April 23, 2014

GoDaddy Offers New .PHOTOGRAPHY Domain, More Coming

If, like many photographers, you sought to register your domain name only to find that someone else already owned it, you have new and potentially better domain extension (also known as a Generic Top Level Domain, gTLD) choices for your website’s URL. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the non-profit body that governs the Internet, has authorized the creation of hundreds of new domain extensions, and GoDaddy, the world’s largest domain registrar and Web hosting provider, is offering new domain extensions that will help define your business by what you do or where you are, plus hundreds more are coming.

Currently GoDaddy offers .PHOTOS, .CAMERA, and .PHOTOGRAPHY domain extensions suited to the photographic industry. Where many photographers have registered a domain that combines their name and “photography” before the extension .COM or .NET, these new gTLDs give you the option for a post-dot descriptor of your business, such as janesmith.photography. Simple.

While .COM is still the ruler of the URL universe, new alternatives are bound to gain popularity, and now is an opportune time to see if you can secure the perfect Web address for your business. Go Daddy offers .PHOTOS and .PHOTOGRAPHY domain names for $24.99/year and .CAMERA for $39.99/year. The gTLDS .PHOTO is not yet available.

Find more information:

godaddy.com/tlds/photography

godaddy.com/tlds/camera

godaddy.com/tlds/photos

 

 

Lightroom Goes Mobile, Hits the Ground Running

By Stan Sholik

Attention Adobe Photoshop Lightroom users—you can take it with you! With the release of Lightroom 5.4 and the free Lightroom mobile app, Adobe is making it possible to perform Lightroom edits away from your desktop or laptop computer. While there are some strings attached to the program, and the full range of Lightroom controls are not yet available, it is a pretty cool extension of your abilities if you need offline editing.

To use Lightroom mobile in conjunction with Lightroom, you must have one of the following Creative Cloud plans:

  • Creative Cloud—Photoshop Photography Program (Photoshop CC and Lightroom bundle)
  • Creative Cloud complete plan
  • Creative Cloud Student and Teacher edition
  • Creative Cloud for teams complete plan

If you have one of these plans, you can download and install Lightroom 5.4 from the cloud and Lightroom mobile from iTunes and you’re on your way. At present Lightroom mobile is only available for iPads 2 and later, but an iPhone version is promised.

If you own a boxed version of Lightroom you can create an Adobe ID and download a 30 day trial of Lightroom 5.4. If you decide it is not for you, Lightroom will revert to your previous version after 30 days.

Lightroom 5.4 only adds functionality for Lightroom mobile. One of the additions is a change to the Identity Plate that allows you to sync with Lightroom mobile. Another is a Sync collection icon next to the name of each of your collections. Images can only be synced from a collection, but the images can be any file format Lightroom supports, including raw files. During the sync process, Lightroom automatically creates Smart Previews (introduced in Lightroom 5) and uploads them to the cloud.

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When you sign into Lightroom mobile on your iPad, you can view the collection, but in order to work on the images you must download the Smart Previews to the iPad. Edits and picks that you make on the iPad automatically sync with the Lightroom catalog on your desktop, and any changes made on your desktop automatically sync with the images on the iPad. Lightroom mobile also allows you to add images from the iPad camera roll, adjust them with familiar Lightroom controls, and sync them with the collection on your desktop or laptop computer running Lightroom 5.4.

lr-mobile_ipad_camera_roll_700x400.jpg

The Adjustment controls in Lightroom mobile provide the image enhancements found in the Basic panel of the Lightroom Develop module along with a small color histogram. There is also a Presets control with six of the Presets groups that ship with Lightroom, and a Crop control with the ability to crop with defined aspect ratios, or manually. I found the available controls complete enough to do meaningful work with Lightroom mobile, especially considering this is version 1.0. We will all have a wish list of controls for future versions.

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Navigation in Lightroom mobile is as well thought out as the initial set of controls. There are single finger taps, double finger taps, swipes both horizontally and vertically, and more. You control image adjustments by tapping or dragging your finger along a slider below the image. The same slider is used for each adjustment with its function changing depending on the adjustment tile you activate. And the adjustments are seen in real time even on my iPad 2.

Lightroom mobile is a solid start for the creation of a truly mobile image editing platform. It gives those detractors who refuse to pay fees to subscribe to software further reason to complain on the blogs, but Adobe is performing a valuable service and providing ‘free’ storage to photographers who need the ability to edit offline. Next we need a means of loading Smart Previews directly from our cameras through Lightroom mobile to the cloud so we can adjust them and send proofs to clients and social media, and the ability to sync collections on more than one computer to Lightroom mobile, and to the ability to perform local adjustments, and the ability to upload our custom presets, and the rest of my wish list.

