Canon EOS C300 vs. 5D Mark III " »

September 10, 2012

Review: Nikon Speedlight Handbook

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By Allison Earnest

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.

August 15, 2012

Photoshop CS6: Content Aware Move and Patch Tools

By Marianne Drenthe 

Content Aware, introduced with Photoshop CS4, is considered one of the best tools for editing within Photoshop. In CS6 Adobe has updated the algorithm for Content Aware, has added Content Aware technology to the Patch tool, and has added the Content Aware Move tool to the Healing Toolset. In this tutorial we will explore each of these exciting new additions to the newest incarnation of Photoshop.

USING THE CONTENT AWARE MOVE TOOL

One of the cooler innovations in CS is the addition of the Content Aware (CA) Move tool. The CA Move tool allows you to reposition and recompose a part of an image faster and easier than ever before. You can use it for actions that used to require selecting, masking, and advanced compositing—all by simply selecting the image and moving it to another portion of the photo. Content Aware does the rest by filling in the background of the image automatically, the end result is a change in composition of the image. Let’s take a closer look.

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In this image the woman and baby are composed in the center of the image in front of a large window, I don’t necessarily love this composition, so let’s make a selection around them and move her to the left hand side of this photo.

1. I first selected the area around the subjects with the Lasso tool set at 15-pixel feather. I loosely encircled her to allow a little background into the selection. Sometimes the CA Move tool likes to take out parts of the subject, so creating a loose lasso works very well in images where moving the subject on the same sort of background is what you intend to do. 

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2. I selected the CA Move tool from the Healing Tool subset (you can also access it by using Shift+J until the tool icon looks like two arrows overlayed like an X). 
3. In the Options Bar at the top of the screen I selected the Move mode and set Adaptation to Strict. Adaptation determines how well the moved object adjusts to its new background.
4. I moveed the selected object to its new place on the image.

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5. After Photoshop finalized the move I selected the part of the image that was previously above my subjects’ heads by loosely lassoing that area and went ahead and cloned the area, choosing white background with the Clone tool. 

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While the immediate results from using the Content Aware tool are not completely perfect, they are great starting point to finish out edits for most photographs.

Continue reading "Photoshop CS6: Content Aware Move and Patch Tools" »

August 14, 2012

Brilliantly Vintage Yet Perfectly Modern: The Modern Hard Case

By Robyn L. Pollman

The Modern Hard Case by drop it Modern is a vintage-inspired bag that was thoughtfully engineered to create the perfect combination of quality and security for your camera. The exterior is constructed of genuine leather. The interior features a rich, thick corduroy lining to protect your gear.

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©Robyn L. Pollman

The Modern Hard Case comes standard with well-designed features, such as an adjustable waist strap and customized pockets.

This bag is designed with:
• 100% Handcrafted leather in brown or black
• Solid metal hardware
• Room for a camera body, two or more lenses, and accessories
• iPad & iPhone pockets built in
• Three Removable dividers
• Top flap gives easy access to memory cards, batteries, and lens caps
• Metal push-button clasp for easy opening & closing
• Adjustable messenger strap with leather shoulder pad for added comfort

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©Robyn L. Pollman

My favorite feature: No more fumbling and digging around in your camera bag for extra batteries, flash cards, and lens caps—this bag has secure slots for each of these in the top flap.

What’s shown in the bag:
• Nikon D700 body with grip
• Nikon 50mm f/1.4G
• Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G ED
• Nikon SB-800
• Apple iPad2
• Speck iPad2 FitFolio Cover
• HTC Evo Shift 4G phone
• Abie Designs camera strap
• Wallet-size WhiBal card
• CompactFlash Cards

The rules for my bag-tests are simple. I select camera and electronic equipment I own and use frequently both for personal and professional photography. With the exception of laptop and iPad pockets, I do not fill any exterior or interior pockets with additional items. I only fill each bag's interior compartment. In order to create additional storage space (exactly how I would carry the bag and contents for personal use), I do not always use all of the removable protective padding included with each bag.

Everything shown photographed in the "what fits" images has to not only fit inside the bag, but also allow the zipper or snap on the bag to close, and the bag has to remain closed when worn on my shoulder.

Measures in inches: 12.5 W x 9 H x 6.5 D
Messenger strap: 34 to 58 inches
Waist strap: 30 to 44 inches

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©Robyn L. Pollman

July 11, 2012

Improve Your Precision with LensAlign MkII

By Ellis Vener

It’s no secret that working professionals need to make sure that the tools of the craft work together smoothly and reliably. It is also true that just because high quality cameras and high quality lenses cost a lot, it doesn’t mean they will work together perfectly straight out of the box. Cinematographers and camerafolk in the broadcast industry, and some still photographers, have known this for decades.

While most of us still photographers are not able to cherry pick our lenses—trying several examples of the same lens to find the best one— and fewer go to the expense and trouble of having the optics in their lenses centered and collimated. Even if you do that does not ensure that the lens will then perfectly match an individual camera body. What is needed is a system for fine-tuning the autofocus system for individual lenses to eliminate the computational errors that result in front focusing or back focusing. Fortunately nearly all mid-range and high-end cameras introduced since 2007 have this. All that is needed is a method for testing and a target.

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Outside of making one yourself, there are a couple of kits available to make the AF fine-tuning process easy, but the most venerable is the LensAlign from Michael Tapes Design. The original LensAlign PRO (ppmag.com review) and LensAlign Lite have now been replaced by the LensAlign MkII and MkII Plus. The difference between the standard MkII and the MkII Plus models is the size of the focusing target and the length of the ruler, with the larger target and longer ruler of the Plus model designed for use with 300mm and longer telephoto lenses. The long ruler and target of the Plus can be purchased separately and used with the basic MkII.

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Continue reading "Improve Your Precision with LensAlign MkII" »

July 10, 2012

New Ilford Papers and a Special Free Print Offer

SPECIAL, LIMITED TIME OFFER: ILFORD is once again partnering with Canon U.S.A Inc for the Try My Photo program, where participants can receive a free print of one of their images on ILFORD GALERIE Prestige Smooth Gloss 310 gsm or Smooth Pearl 310 gsm papers. Each print comes with detailed information about how the image was printed, making it easy for the photographer to replicate and achieve the same results with their home printer. Interested parties can register online at www.TryMyPhoto.com. The program runs from June 17- September 30, 2012.

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Those of us who have been printing our own work for a while recognize Ilford as one of the first paper companies to really embrace the inkjet market. Their Smooth Pearl and Smooth Gloss papers have been staples for inkjet enthusiasts for years, with solid performance and sensible pricing. More recently their top of the line professional papers such as their Galerie Prestige Gold Fibre Silk have really turned heads. Adding to this line of elite papers, Ilford has introduced the Galerie Prestige Smooth Gloss and Galerie Prestige Smooth Pearl papers. Intended to replace the current line of Smooth Gloss and Smooth Pearl papers, these new papers are 2012 TIPA (Technical Image Press Association) award winners for Best Fine Art Inkjet Papers.

I recently received samples of these papers and they perform beautifully on our Epson R3000 and Stylus Photo Pro 4900 printers. The weighty 310 gsm papers feel substantial and are a pleasure to work with. The surfaces of these papers show gorgeous detail and a very deep DMAX. Color reproduction is spot on with the supplied ICC profiles. Ilford has really done a fine job with these new papers.

Learn more about Ilford papers. 

—Mark Levesque, Studio Mark Emile

June 11, 2012

Nikon D800: A Filmmaker's DSLR

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By J.R. Hughto

Not since the release of the D90 in August 2008 has a Nikon DSLR camera hit the market with outstanding video capability. The D90 was the first DSLR to record in high definition, but it was eclipsed almost immediately by Canon’s release of the 5D Mark II, which has dominated the video DSLR market. Now Nikon introduces the D800, a camera that not only matches the performance of Canon’s new 5D Mark III but in some ways surpasses it.

For still photographers, the D800’s 36.3- megapixel FX-format sensor is the party piece. Its high resolution translates into incredible sharpness; great news for videographers, this resolution does not go to waste. Even when video is recorded internally in the camera’s h.264 format, the capture’s sharpness is high while the moiré is slight. The major leap in resolution hasn’t hurt the signal-to-noise ratio at high ISO settings. Video quality is quite good up to ISO 3200—which isn’t even blazingly fast compared to the camera’s maximum ISO of 25,600—remarkable for a camera with such high resolution.

SEE NIKON'S OFFICIAL VIDEO

The most powerful new feature for video—and unmatched in its price class—is the D800’s ability to stream uncompressed 8-bit, 4:2:2 progressive video from its mini-HDMI port without overlays of any kind. This allows recording to an external device for as long as the batteries last. I used a Sound Devices PIX 240 video recorder with the camera. Setting it up was a straightforward, three-step process: remove the memory card from the D800 (which triggers progressive output over HDMI), set the camera to automatic output in 1080p24 mode, and set the PIX 240 record ing mode to Same As Video Input (to record whatever frame rate and raster it detected). The only drawback of external recording is that the camera cannot record internally and externally synchronously. When recording internally, the HDMI tap automatically down-converts to 720p60. Though the difference in quality between internal h.264 and external ProRes HQ is immediate and obvious, the h.264 implementation is quite good considering the compression.

Continue reading "Nikon D800: A Filmmaker's DSLR" »

Explore Metal Print Potential

By Mark Levesque, CPP, M. Photog., Cr

Metal prints are real head-turners. Seriously, we're talking high impact. In an industry where differentiation is critical, metal prints provide photographers with a product that is new, different, and not yet available to the masses of new camera owners. It’s as close to a leg up as can be expected in the current state of the industry, and photographers would be wise to consider metal prints as part of their product offering.