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) is available soon.

 

SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS

Mobile app compatibility

Lightroom mobile:

Requires iOS 7 or later

Is compatible with iPad Air, iPad 4, iPad 3, and iPad 2

Is also compatible with iPad mini 2 and iPad mini 1

 

Windows

Processor: Intel® Pentium 4 or AMD Athlon 64 processor

Microsoft DirectX 10 or later-capable graphics card

OS: Microsoft® Windows® 7 with Service Pack 1 or Windows 8, Windows 8.1

RAM: 2 GB (4GB recommended)

Hard Disk: 2 GB of available hard-disk space

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, v10.8, or 10.9

RAM: 2 GB (4GB recommended)

Hard Disk: 2 GB of available hard-disk space

Display: 1024 x 768 monitor resolution

Internet connection required for Internet-based services

 

April 18, 2014

People and Their Trash: Menzel Records What We Throw Away

Peter Menzel’s latest portraits educate the public about the importance of recycling

By Amanda Arnold

“The idea of showing what Americans throw away is something we’ve been thinking about doing for years,” says photojournalist Peter Menzel. “But that doesn’t seem like the kind of [photo] book people would buy, and we do our projects unsponsored and unfunded, so we had to table the idea.”

That is until The Glad Products Company approached Menzel and his partner, writer Faith D’Aluisio, offering both funding and creative freedom in return for a series of photos addressing just that topic. The series, dubbed “Waste in Focus,” and its website wasteinfocus.com were unveiled at a press conference on April 10. On Earth Day, April 22, eight photos from the project will be on exhibit in Times Square.

One challenge was finding a way to display the trash in a visually interesting way for the photos. Ultimately, Menzel and D’Aluisio decided to string the items from two rolling clothes racks using bird netting, with the recyclables and compost items featured to the left and the landfill items to the right. The displays were then loaded into a truck and set up inside the family’s home.

Learn more and read our interview with Peter Menzel in the July issue of Professional Photographer magazine. [Click for larger image.]

wasteinfocus_atl_griffin_1600.jpg

 

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.

default client galleries.jpg

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).

sunshine-client-gallery-page.jpg

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.

add new plugin.jpg

upload plugin.jpg

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). 

after plugin activation.jpg

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.

sunshine-settings-pages.jpg

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

sunshine-wordpress-pages.jpg

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.

sunshine-wordpress-menu.jpg

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.

sunshine-dashboard.jpg

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.

sunshine-gallery-options.jpg

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

sunshine-gallery-view.jpg

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.

sunshine-image-detail.jpg

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.

sunshine-cart.jpg

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.

sunshine-checkout.jpg

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.

email-receipt-sunshine.jpg

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.

support-request.jpg

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

sunshine-support.jpg

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 24, 2014

Perfect Photo Suite 8 Covers a Lot of Ground

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

Like many other photographers, I use Adobe software products for the core of my photo editing workflow, but I recently found a nice addition that will complement what I already use. I was looking for a portrait retouching solution that would integrate with Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, and I decided to look into Perfect Photo Suite 8 from onOne Software. This application suite does much more than just help you retouch portraits. It’s a whole workflow solution that integrates with standard editing programs, or functions as a standalone product.

There is a profusion of information that I could share about Perfect Photo Suite 8, but for the purposes of this review I’ll give you an overview of its main features. Look for an article on retouching using Perfect Portrait 8 to follow. Perfect Photo Suite has a number of different modules, each of which focuses on a specific function. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First you have to install Perfect Photo Suite 8 and the appropriate plugins for your other software.

During the installation process, Perfect Photo Suite 8 automatically detected the compatible programs on my computer and installed plugins for each of them.

install plugins.jpg

Perfect Photo Suite 8 offers eight different modules within the interface: Browse, Layers, Enhance, Portrait, Effects, B&W, Mask, and Resize. I’ll walk you through my first impressions of each module.