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The metal prints product round up in May's Professional Photographer magazine showed the wealth of choices in this product space. From regular rectangular panels to custom shapes, to multi-panel murals and ornaments, there are plenty of options to fit with your existing product line. 

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A ChromaLuxe white-base, custom shape metal print.

Metal panels are created using a dye-sublimation process. A print is made using dye-sublimation inks on a sheet of transfer paper, which is then placed on an aluminum panel that has been coated with a special polymer. A heat press is used to apply pressure at about 400 degrees Fahrenheit, which causes the ink particles to sublimate from a solid to a gas, which then bond with the polymer molecules. This process causes the dye particles to be embedded in the polymer coating, with the dual benefits of color fastness and surface durability. The risk of scratches marring the surface is minimal; the hard shell polymer coating is quite resistant to abrasion.

Most of the labs that offer metal prints are using ChromaLuxe’s dye-sublimation technology. The lab is supplied with a recipe for creating the panels, as well as the coated aluminum panels themselves. Each lab tweaks the recipe to become the lab’s own, so there may be subtle differences in the product appearance even though the raw materials are coming from the same place. It is a good idea to order some samples from your lab to ensure that you know that your lab’s implementation of the dye-sublimation procedure suits your style, and also so you are familiar with the various finishes.

Continue reading "Explore Metal Print Potential" »

May 21, 2012

In Pursuit of the Perfect Print

While a photographer’s skill and talent are fundamental to the artistic value of a photo, Douglas Dubler believes that printing is the final and most important part of the art of photography.

“The end result of the cycle of inspiration, execution and observation is the print. I go through all the trouble with the capture to get to the print; it’s a means to an end, and the end is the print,” he says. “When it comes to printing, the key to perfection lies in calibration and profiling.”

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Dubler is an award-winning fashion, beauty and fine art photographer. Over the last 40 years, his pictures have captured some of the most famous names in the world for countless magazine covers and cosmetic ads. His training in fine and liberal arts gave him an attuned sense of form, color, and composition. His early experience as a plastic sculptor and silk screen artist instilled the dedication to detail and craft that appears in his photography.

For years, Dubler has used X-Rite color management solutions, most recently the new i1Publish Pro 2, which includes the next generation i1Pro 2 handheld spectrophotometer and the latest release of i1Profiler software.

“Your final print is really only as good as the paper profile you use to print it,” says Dubler. One of the i1Profiler features he appreciates most is its ability to compensate for the use of optical brightening agents (OBAs), using X-Rite’s incorporated Optical Brightener Compensation (OBC) technology together with either his i1iSis or the i1Pro 2 spectrophotometer. “i1iSis has long been my instrument of choice, but with the new i1Pro 2 spectrophotometer, I’m amazed at the high-quality results from this incredibly versatile device,” he says.

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© Douglas Dubler

Continue reading "In Pursuit of the Perfect Print" »

Easy Transmitting and Remote Firing with MicroSync II Digital

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

If you've been in search of a compact wireless transmission system that fires your camera or strobes, then you may want to consider MicroSync Digital products. I was initially drawn to them because of the small size of the transmitter; it is just a little bigger than my thumb.

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The transmitter has an LCD screen that displays the channel you're on and the battery level. There is a button next to the LCD screen that you can use to manually fire strobes (or the DSLR). On the flip side, there is an LED light (visible in image below) that flashes when in use. The transmitter also has an input for a sync cord if you'd like to connect to your DSLR that way, rather than using the hot shoe attachment. This unit comes pre-installed with a watch battery (CR2032); according to my user manual the battery should last approximately three years.

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The receiver is larger than the transmitter, but still fit (mostly) in the palm of my hand. It also features an LCD screen and LED light; there is a receiver output and several strobe sync plugs that can be swapped out for compatibility with most lights (mono plug, mini plug, two prong plug). Each receiver takes two AA batteries; these won't last as long as the transmitter's battery, but should be good for about a year.

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Receiver plugged into mono plug on a strobe unit (Strobe firing)

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Receiver connected to DSLR via cable release cord (DSLR remote firing)

Continue reading "Easy Transmitting and Remote Firing with MicroSync II Digital " »

May 16, 2012

Portfolio Pro Improves Integration for iPad

By Curtis Joe Walker

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Portfolio Pro ($9.99) is a new app for creating a digital portfolio on the iPad, introducing Flickr and Dropbox integration as a welcome addition to the genre. Last year, we reviewed MediaPad Pro, and while we still like that app, Portfolio Pro greatly simplifies the process of populating and updating portfolios. It opens many new possibilities for photographers, and people in other fields as well, due to its ease of use.

The ease of use comes from integration with the Flickr and Dropbox APIs, allowing users to pull images directly from either of these cloud services into their portfolio. For photographers who have galleries already on Flickr, they can be imported on a set by set basis, speeding up the population of the app, using organization that many photographers already have in place.

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Using Dropbox is similarly easy, and will work well for people who don’t want to use Flickr. Both services offer a free subscription level. Adding a step to your workflow that involves sending portfolio-worthy shots to either service directly from Lightroom or Aperture yields the benefit of having remote access to your best shots at any time, and the ability to tweak content during downtime.

The app also works beautifully in conjunction with images stored directly on the iPad. For photographers whose favorite online image services haven’t been linked to, it’s still possible to pull selections from them with the browser. The same holds true for photographers who want to pull images directly from their own site. For those using the iPad’s Camera Connection kit, it’s possible to upload images directly from the camera to the device and then into the app.

Continue reading "Portfolio Pro Improves Integration for iPad" »

April 18, 2012

Reliability Boost: Nikon SB-910 AF Speedlight

By Stan Sholik

From the incremental increase in product number and price, it is clear that there are no big changes in the Nikon SB-910 AF Speedlight from its predecessor, the SB-900. But the small changes make the SB-910 a worthy successor to the venerable SB-900.

Having personally experienced unexpected thermal shutdown of my SB-900s under conditions where my SB-800s were able to function, I appreciate the tweaks that Nikon made to the thermal sensor system. With the SB-910 there no longer is total shutdown until temperature levels decrease. Rather, recycle times decrease, allowing you to keep on shooting, just not at motor drive speeds, or so I’m told. While I tried to overstress the SB-910, I wasn’t successful. I think it would require higher ambient temperatures and humidity than the conditions I could test in, along with rapid firing. Wedding, sport and other photographers no longer need to fear their Nikon flash shutting down at an inopportune moment.

Thermal control didn’t come at the expense of flash function. Flash output of the SB-910 is identical to my SB-900s. This indicates that the SB-910 is using the same internal components for the flash system. TTL exposure accuracy is as good as ever, and repeated photos of the same subject still yields identical exposures.

Recycle time isn’t affected by the new thermal sensor system either. If anything, recycle time seems less with the SB-910, particularly at full power.

There are some tweaks to the shape of the flash body, but my RadioPopper radio slaves still align properly, so the changes are minor. And the PocketWizard ControlTL system interfaces properly also.

Nikon nailed the ergonomics and menu system on the SB-900, so there was little that needed improvement, but Nikon found a few things. The buttons on the back are now larger, and the three selection buttons below the display are backlit to ease operation in the dark. The Zoom button on the SB-900 is replaced with a Menu button to allow easier access to the menus.

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©Stan Sholik

Externally, the SB-910 (left) is nearly identical to the SB-900 (right). Minor changes in the buttons below the LCD improve on the already excellent ergonomics. The menus on the SB-910 have been slightly revised also, and the brightness of the LCD has been greatly improved.

Continue reading "Reliability Boost: Nikon SB-910 AF Speedlight" »

April 6, 2012

Air Display Turns an iPad into a Second Monitor

By Curtis Joe Walker

Air Display by Avatron Software ($9.99) is an app available for both iOS and Android that turns a tablet or smartphone into a wireless touch display for Windows and Mac. Other versions can turn computers (such as an iMac, or an otherwise useless old laptop) into a wireless secondary display as well.

airdisplay_we0412.jpgWireless linking means there's a bit of a delay in the mouse movements. Using Air Display as a primary screen while editing photos is not the purpose of the software. Rather, it allows a mobile user to eke out a bit more desktop from their laptop screen for parking toolbars and other essential clutter. It allows a desktop user to actually walk around the house with a screen backed by a full-powered computer in the den, driven by a virtual keyboard and a touch interface.

While the device is in use, jumping between other iOS apps will cause the connection to the desktop app to be interrupted, however Pandora can still play in the background, thankfully offloaded from the precious CPU cycles of the main computer. Accessing basic functionality through the 4-finger-swipe method will not interrupt the connection, and many iPad functions are unobtrusively maintained.

The software may not revolutionize one's workflow, but it gives a very powerful and useful capability to something otherwise likely to be sitting unused on a desk for part of the day.

Bonus: When used in conjunction with an Apple TV ($99), an iPad can wirelessly mirror itself onto a big screen TV or projector, effectively turning any HDTV into a wireless computer monitor.

Geek Bonus: Users itching to try out cutting edge operating system touch interfaces as they are being developed in Windows 8 and Mac OS 10.7 will now have an inexpensive means of testing out OS-level touch interface integrations using a tablet they may already have lying around.

iOS - http://itunes.apple.com/app/air-display/id368158927?ign-mpt=uo%3D6&mt=8
Android - https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.avatron.airdisplay

March 8, 2012

Best of Bags Guide: Pompidoo Cologne Bag and Shootsac Tote & Shoot

By Robyn L. Pollman
All Images © Robyn Pollman

The December 2011 issue featured several camera bags and the gear that fit inside them.  Web Exclusives had an accompanying online article with several more bags.

Now we feature two more bags by Pompidoo Camera Bags and Shootsac.

The rules for my bag-tests were simple. I selected camera and electronic equipment I owned and used frequently both for personal and professional photography.  With the exception laptop pockets, I did not fill any exterior or interior pockets with additional items. I only filled each bag's interior compartment. In order to create additional storage space (exactly how I would carry the bag and contents for personal use), I did not always use all of the removable protective padding included with each bag.

Everything shown photographed in the "what fits" image had to not only fit inside the bag, but also allow the zipper on the bag to close – and each bag had to remain closed and stay closed when worn on my shoulder.

POMPIDOO Cologne Bag shown in Idle Turquoise - $323

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Pompidoo is a new brand that uses natural leather and well thought-out form in a combination of contemporary design and functionality.

Inside, the Cologne Bag is separated into two compartments—one side for photo equipment with three removable padded dividers, and the other side for personal items and accessories.The bag also includes an interior zippered pocket for mobile phones.

My favorite feature: The color choices for the Cologne Bag line—they offer this style in virtually every color in the rainbow.

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The Cologne Bag is made of genuine leather. The bag stands upright on its own and features a padded interior with two external zippered pockets.

Held:
Nikon D700 body with grip
Nikon 85mm f/1.4D
Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G ED
Nikon SB-600
Abie Designs camera strap

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Measures: 45cm wide x 35cm high x 18cm deep

pompidoo.com

 

SHOOTSAC Tote & Shoot shown in Red - $229.00

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The Shootsac Tote & Shoot by Jessica Claire is a fully-padded tote bag. It features a side-loading camera pocket for access to a camera with full-size lens attached from an outside pocket, ready to shoot. This leaves the main compartment of the bag free for an extra lens, a Shootsac Lens Bag, or other personal items.

My favorite feature: It would be hard to choose between the camera pocket (I've never seen anything like it!) and the back zippered-pocket that can hold an iPad, or be unzipped from the bottom to slip over the handle of a roller carry-on.

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The Tote & Shoot is made from a polymer surface that resists stains, abrasion and germs with antimicrobial properties. Environmentally speaking, the material is PVC-free and contains no heavy metals, latex or other harmful ingredients. It is also water repellent and remains supple in any weather- it does not get stiff in the cold or soft in the heat. 

Held:
Nikon D700 body with grip
Nikon 50mm f/1.4G
Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G ED
Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8D
Nikon SB-600
Apple 15" MacBook Pro
Speck SeeThru Case for MacBook Pro
Abie Designs camera strap

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Measures: 17" wide x 13.5" high x 6.5" deep

shootsac.com

CameraBag 2: A Fab App Goes Desktop

By Marianne Drenthe

A few years ago I purchased my first ever iPhone phone editing app, and it happened to be the original CameraBag. At the time it felt completely revolutionary and simple to select an image from my photo library, run it through the app and end up with a completely edited image; to me it was simply amazing! This was the dawn of the iPhone camera apps, and the concept was different than what I (let's face it, all of us) was used to. Over the years, phone camera apps have come a very long way, and they seem to be getting better with each passing release.
   
Nevercenter, the creators of CameraBag, have created another revolution for photo editing, but this time for processing images on your computer. CameraBag 2 is an endlessly customizable, simple, cost-effective way to process images outside of the usual editing environment (for me – Photoshop CS3). I liked the program enough to envision using CameraBag 2 time after time to create fun processes with all my unedited point-and-shoot images, and even occasionally for use in customizing personal images taken with my DSLR. 
   
Enough raving about CameraBag 2, the real question is, "What can it do?" Short answer? A lot! It can do a lot!

COLOR CORRECT

camerabag_colorcorrected_1.jpgWe all have them (you know you do, too): Those images in which the white balance is less than perfect. What many photographers do is mask that unbalanced color with another color via a “vintage” process. I admit that’s tempting, but I like to work with a more balanced image before doing crazy processing techniques to it. CameraBag 2 has the ability to color correct any image right inside the app itself. Take for example this image (left), noisy, underexposed with ambient tungsten lighting from a table lamp over 10 feet away, it’s a fun image taken with my Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II and my Lensbaby. I did a quick color correct to just make the image less orange (below).  It was a quick fix with the Color Corrector tool under CameraBag 2's Adjust tab. The curve was pulled below the midline to correct for the orange color. I pulled the orange out from the shadows and midtones. Pulling the points below the horizontal set line desaturates your chosen color out of the image. The left-hand point on the line indicates shadows, the right point highlights. This is a quick way to do an overall color correct, and it's very effective in getting out whatever heavy cast you want.
 

 

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STYLES MENU
For this before shot I’m using a quick point-and-shoot image shot with my Canon S95. It’s an image of my daughter before an annual father-daughter dance with an ’80s theme (below). I wanted to find my favorite variation in the Styles menu, CameraBag 2’s base styles, which you can create and add additional variations to. It’s easy to determine what style looks best; the options pop up when you hit the Quicklook Button above the Styles options (below). Here you can preview all the options from CameraBag’s base styles.

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After selecting the look you want from the Quicklook options, you can click on the Adjust tab to adjust colors individually. Initially, I picked the 1983 style, but I didn't like the green cast (below), so I ended up choosing the Helga filter and adding a custom border.

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Continue reading "CameraBag 2: A Fab App Goes Desktop" »

The Top 5 Social Websites for Photographers

By Curtis Walker

Being a photographer means being a visual communicator, and the Internet is finally catching up to us. We’re now able to casually post a shot during free time, connect with friends, and keep a fresh set of photos where the greatest number of people are likely to find them, all the while providing a source of entertainment and inspiration that doesn’t infringe on the viewers’ usual activities or feel like a sales message. It's also wise to overlay your logo and copyright to any images that can be reshared so that you continue to get credit for it as it spreads to more pairs of eyes.

The best improvements in efficiency come from sites and services that integrate with the services we already find indispensable, Twitter and Facebook chief amongst them.

1. Instagram — This iOS-only "visual Twitter" streamlines the act of photography, editing and sharing into a single app. Using an iPhone as a camera is kind of cheating, but it has honed my craft as a photographer, while letting me follow some of my favorite photographers and their snapshots. Some people prefer to keep their aesthetic pure by posting only photos taken with other cameras. If posting photos to Twitter is already part of your regimen, filtering the flow through Instagram will enhance the experience and promote sharing to a plethora of other sites. Note: An Android version was announced at the end of 2010, but has yet to materialize.

How I use Instagram: On a daily basis. I dedicate myself to posting the most interesting thing in front of me at any given moment. Sometimes it’s old work, sometimes a picture of my food (what better way to share lunch suggestions?!). I can then turn on the geotagging feature, allowing me to check into Foursquare. I can also set the post to forward to Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Flickr and so forth. I feed different content to different networks. Portfolio work goes on Tumblr, which has its own feed to Twitter. If I recycle an old image from my vast archive on Flickr, I might want to turn off posting to Flickr. On the other hand, I may want to shuffle something old to the top of the deck and see who responds.

Bonus Add-on Service: Statigr.am. This service builds detailed reports about Instagram activity and allows full interface with Instagram content. It even makes suggestions about the best time to post images, based on previous interactions. The iPhone app remains the sole way to post content, however.

2. Pinterest — This visual smorgasbord is the mature descendant of the lowly bookmark, and the visual equivalent of Facebook's Like button. Using it as a means of organizing and cataloging content from across the Web, users "pin" sites of their choice, and select the image of interest. These pins are organized by user-defined categories, such as "cool wedding photos" or "props." Photographers can pin photos from their own site as well, adding their work to the conversation and exposing their portfolio to new eyes.

Currently, Pinterest is invitation only, but getting an invitation is usually as easy as asking for one from a contact already on the site.

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Continue reading "The Top 5 Social Websites for Photographers" »

February 10, 2012

Speed, Improved Interface Come to HDR Expose 2

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By Stan Sholik

If you are interested in high dynamic range (HDR) imaging, you have likely investigated and purchased a number of HDR programs. If one of those programs was HDR Expose from Unified Color Technologies, you probably liked the very realistic results it created, but were put off by its lack of speed as the entire image recalculated each time an adjustment was made.

With a completely reengineered architecture, performance is significantly improved in HDR Expose 2. It sports a revised interface, additional presets and new tools. If you are looking for another option to create realistic HDR images, HDR Expose 2 may be what you are searching for.

The speed increase doesn't come from applying adjustments to a low resolution image. HDR Expose 2 applies the changes to the full resolution tone mapped image that is one of the sharpest images you will find in an HDR program. While Unified Color says that adjustments are applied in "real time," the image does not adjust as you move the adjustment sliders, which is what I consider "real-time." While viewing the changes as you move the sliders would be most useful, adjustments are applied instantaneously as soon as you release the mouse from the slider. Performance is excellent.

The interface changes are also welcome. The workflow now proceeds logically from the top of the tools palette on the right of the interface to the bottom. At the very top of the tools palette is the Brightness Histogram. This shows the entire luminance range of the HDR image with a light gray section showing the tones in the histogram that will be reproduced on a monitor or in an 8- or 16-bit image. As you make adjustments to the image, the changes are updated in the histogram display. The histogram even includes tools to show highlight and shadow clipping. Histograms in other HDR programs are poor guides to follow, but I found the HDR Expose 2 Brightness Histogram to be quite useful and accurate.

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The initial screen when HDR Expose 2 is opened as a standalone application to create an HDR image from a single image sequence. When the application is opened from Lightroom or Aperture, the upper menu bar does not appear. The available options are chosen from a Preferences panel.

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After adding the image sequence to the opening screen, thumbnails of the images are shown along with ghost reduction and alignment options. A box in the lower right displays a histogram of any image you have selected. This is a nice way to ensure that you have enough images, but not too many, to create a good HDR image.

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Once HDR Expose 2 creates the HDR image, you have the option of applying one of the presets to start the adjustment process. Each preset automatically tone maps the image to the 8-bit color space for display in its own way. A Brightness Histogram shows the full dynamic range of the HDR image with a gray rectangle displaying the tonal range in the tone mapped image. The Brightness Histogram can also display the highlight and shadow overlays shown here.

Twelve presets are included, and the preset thumbnails display the image that you have opened. There isn't a wide variation among the six color presets or among the five monochrome presets. All give a realistic rendering to the scene. The final color preset, Grunge, cranks up the local contrast to the max and sets this preset off from all of the others. But if you're after grunge HDR images, this is not the best program for you. The local (micro) contrast control has less range than many other HDR programs, limiting your ability to "grunge" your images. There is also an option to turn off the local contrast control all together.

If you come up with a combination of adjustments that you like, you have the ability to create your own presets. They are added to the end of the thumbnail list.

Some of the new tools remove controls, while others add controls. There's no longer a halo reduction tool. That function is handled automatically in HDR Expose 2 and works well. You can now choose automatic tone mapping, but there are controls for Exposure, Highlights and Shadows if you choose to perform manual tone mapping.

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The automatic halo reduction works well, with only the slightest halos showing in these areas of high contrast.

Two new tools, Dodge and Burn, allow you to brush on or remove exposure to the image. The brush size is limited to 100 pixels, so it takes a while to burn in a large area of sky. But few other HDR programs even offer this degree of control.

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HDR Expose 2 includes Dodge and Burn brushes for making very local tonal changes. I began using the dodge brush to lighten the trunks of the palm trees, and then decided I like them better dark.

Continue reading "Speed, Improved Interface Come to HDR Expose 2" »

February 9, 2012

Making Large Format Photo Negatives from Digital Images

By David Saffir

Until recently, our main options in photographic printing lived in two worlds—analog and digital. It didn’t seem possible that we’d ever have an option that would let photographers easily move back and forth between them. HP has introduced a solution that extends a bridge between those worlds, one that lets us print our digital images using traditional, darkroom-based silver halide/silver gelatin process. HP calls this the Large Format Photo Negative solution.

It all begins with a digital image. This can be created using a digital camera, or a scan. This digital image can be edited and manipulated in Photoshop or similar application. This original image can start in color or black and white.

To create the negative, you load an HP Designjet Z3200 printer with a transparent or translucent inkjet film manufactured for this purpose. Companies like HP, Pictorico and others manufacture this material. It's readily available; I purchased a roll of the Pictorico material at Freestyle Photographic Supplies in Los Angeles. It's also available at online retailers like B&H Photo and Adorama.

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©David Saffir

This image shows the film coming off the printer. I placed a white background underneath the film to help visualization. 

Additionally, HP has created special printing pre-sets that are used through the normal printer driver. Install these on your host computer before the next step.

in Photoshop, create a simple adjustment layer that alters the tone curve of the image, which will optimize the negative for darkroom printing. The positive image is inverted and reversed to a negative, and sent to the printer.

The result is a black-and-white negative printed on the transparent film, which can be used in a conventional darkroom workflow. A contact printing frame is used to "sandwich" the large-format negative and printing paper, and standard chemistry can be used. Any color balanced light source can be used, although I recommend using a color enlarger with a lens and dichroic head.

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©Tony Zinnanti

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©David Saffir

Continue reading "Making Large Format Photo Negatives from Digital Images" »

February 8, 2012

Faster, Natural Retouching with Beauty Bar Pro for Photoshop

By Betsy Finn, Cr.Photog., CPP

Beauty Bar Pro is all about flexibility; the action set runs within Photoshop, and is designed to be an asset to your current workflow. I've never been a fan of image retouching that turns skin to a smooth, plastic texture (or lack thereof). And, I do prefer to individually retouch the images that my clients order. So, the Beauty Bar set from Craig's Actions fits perfectly into my retouching workflow. And chances are, it will fit into your workflow as well. Why? Because you are in control of how much retouching is done. If your retouching is more heavy-handed than mine, Beauty Bar Pro can accommodate your personal preference too. Because Beauty Bar is a set of Photoshop actions, you can tweak them to run the way you want.

This first example is of a typical problem for senior portrait clients—retouching acne. Using Beauty Bar, you can make quick work of even the most thorough retouch. Now, every software/workflow solution has a learning curve. And since I wanted to make sure to get things right, I asked developer Craig Minielly how he would use his action set to retouch this image:

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To achieve the most pleasing result (below), Minielly ran Blemish Buster, one of the actions in the Beauty Bar set, twice. The first time he focused on finer settings, removing smaller blemishes (setting: 22/6), and the second time on larger blemishes (setting: 45/10). He also recommended a quick pass with the Blush Less action, and finally enhancing the image with the Beauty Bar Pro Custom Action (to match skin tone and texture). In my first attempt at using Beauty Bar, I didn't achieve these results nearly as quickly as Minielly—his total retouch time for the entire portrait? Three minutes. If I was more accustomed to using them, I do think I could achieve some very efficient editing times per image.

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Just as a comparison, here's the same image, retouched using Portraiture. Personally, I think Beauty Bar did a better job preserving details while still removing the blemishes.

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Continue reading "Faster, Natural Retouching with Beauty Bar Pro for Photoshop" »

January 12, 2012

Wrap Your Mind Around Warp: Adobe After Effects CS5.5 Warp Stabilization

By Jack Reznicki

Mid-number software upgrades rarely impress me. When Adobe’s Creative Suite had an inter-number upgrade, from 5.0 to 5.5, I was expecting just the usual bug fixes and minor adjustments. But buried in After Effects is a real “WOW!!” feature I would expect in a whole-point release. This new feature should really amaze and wow video shooters and the vast army of still shooters venturing into the video realm. The name for this feature, Warp Stabilization sounds like a feature you’d hear in an old Star Trek episode. “Captain, the Wrap Stabilization has seized up! She can't hold on much longer!”

Warp Stabilization is just Adobe’s name for a feature that takes shaky video footage and, well, stabilizes it to look like you used a Steadicam or shot the scene with your camera mounted on a dolly. It really doesn’t sound like much until you see it in action. Then your jaw drops. To me this feature alone is worth the total price of After Effects. The first video here is the raw footage, and the video embedded below it is the stabilized version.

What really blows my mind is not just what it does, which is amazing and magical, but the fact that it’s so automatic and simple. It’s drag and drop. There have been ways to stabilize shaky sequences before, but you had to know what you were doing, you had to find a fixed point, play with the parameters, input numbers. It took a lot of time, skill and praying. With CS 5.5, you drag and drop Warp Stabilization adjustment into the video sequence and After Effects does it all in a shockingly easy and fast way. No entering numbers, moving sliders, or looking up complex steps in the manual. It analyzes the footage on its own, and then processes the clip in the computer’s background, so you can continue working on something else, like more photo editing, web surfing, or solitaire. No waiting for spinning beach balls or slow status bars.

While it’s at it, fixing your shaky take behind the curtain, it also fixes another inherent problem prevalent with DSLR footage—the cursed rolling shutter artifacts. 

Continue reading "Wrap Your Mind Around Warp: Adobe After Effects CS5.5 Warp Stabilization" »

Two Bags to Gear Up and Go: Chrome Niko and Lowepro Pro Messenger 180 AW

By Joan Sherwood

I prefer camera bags designed for a moderate amount gear that you can carry and maneuver around with without knocking lamps off the furniture every time you turn around. The Lowepro Pro Messenger 180 AW and the Chrome Niko fit that bill, and provide a lot of features that are important when you want to travel or explore a city while carrying lean, and when you have a shoot that doesn't require a suitcase full of gear. My big requirements are comfort, security and light weight.

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At first glance, I thought the Chrome Niko was going to be one of those bags that only guys and chicly flat-chested women could wear comfortably, and that it would never even look right on me, but I was wrong. I found out that by lengthening the seat-belt style sling strap, it hangs rather nicely. Much better than other sling bag styles I’ve tried. It sits comfortably, low on my back, with the padded section of the strap hanging across my shoulder where it should, and the metal buckle components falling just below my clavicle. It weighs 2.3 pounds, compared to the Lowepro’s 3.4 pounds, and it feels like half of that is in the buckle. For security, the Niko has buckles that cross over the main zipper to foil theft while you’re wearing it in crowded spaces, and a waterproof main zipper to keep out rain, though it also makes it a little more difficult to unzip.

The Niko has the smaller capacity of the two. By my own measurement, the main compartment is 11x8x5. You could carry a DSLR with lens, an extra lens and a speedlight flash comfortably with no problem. The top compartment could hold an extra flash, water bottle, or modern necessities like a phone or backup drive. The top compartment is the only easy-access exterior pocket. There is a flat, water-protected pocket on the main interior for memory cards. The Velcro placement on the side straps makes them suitable for only the slimmest of tripods, better for holding a light rain jacket really.

The Niko construction is a bit stiff and the shell padding is formidable. It comes with the standard, Velcro-attach padded dividers that most camera bags have.

Continue reading "Two Bags to Gear Up and Go: Chrome Niko and Lowepro Pro Messenger 180 AW" »

January 9, 2012

Here's Sunshine Up Your Skirt! An excerpt from Joe McNally's "Sketching Light"

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Excerpted from “Sketching Light” by Joe McNally. Copyright © 2012. Used with permission of Pearson Education, Inc. and New Riders.

Read the Professional Photographer review of “Sketching Light”

Every once in a while, you try something on a wing and a prayer, and you get a picture that works. You gave it just about zero chance of success when you put the light out there, and then it’s so absurdly first-frame simple, you have one of those “coulda had a V8” moments back at the LCD. Which, of course, you then try to cover up by assuming a knew-it-all-along look, a confident nod, and a quiet, murmured, “Think I’ll just shoot a few more of these.”

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I was on the main plaza in pre-dawn Venice, which is the only time of day that beautiful, historic place is not a sea of backpacks and a jumble of accents and languages. The sun was up and light was bounding out on the waterways, but I was struck by the cool, beautiful nature of the ancient arches, where open shade still ruled.

When trying to work simply and influence a scene with just one small flash, open shade can be your best friend. You don’t have to stress the light by fighting the high, hard sun, and the muted tones introduce the possibility of effectively influencing the color palette of the scene without bringing in movie grip trucks.

This setup was, as I indicated above, crazy simple. I used the little plastic floor stand that comes with the SB-900, put a full CTO warming gel on the light, took off the dome diffuser, and zoomed the flash head to 200mm so the light spread would remain pretty tight, and placed it out there on the ancient stones of the plaza. The zoom feature helps in directing the light right to the dancer, and also keeping floor spill to a minimum. As worn as they are, the tiles on the plaza will pick up light and reflect it pretty well, so if your light is zoomed wide and splashes everywhere, you got a problem. Zooming the light tight sends it where it needs to go—to the dancer—and minimizes the telltale photon path on the floor. A hint of light works fine. A big, blown highlight is not okay. Nuking the floor is always a concern, obviously, when you actually place the light down there. I didn’t need to employ this tactic here, but a couple of simple swatches of gaffer tape on the floor side of the flash head, serving as cutters or flags, works really well, as shown here.

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I just happened to have a ballerina with me. I’d suggested dancers to the group I was shooting with, and it was a notion they embraced vigorously. Bringing a dancer onto the Plaza Venezia in dawn light is definitely stacking the deck in your favor, kinda like flying in a sure thing, but it’s a good thought when seeking subjects for flash portraits. It’s certainly better than wandering the streets hoping an ancient drunk with an interesting hat stumbles into a beautiful highlight. (Unless, of course, you’re street shooting and looking for happenstance. Different mission altogether.)

Continue reading "Here's Sunshine Up Your Skirt! An excerpt from Joe McNally's "Sketching Light"" »

January 4, 2012

Wacom Inkling Adds Flourish and Saves Time

By Betsy Finn

The Wacom Inkling is a real pen that captures your pen strokes on any paper. When you’re done drawing or writing, just plug the receiver into your computer, access the image, and edit as desired in Photoshop or other image-editing application. 

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The Wacom Inkling pen and receiver (clipped onto paper).

While it may have more appeal for graphic and illustration artists, I immediately thought of ways the Inkling could be used practically in a photographer's business, too. I could use it to take notes during client consultations, marking areas of a proof the client wants fixed or sketching notes for a wall collage, all of which could be stored digitally with the client's other information and image files. On the client side, I thought the Inkling would be a great tool for personalizing portraits. For instance, I could have my clients sign their name for their wallet-size portraits, or write a note to put into their wedding album. It all sounds good in theory. My next step was to put it into practice and see how well the Inkling would work for my ideas.

To begin, clip the receiver to your paper, and push the power button. Every time you clip/unclip the receiver, it starts a new drawing. There’s also a button on the receiver you can push to start a new layer while you are drawing. These layers are saved into the image and can be exported to Photoshop as layers. When you first turn on the receiver, it displays a red light that switches to green once the pen is active.

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Continue reading "Wacom Inkling Adds Flourish and Saves Time" »

December 20, 2011

Care and Repair for Your Equipment

What can you do when your camera fails? Pro manufacturers offer member services for repairs and loans.

By Theano Nikitas

Few professions are more equipment-dependent than photography. Yet regardless of how well you maintain your gear, things can go wrong. In addition to back-up equipment, you should carry the number of the nearest photo rental service. If you’re a professional photographer, there are some other solutions not only for emergencies, but for year-round peace of mind.

We spoke with three of the major camera manufacturers about their programs and services for full-time professionals. It might the perfect time to check them out. If you are a PPA member who has opted in to receive the $15,000 of equipment insurance from PhotoCare, that policy would serve as a secondary policy to these plans and could be used to assist with additional expenses related to covered losses.

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Image courtesy of Canon Professional Services

Canon USA

The recently revamped Canon Professional Services (CPS) is a three-tier program, beginning with a no-cost entry level. The program is now based on a point system that, according to CPS, is more pro-centered than the earlier program. Each piece of professional gear is assigned a number of CPS points, which cumulatively determine the photographer’s tier of coverage. Qualifying gear includes a long list of camera bodies, lenses, camcorders, flash, wireless transmitters, battery grips and the new PIXMA Pro 1 printer. Most of the EOS line of camera bodies qualify, from the EOS-1Ds Mark III (10 points) through and models such as the 60D (4 points) and older bodies. Lenses and extenders range from 2 to 16 points, with accessories like wireless transmitters at 1 to 2 points each. You’ll find the list of qualifying equipment on the CPS website, along with a list of products that qualify for repair.

Free membership at the Silver level requires 10 CPS points. Benefits include a CPS website profile and program info, CPS ID card and PIN, event support, 24/7 phone support via exclusive member hotline, and repair turnaround of three to five days.

Continue reading "Care and Repair for Your Equipment" »

December 2, 2011

Perfect Layers Is A Workflow Game Changer

By Stan Sholik

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Perfect Layers from onOne Software is destined to be as much of a workflow game-changer for photographers at all levels as Adobe Photoshop Lightroom has turned out to be. Installed as a stand-alone application or as a plug-in for Lightroom or Apple Aperture, Perfect Layers provides much of the layer and masking functionality for which Photoshop or Photoshop Elements was needed in the past.

I count myself among the many photographers who resisted using Lightroom when it was first released, and now I find myself using Lightroom for most of my editing and raw conversion. I have come to regret the times I must leave Lightroom and open Photoshop in order to blend in a better sky in a landscape photo or swap a head in a group shot. With Perfect Layers, these changes and many more are possible within Lightroom and Aperture, and within Perfect Layers itself when you open it as a stand-alone application.

While Perfect Layers performs many layer and masking functions, it is not a total replacement for Photoshop. Perfect Layers can’t create text layers, vector masks, layer styles (darn, no drop shadow), adjustment layers, paths, alpha channels, Smart Objects, layer groups or clipping paths. And if you created a file in Photoshop with any of these attributes and tried to open it in Perfect Layers, Perfect Layers opens a flattened copy of the file. Otherwise, Perfect Layers opens layered PSD files. It also saves the layers you create while using Perfect Layers in the native Photoshop PSD file format that you can open in Photoshop, Photoshop Elements or again in Perfect Layers.

For photographers who don’t own or have sworn off of Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, you can use all of the capabilities of Perfect Layers as a stand-alone app or through Lightroom or Aperture, and save the finished image as a flattened TIFF or JPEG file rather than a PSD. You will lose all of the layer information of course.

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Creating toned images with a texture overlay from a color capture only takes a couple of minutes in Perfect Layers. I selected a color image and created a virtual copy in Lightroom. I converted the virtual copy to a contrasty monochrome image in Lightroom and exported it to Perfect Layers. Then I added a color fill layer for toning and imported a texture. After adjusting both to my liking I saved the image back to Lightroom. In Lightroom I added a vignette and exported the image. ©Stan Sholik

Continue reading "Perfect Layers Is A Workflow Game Changer" »

November 7, 2011

microGAFFER Tape Frees You From the Massive Grey Roll

By Ellis Vener

Do you need gaffer’s tape at all? Yes you do. Unlike duct tape, gaffer’s tape leaves almost no sticky residue, is waterproof, and is easy to cut and deliberately tear. At the same time it is strong and reasonably heat resistant. You might even need different colors of it.

We use gaffer tape for a wide variety of jobs, not only for taping down cables and identifying bits of gear, but also for holding props in place, marking where people need to stand, locking down focus rings (useful for aerial, macro and stitched panoramic photography) and de-linting subjects’ dark clothes. It’s also useful for making minor repairs. But, until recently, the problem with gaffer tape has been that it mostly came in long three-inch wide heavy rolls and only in black, gray, and white. We use gaffer’s tape a lot, but a single full-size roll of the stuff will last me a couple of years at least as mostly we only need small short lengths, unless we're taping down power cords. Rather than buy and carry around full-size rolls of different colors Visual Departure’s microGAFFER packages solve both the space, weight and price problem. It’s also an advantage that it comes in a range of colors.

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For starters, the microGAFFER rolls are small—only 1 inch wide and 8 yards long—and come on small cores. A roll is small enough to fit a couple of them in your jeans pocket or in a small camera bag compartment. A package of four rolls is roughly the size of a 50mm Canon or Nikon 50mm f/1.4 lens and hood.

Beyond securing cables, gaffer’s tape in different colors works great to create quickly identifiable markers for different tools. You use it to know this power cord goes to this light or this remote goes with this camera, this lens hood goes with this lens, etcetera. Even if you don’t have a lot of gear, this makes for a more efficient way of working and packing up before and after a shoot.

MicroGAFFER tape kits come in four-roll packs and in two options. The monochrome packs contain two black, one gray and one white roll. The microGAFFER Fluorescent tape kits each contain one roll of really bright orange, green, pink and yellow tape. The street price for either kit is $19.95.

Background: So what the heck is a gaffer and why do they have a need for a special type of tape? On a movie or television set, gaffer is the official title for the chief electrician. This means that the gaffer (and the gaffer’s assistant, known as the best boy) and the rest of the electrical department are responsible for all of the lighting instruments, a job that includes making sure all of the electrical cables stay safely and securely connected. Grips, on the other hand, are the people responsible for setting up and rigging the lights and modifiers. The worlds of cinematography and still photography have always borrowed from each other—some tools, like collapsible softboxes, have migrated from the world of still photography to film photography, while other tools—like gaffer’s tape and C-Stands—have migrated the other way. 

Steady in the Studio: Tether Tools and Tabelz Laptop Camera Stand Tables

By Betsy Finn, Cr.Photog., CPP

While working in the studio, I've become very fond of my studio camera stand. Using a camera stand lets me focus on interacting with my clients, and allows me to set where the camera will be for a series of frames. If need be, I can leave the camera to adjust my client's pose without losing the in-camera composition that I had set up. The one shortcoming to working this way is what to do when you decide to shoot tethered to your computer. While many studio camera stands come with two mounting arms, it's not often you find one pre-equipped with a laptop table. So, after a little research, I found two companies that sell portable laptop stands, or tables. Both of the products I'll be discussing are designed to be installed on your tripod, camera stand, or even a light stand (depending on thread size).

The first table I tested was manufactured by Tether Tools (tethertools.com). Based on my laptop's dimensions, I opted for the Tether Table Aero Traveler (it comes in black or silver). I also received some other optional accessories, including a Secure Strap for securing the laptop to the table, an XDC Solo (external hard drive shelf), cupholder, an Aero ProPad (cushiony pad for on top of the table), and some Jerk Stoppers (tools for keeping your tethered cord securely attached to your camera and computer ports). In the image below, you'll see all these items, including an upside down view of the Aero Tether Table.

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The Tether Table comes with three different mounting methods (see below). The knob at upper left is for securing the table to a lightstand (biggest hole). The other two threaded holes are for the standard tripod threads.

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I found that the various accessories sold with the Tether Table were helpful in making sure my laptop wouldn't just work its way off the stand. In the image below, you can see the laptop sitting on the non-slip Areo ProPad; it is also secured by the Secure Strap (an elastic strap with hooks at the ends that hold the laptop in place). Additionally, both the front and back edges of the Tether Table have a raised lip, so if you do use this out in the field, you can use it at an angle without having to worry about losing your laptop.

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Continue reading "Steady in the Studio: Tether Tools and Tabelz Laptop Camera Stand Tables" »

RED vs. Canon: Closing the Gap Between Cinema and Still

By J.R. Hughto

Five years ago, RED announced—with what was to become their signature bravado—that they were going to release a cinema camera that would revolutionize the industry. RED made 4K (4,096x2,304-pixel format) and RAW buzzwords overnight, and they promised that their system had the independent filmmaker in mind at a $17K price point. When the dust settled, it took over a year for RED to release what actually turned out to be a revolutionary camera, the RED One, though the actual cost to get a camera ready to shoot had ballooned to nearly $50K. That $17K price point, huge by amateur standards but a bargain in the film industry where cameras cost as much as Ferraris, must have remained in company founder Jim Jannard's mind, because on Thursday night RED finally released a camera that not only made good on their technological promises but on the dollar amount. RED's new Scarlet-X, the company’s less expensive companion to their higher-end EPIC, can indeed be set up ready to shoot for right around that $17K figure, depending on how many batteries or SSDs (RED’s recording medium) you wish to purchase.

(See how RED Epic is used in a wedding video trailer from Tonaci Visuals.)

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RED’s announcement of the Scarlet-X came only hours after Canon had announced their own brand new cinema camera, the EOS C300, priced very similarly to the Scarlet-X at $20K retail with a rumored $16K street price. Based on the success Canon has enjoyed with their video-shooting DSLRs, and in the wake of the announcement of the March release of their flagship EOS-1D X, the C300 is a purpose-built video camera that bears the EOS label and marks the company’s first official foray into a market segment traditionally dominated by Panasonic and Sony.

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Canon wasn't satisfied with simply announcing the C300, however. They went on to explain that the C300 was the first in a new Cinema EOS brand that would not only produce video-only cameras like the C300, but also include future DSLR releases designated with the new C that represents the line. Whether this means the well-equipped 1D X or the long-awaited 5D Mark III will be the first of the breed remains to be seen. Regardless, Canon seems to be finally taking the video side of their large-sensor cameras seriously by developing well-considered and designed responses to a rapidly changing camera industry and a more technically demanding user base.

When stacking the principle competition in the price bracket against each other, what advantages do each offer? All three prominent rivals—the previously released Sony PMW-F3, the Canon EOS C300, and the RED Scarlet-X—have Super 35mm sized sensors (roughly the same size of Canon’s APS-C format in use by cameras like the 7D). The Scarlet-X seems to have stolen Canon’s thunder in large part due to their 4K RAW recording, a feature that no other camera can boast in the price class. RED CEO Jim Jannard went so far as to boast that “1080 as a concept is discontinued”; RED’s always had the best hyperbole. Jannard described the camera as a 5K stills shooter as well as a 4K cinema camera, and when configured as such it is highly reminiscent of the Pentax 67ii, that old beast of a medium-format shooter that so many 35mm shooters preferred due to its SLR styling. By emphasizing the Scarlet-X’s still photography capabilities, he both distinguishes it further from the C300 and the Sony F3, and also places it in competition with still-image-priority cameras like the EOS-1D series. In fact, the RED has been used for magazine cover shoots for Vogue, Esquire and Vanity Fair due to its capability of pulling a single, RAW frame at 4K.

Continue reading "RED vs. Canon: Closing the Gap Between Cinema and Still" »

October 11, 2011

Get This Show on the Road: Location Gear Roundup

By Theano Nikitas

When you need to go on location, you want to have everything you need, and nothing you don’t, which can make planning your packing list tricky. We’ve compiled a selection of cool new equipment to make your work in the field easier, safer and top quality.

BACKUP
BAGS & CASES
LIGHT MODIFIERS
POWER, LIGHTS, FLASH, WIRELESS
TRIPODS
MISCELLANEOUS

BACKUP

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LaCie Little Big Disk Thunderbolt Series

If you feel the need for speed—and what photographer doesn’t?—LaCie recently released a trio of Thunderbolt products: two hard drives (1TB and 2TB) and one 240GB SSD drive. Each unit measures 1.6 x 5.5 x 3.3 inches, is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand and weighs only 1.4 pounds. The Little Big Disk is housed in aluminum and features a special heat sink design that helps keep the unit cool as it reaches transfer speeds of up to 190MB/s with the hard disk model or up to 480MB/s with the SSD model. Daisy chain two or more units with an optional cable to reach even faster read speeds. Available from the Apple Store, although you may have to wait a while for the supersonic SSD model.

www.lacie.com
www.apple.com
1TB $399.95
2TB $499.95
240GB SSD $899.95

 

 

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NEXTO DI Photo Storage ND2730

Capable of reading, downloading and displaying still and video files from CompactFlash and SD/SDHC/SDXC cards, the NEXTO DI ND2730 photo storage device is available with 500GB, 750GB HDD or SDD drives. The device is forward compatible to 2TB and can be hooked up to computers (Mac and PC) via Firewire 800 and USB 2.0. Equipped with a 1.44-inch color TFT LCD for viewing images, the ND2730 compares the HDD and memory card data to ensure successful back-up. Powered by a 2-hour rechargeable Li-Poly battery, you can leave the laptop at home and have all the mobility you need.

www.nextodiusa.com
Starting at $450

 

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Western Digital My Passport for Mac

Cost-per-gigabyte is at an all-time low, so Mac users should check out the latest generation of Western Digital’s My Passport for Mac. Available in 500GB, 750GB and 1TB capacities, these slender high-capacity drives are Mac-formatted and Apple Time Machine ready. Need password protection? No problem, thanks to the WD Security utility. Powered by a USB 2.0 interface, My Passport for Mac has all-around appeal at an affordable price. For rugged location shoots, consider the Western Digital Nomad Rugged Case. 

www.wdc.com 
500GB $99.99
750 GB $119.99
1TB $129.99 

Continue reading "Get This Show on the Road: Location Gear Roundup" »

September 29, 2011

An HDMI Cable That Ditches the Bulk

By Stan Sholik

When you need to do a presentation, bigger is better for the screen that you'll use to show your work, but smaller is better for the equipment you need to bring with you. On a location assignment, showing your portfolio to an ad agency, or selling your services to a couple looking for a wedding photographer—the less you need to carry, the happier you’ll be.

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An active HDMI cable lets you show a wedding portfolio
on your iPad 2 to an engaged couple in their own home
without toting a bulky cable. ©Stan Sholik

RedMere cables are roughly 1/4 of the diameter of standard HDMI cables and will coil into a diameter of less than one inch. Yet the cables are guaranteed to deliver full 1080p HD picture quality while you control the show from as far away as 10 feet. Most 10-foot HDMI cables are heavy and bulky and won’t coil comfortably in your pocket, camera bag or iPad case. That is the problem that RedMere has solved with their RedMere HDMI cables.

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The availability of an HDMI output on most digital SLRs gives traveling photographers the option to leave the laptop at home and take along a compatible HDMI cable to preview photos and videos in any hotel room with an HDTV that has an HDMI input. For photographers showing their portfolio to prospective clients, the iPad 2 is becoming the device of choice. With a Digital AV Adapter and an HDMI cable, you can connect an iPad to an HDTV and make the presentation even more impressive. 

RedMere’s technology is based on a tiny, self-powered chip built into the HDMI cable connector. The RedMere chip boosts the signal so that the cable can be even thinner than an iPad USB cable and still handle the 10.2 GB/s data rate. Cables with RedMere technology, also known as “active” cables, are the world’s thinnest, lightest, and most flexible cables for products that connect using HDMI technology, according to the company.

Continue reading "An HDMI Cable That Ditches the Bulk" »

September 13, 2011

Hot Stuff: Bad Sass Backdrops

By Robyn L. Pollman

Bad Sass Backdrops are printed on quality 100% canvas by Pixel2Canvas. Bad Sass Backdrops offer “split” and “tri-split” backdrop options, which allows the customer to decide how they want to split an 8-foot or 10-foot canvas backdrop. Photographers can select a background design for one half of the canvas, and a faux-flooring option for the other half using the “split” option. Or with the “tri-split” option, use a background design on both ends of the canvas, and a faux-flooring option in the center. By turning the 10-foot canvas around, photographers have two background options in one. 

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 ©Robyn L. Pollman

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Professional Photographer readers can take advantage of the following promotion: 30% off any backdrop order using code PPA30 (code not valid on Sassafrass Magnetic Moulding). The coupon code is valid until October 31, 2011.

See more from Robyn L. Pollman at paperieboutique.com and buttonsandbowsphotography.com.

September 7, 2011

As Good As It Gets: Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm f/1.4 ZF.2 Lens

By Stan Sholik

For five years, Carl Zeiss has produced single focal length, manual focus lenses for camera bodies that accept Nikon, Canon, Sony, K-mount, and M-42 screw-mount lenses. These lenses are highly regarded by landscape, closeup and portrait still photographers, for both film and digital cameras. Videographers have also become a major market.

The latest in the series is the Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm f/1.4, presently available with Nikon and Canon mounts. I tested the Nikon ZF.2 model.

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The Zeiss lens (left) is larger and heavier than my older 35mm f/1.4 Nikkor (right). Image quality of the Zeiss is also greater. The Zeiss ZF.2 series of lenses for Nikon don’t include the metering prong of classic Nikkors and of the Zeiss ZF lenses, but do include Nikon’s auto-indexing (AI) ring and tiny secondary aperture scale. Zeiss ZF.2 lenses include an internal CPU and external contacts that transmit EXIF information to the camera body as well as allow the use of all metering functions. ©Stan Sholik

Zeiss incorporates an improved T* anti-reflection coating and a nine-blade aperture for a nearly circular diaphragm. If you’ve ever wondered about the pleasing bokeh effect, you’ll instantly know it when you view images shot at f/1.4 with this lens.

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I needed a high shutter speed to capture this model making jewelry lit only by window light. Shot at f/1.4, vignetting is visible at the edges of the frame, but more important to me is the beautiful soft look of the out-of-focus model in the background. ©Stan Sholik

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This assignment photo for a dog-friendly vintage clothing store was a perfect opportunity to use the Zeiss 35mm f/1.4. I needed to use available light in a dark area of the store to stop the action of the dogs and show the models enjoying the shopping experience. Shooting wide open also allowed me to focus attention on the model. ©Stan Sholik

The silky smooth focusing ring on the 35mm f/1.4 rotates through about 150 degrees from minimum focusing distance to infinity, for extremely accurate focusing. At an aperture of f/1.4, the image is four times brighter than one shot with an f/2.8 lens, making focusing easy, even with the viewfinder screens in modern digital SLR cameras. The focusing ring stops when you turn it to infinity or the minimum focusing distance, so you always know where those points are. These attributes are what endear Zeiss lenses to videographers.

The aperture ring includes half-stop detents that click firmly into place between the marked aperture settings. The extensive use of metal in the lens construction gives it the look, feel and weight of classic Nikkors. The 35mm f/1.4 is a monster compared to my 35mm f/1.4 Nikkor. The Zeiss weighs more than twice as much, is twice the length, and requires 72mm filters rather than the Nikkor’s 52mm filters. Having tested other Zeiss lenses, I wasn’t surprised to find the 35mm f/1.4 superior to my old Nikkor 35mm f/1.4, but it’s surprising how far more superior it is.

Even at maximum aperture, the Zeiss shows superb sharpness in the center of the lens. Sharpness falls off somewhat to the edges of the frame if you ever place the subject near the edge of the frame when shooting wide open. By f/2, sharpness is excellent everywhere. There’s a hint of barrel distortion at f/1.4 on a full-frame camera, but that too disappears by f/2. Distortion is non-existent on a DX-format camera.

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Sharpness is superb at the center of the image at all apertures and also at the edges by f/2. In this image shot at f/8, the tiny hairs on the stem of the weed are perfectly sharp against the sky. ©Stan Sholik

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In image after image with this lens I am impressed with its sharpness and its ability to render color so accurately. Despite it being moderately wide angle, there is no hint of distortion. ©Stan Sholik

Continue reading "As Good As It Gets: Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm f/1.4 ZF.2 Lens" »

From Click to Quiet: Silence Your Shutter with AquaTech Sound Blimp

By Stan Sholik

When most photographers think of a sound blimp it’s usually in connection with shooting on a movie or television set when sound is being recorded. A sound blimp with a lens tube connected effectively silences the sound of a SLR anywhere beyond a couple of feet from it.

Using a sound blimp isn’t limited to shooting film or television stills. I have used a sound blimp for more than 20 years and have never been on a movie or TV set. I use a sound blimp to photograph symphonic, choral and dance productions, as well as theatrical plays. Other photographers use a sound blimp for surveillance, courtroom, wildlife and even sports, such as golf, photography. Sound blimps also provide environmental protection in harsh sand and dust environments.

After 20 years, the foam in my blimp has had it, and I was ready to send it to the manufacturer for refitting when I discovered a new source for sound blimps, AquaTech, located in Orange County, Calif. AquaTech is best known for their waterproof sport and surf housings and their line of environmental shields for cameras and lenses. I contacted AquaTech and received a sound blimp for a Nikon D3X/D3S/D3 to test. Other models are available for Nikon D700, D300s/D300 and Canon 5D Mark II cameras.

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The external controls straddle the viewfinder eyepiece. The ribbed soft rubber pads on the hand grips and the shape of the body make holding the AquaTech blimp with both hands solid and comfortable. There are D-rings on the hand grips for attaching an accessory shoulder strap.

The AquaTech sound blimp is a far cry from the Jacobson blimp that I own. Rather than a squarish box, the AquaTech looks more like an underwater housing. And although it is less than 1/2-pound lighter, the ribbed rubber hand straps and the contoured grip built into the body make it far easier to carry and hold. The entire back surface of the AquaTech blimp is hard clear plastic, covered on the inside with sound-deadening foam. A window cut into the foam allows you to see the LCD screen and through the viewfinder.

But the biggest advantage to the AquaTech is borrowed from their sport and surf housings. There are three controls on the back of the blimp (see above) that mate with controls on the rear of the camera. Pressing one allows you to review the last image. Pressing another allows you to activate the autoexposure/autofocus (AE-L/AF-L) lock button on the camera to perform whatever function you have programmed for it in the Custom settings.

Continue reading "From Click to Quiet: Silence Your Shutter with AquaTech Sound Blimp " »

September 6, 2011

Studio Lighting and Portraiture DVDs Deliver Great Foundation Skills

By Betsy Finn, Cr.Photog., CPP

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A fun and educational package recently arrived in my mailbox for review—a pair of instructional DVDs by Don Chick, M.Photog.,Cr., CPP, from his The Confident Photographer instructional series:

• Studio Lighting (with a 4x6 soft box)
• Studio Portraiture (Basic – Intermediate)

Being familiar with Chick’s lighting and teaching styles, I was looking forward to watching these DVDs, and I think you will be, too. While there is some crossover content, I didn’t find it to be too overdone, and considered it more like a review, or introduction, before the meat of the lesson. I think it will be rare that someone will plan to watch both back to back, as I did.  It’s more likely that you’ll refer to one or the other at a given point, and in that situation, the brief review will be helpful.

The Studio Lighting DVD covered white balancing methods, lens selection (distortion), and two basic light setups. In contrast, the Studio Portraiture DVD focused on the different light setups that Chick relies on— three-light and six-light setups, and the use of accent lighting. In the second DVD, Chick also discusses how he creates his signature character study portraits (lighting, clothing, accessories, etc).

On both DVDs, Chick talks you through the lighting setup, explains why he does things a specific way, and then lets you watch him interact with his subject as he creates a series of images. Final images are also shown throughout the DVD, where appropriate. While not a new concept to me, I appreciated that Chick took the time to show the effects of his lights by using each unit’s modeling lamp. This is a particularly useful teaching tool for those who are new to studio lighting.

Some of the techniques that Chick teaches are basic building blocks of studio photography, such as broad vs. short light, but he also includes more advanced techniques. I enjoyed seeing how he uses a handheld reflector to add a little something extra to the lighting setup, and appreciated his discussion of gobos and when they can be effectively used for a studio portrait (your clients with thinning hair or bald spots will thank you).

Continue reading "Studio Lighting and Portraiture DVDs Deliver Great Foundation Skills" »

Kubota RPG Speedkeys v2 Expands On Shortcuts and Customization

By Kim Larson

In 2009 we wrote about using Kubota RPG Speedkeys as a tool to speed up the Lightroom workflow process. Kubota RPG Speedkeys is a small wireless keyboard that is pre-programmed to run time-saving adjustments and shortcuts in Lightroom such as increasing or decreasing exposure and picking/rejecting photos. The original review of Kubota RBG Speedkeys is still accurate—it's still important that you remove the USB receiver when restarting your computer, it still comes with Kubota's handy lightroom presets, and it’s still a great workflow tool. But with Kubota RGB Speedkeys 2 for Adobe Lightroom, there are noteworthy updates to the original version that have now taken this workflow tool from good to great, and it’s available to all present and new users of the Speedkeys keyboard.

The original version of RPG Speedkeys provided you with Kubota's Lightroom Presets, but you were limited to only being able to run the Kubota presets from the keyboard. This is no longer the case. Now you can run any preset installed in Lightroom from the Speedkeys keyboard. You’re no longer confined to the original shortcuts provided by Kubota Image Tools either; they now provide a multitude of shortcuts to choose from. And instead of having the key positions set for you, you can customize the shortcuts and presets to any key you choose.

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The upgrade starts with a new version of the Kubota RPG Speedkeys software. The software is intuitive enough that you probably will not need to read any instructions. The interface shows a graphical keyboard, and you simply drag and drop keys onto it. Selecting a key will allow you to pick a preset that the key should apply. Once you have your keyboard setup in the software, you can match your physical keyboard to it by matching the keys.

Setting up the physical keyboard is simple, but If you’re the type of person who doesn’t usually read instructions, this is where you’ll need to pay attention. The new keys that come with the upgraded keyboard look like they are complete panels that should be put into the keyboard. But don’t go taking apart the keyboard yet. They are not meant to be used as complete panels, but as as individual keys. There is a small pick included to pop the keys off both the original keyboard and the replacement key panels. (Don't worry, it’s completely safe, and once you pop a few keys off, you’ll find it’s pretty fun!) Replace the keys on the Speedkeys keyboard one-by-one to match your software setup, and you are ready to go!

If you own the original version of Kubota RPG Speedkeys, this upgrade is available to you by contacting Kubota Image Tools at kubotaimagetools.com. If you're looking for a complete tool to speed up your Lightroom workflow, the Kubota RPG Speedkeys for Lightroom retails for $349 and can be purchased at kubotaimagetools.com.

Image Adjustment Gets Better: DxO Optics Pro v6.6

By Marianne Drenthe

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DxO Labs recently came out with updates to its award-winning optical correction and raw conversion software, DxO Optics Pro v6.6. DxO Optics Pro functions like a digital photo lab, improving the quality of straight out of camera (SOOC) raw or SOOC jpeg images. It's image enhancement addresses optical corrections, noise removal, exposure optimization, keystoning correctionn, color control and dust removal.

In this review I opted to use the standalone version of DxO Optics Pro v6.6. The program is easy to use within recent editions of Photoshop and Lightroom or as a standalone appplication.

When I first opened DxO Optics Pro, a pop up window appeared with tips on how to utilize the program. I found it helpful, and you can turn it off once you’ve learned the ins and outs of the program. The wizard took me step by step through the image correction process. You can select one or many images to work on at one time, and when you make corrections, you can have them apply all at once to a batch of images—a real time saver.

When you first open original images from your camera, the software will detect its EXIF metadata. If it detects that an Optics Module exists for your camera and lens combination, the software will automatically download camera profiles from the DxO website for your camera. There is no guesswork, no worrying about where to install these profiles—the software does it automatically. I like that my computer isn’t storing useless profiles camera and lens combos that I will never use. The ease of use is much appreciated in that regard.

For automated processing and speeding workflow, professionals and advanced amateurs are likely find DxO Optics Pro preferable to usual go-to options simply because of the personalized Optics Modules and presets. What might take hours converting and adjusting takes mere minutes in DxO Optics Pro v6.6, which is an impressive feat. The processing automation enabled by the camera/lens-specific modules is amazing, though, as you’ll see after the jump, it’s not a miracle worker in every case.

Continue reading "Image Adjustment Gets Better: DxO Optics Pro v6.6" »

Italian Design Meets Practical Function: B-grip EVO Camera Belt System

By Stan Sholik

From fashion to high-performance sports cars, Italian companies create some of the most beautifully designed and skillfully manufactured products in the world. CPtech of Bologna brings Italian design and manufacturing to photography with the introduction of the b-grip EVO camera belt grip system.

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The b-grip EVO system rides comfortably and securely at belt
level without hindering your movements. Image ©Stan Sholik

The b-grip system consists of a belt worn at the waist. The belt threads through the b-grip base plate, and a quick-release plate connects the base plate to the camera tripod socket. The b-grip securely supports still or video equipment up to 17.6 pounds. This frees you from neckstraps with cameras banging against your body and from aching shoulders at the end of the day. It also frees you from reaching into your camera bag, backpack or beltpack to retrieve your camera, lens, flash, or your video equipment.

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The b-grip EVO system consists of the b-grip camera plate, base plate and belt. ©Stan Sholik

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The b-grip base plate removed from the belt with the camera plate attached and locked. ©Stan Sholik

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The b-grip base plate removed from the belt with the camera plate removed. ©Stan Sholik

The two b-grip plates are high-tech injection-molded plastic resin that is impregnated with fiberglass fibers and glass microspheres. The woven belt is heavy duty enough for the SWAT team, yet the complete system is light and comfortable to wear. And not only is the system functional, its style is unobtrusive, and it incorporates several well-designed features that add to its usefulness.

One security feature is a rubber stopper in the quick-release plate. You must remove it to attach the plate to the camera’s tripod socket. Once you've reinstalled it, it locks the screw to prevent the screw from loosening. And if your tripod head accepts the square German DIN plate (Velbon, Bilora, Cullman and other heads), you never need to remove the b-grip camera plate. My Arca-Swiss head holds the b-grip camera plate securely, but there is a little play in it.

Continue reading "Italian Design Meets Practical Function: B-grip EVO Camera Belt System" »

August 9, 2011

Artsy Couture Gallery Blocks Add a Stylish Dimension

By Betsy Finn, Cr.Photog., CPP

When I first spotted Artsy Couture Gallery Blocks on a tradeshow floor, I was intrigued and asked the salesperson how the product was created. They have a depth like canvas wraps, but with sharp, neat edges. It’s a three-dimensional presentation of multiple blocks layered on one piece, too. The salesperson showed me that the pieces have a wood substructure and explained that the prints are metallic with a laminate-type coating over the top.

For the purposes of this review, I tested out three different products:

• 6x6 Gallery Block Set (3 single blocks with no backboard)
• The Top of the Line (7x10 floating gallery block on a 15x20 backboard)
• The Show Off (four 9.5x7.5 floating gallery blocks on a 21x21 backboard)

The Gallery Block set was very straightforward to order and lay out using ROES. The hardest part was selecting which designer template I wanted to use. Rather than having my images wrap around the edge, by selecting a designer template my 6”x6” gallery blocks ended up having a nice decorative fleur-de-lis pattern on the edges of each block. This turned out quite nicely!

Next, I designed The Show Off. While using ROES was no problem, I did spend more time figuring out the best layout option. Again, by selecting a designer template, I was able to have a pattern element on the edges to tie all the floating blocks together. The backboard also displayed the same pattern element. In the screenshot below, you’ll see how the layout is shown in upper left, and the four floating images (and wraps) as well as the backboard can be edited individually.

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For my final sample piece, I designed The Top of the Line. This one was a little more complicated, because while I was happy with the layout, I wanted a horizontal orientation rather than vertical. By reading the directions, I discovered this was no problem—you just have to let Artsy Couture know in the ROES notes which way is “up” so the piece will hang properly.

Continue reading "Artsy Couture Gallery Blocks Add a Stylish Dimension" »

August 5, 2011

DxO FilmPack 3: Film Fidelity Without Digital Compromise

By Marianne Drenthe

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With 10 years in the digital image calibration business, DxO Labs has a strong reputation for quality image processing. This reputation is furthered with the updated release of their FilmPack 3. New in this version of FilmPack is a redesigned user interface and the ability to use the program as a standalone option or as a plug in within Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop and Apple's Aperture software programs.

What is the DxO FilmPack?

Sometimes we yearn for the nostalgic charm of fine black and white film photography and the incredible grain and vivid colors of analog color photography, but with the practical ease of digital imaging. There are tens if not hundreds of Photoshop actions that attempt to emulate that magical film feel. While we can come close to replicating film colors, contrast and luminosity within layers of levels, curves and contrast adjustments in Photoshop, we often fall short of achieving true film emulation. With improved noise reduction in the newest digital sensors comes a loss of realism and depth. Less noise equals smoother and buttery imagery, but that same combination of qualities produces images with decreased depth. When chemicals react with film and light you end up with photos that are filled with depth and grain, something modern digital photo sensors can't quite emulate.

With FilmPack 3, the authenticity of film grain is once again within reach. The FilmPack offers the beauty of various film grains to apply to images both black and white as well as being integrated within individual film presets. For instance you may long for the smooth neutral tonality, highlight and shadow detail and film grain of Kodak 400CN or maybe your desire is the vividness and contrast of film in a more realistic interpretation of the scene than you can achieve within the confines of the curves tool in Photoshop. The FilmPack serves both these purposes. With the click of the preview button after import, your images are displayed in the array of dozens of film choices: color negative, color positive, black and white and cross processed film options are at your disposal. There is no need to open multiple windows or run additional actions, the FilmPack allows you to preview and spot edit your images to taste with no more effort than clicking on a few options.

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Figure 1: DxO FilmPack 3's emulation of the smooth neutral tonality, highlight and shadow detail and film grain of Kodak 400CN.