Browse—New to version 8, Browse allows you to locate images easily from your computer or Internet cloud sources such as Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud Photo Stream, and Sky Drive. You can view thumbnails or an individual image, search files, view metadata, and add or create “favorite” folders to access your files quickly.

browse module.jpg

Layers—When you open an image to edit, you can choose to edit a copy, edit the original, or add edits as a layer. Within this module, you can composite images, swap heads, and create layouts (using backgrounds, borders, edges).

layers-screenshot_b.jpg

Enhance—The basic editing module allows you to make most enhancements needed for a typical image. You can crop; adjust color, tone, and detail; spot-heal; or use content-aware fill to remove objects. There are also enhancement presets you can apply to your images, such as High Contrast and Magic Landscape. I’ll mention that there’s a red-eye removal function, but I hope that would never be necessary for most professional photographers. I tried out the Perfect Brush, which samples the color from the center of your brush and adjusts the edges accordingly. It’s helpful for working around complicated edges.

enhance module.jpg

perfect-brush.jpg

Portrait—The Portrait module had the most draw for me, as it can be used to automate facial retouching. Features include the ability to improve skin texture and color; enhance eyes, teeth, and lips; and remove blemishes. You can choose to apply effects to the entire body or just to the face. In the first screenshot below, you’ll see how you can adjust eye and mouth control points. For portraits featuring more than one subject, you can work on multiple faces individually within a single image. One other nice feature for skin color correction is the ability to select your subject’s ethnicity in a dropdown menu, which helps the software make appropriate automatic adjustments to the skin tone.

portrait---working-with-face_b.jpg

Effects—The Effects module allows you to apply filters and presets to change the look of your image with effects such as cross processing, HDR, photo filters, and more. You can create your own customizations to the effects, layer multiple filters on top of each other, and use masking tools to apply the effects where you want and nowhere else. Or, if you’d prefer, just use the effects as an overall adjustment to your image.

effects module.jpg

B&W—From the B&W Module, you can apply presets or adjust the tone, color response, and other variables to create a very customized look. Tools you can use include dodge/burn, adjusting shadow/mid-tones/highlights, vignettes, and edge/border effects. As with the other modules, you can also choose to simply apply a preset to the entire image rather than doing detailed adjustments.

bw module.jpg

Mask—The screenshot I’ve chosen for this module shows a manual brush mask being painted over the sky. You can be very broad and general in creating masks, or make a very detailed mask if desired. If you want to use the module’s masking technology, you can make a rough mask, as I’ve done here, then use the software to fine tune around hair, trees, or other complicated edges. There’s also an option to mask areas based on color range.

mask module.jpg

Resize—When it’s time to get your images ready for print, you can either save your edited files from any module of Perfect Photo Suite 8, or you can use the Resize Module to get your images print ready. This module uses Genuine Fractals technology to create better enlargements (the company claims you can “enlarge images up to 1000% without sacrificing quality“). There are a number of resizing presets available, based on output media type, lab print size, and the like. You can also create your own presets.

resize module.jpg

Within any of these modules you’ll have access to a navigator menu that looks something like this one below. Here I’ve stacked a number of filters to change the image and created a mask for each of those layers as well.

navigator-layers-enhance-mode.jpg

Continue reading "Perfect Photo Suite 8 Covers a Lot of Ground" »

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 21, 2014

Comfortable and Functional ... To A Degree: Joby Pro Sling Strap and UltraFit Sling Strap for Women

Your body type may determine how much functionality this design will deliver.

By Joan Sherwood

I recently tried the Joby Pro Sling Strap and the Joby UltraFit Sling Strap for Women. Both feel good and are functional, but each has its own issues. I was an early adopter of sling straps, and I’m still a big fan, but they haven't reached the perfection I envision for them one day. 

There are three ways to wear the traditional strap that attaches to the camera strap eyelets on a DSLR, and I’m not fond of any of them. I can’t stand the insecure feeling of a camera strap hanging from just one shoulder. It’s an invitation to theft or a catastrophic slip-and-break accident. A strap just over my head puts far too much strain on my neck, particularly with heavier professional DSLR and lens combinations, plus I always have to keep one hand on the camera to keep it from bouncing around as I walk. And with the traditional neck strap in a cross-body position, you can feel that it just wasn’t designed to be used that way. It doesn’t hang well across my chest, the strap is always too short, and it’s not easy to raise the camera to my eye.

The Joby Sling Straps use what they call a SpeedCinch pulley system. You wear the strap in a cross-body position with the camera hanging at your hip or cinched behind your back. The strap threads through the buckles in a way that allows you to shorten, lengthen, or lock the strap in place at a certain length. Once you get the hang of it, it’s easy to use, though the locking clamp takes a little practice to feel natural.

201402we_jobypro_model.jpg

The Joby Pro Sling Strap is the top of its line and my preference between the two Joby sling straps that I tried. The shoulder portion of the strap is strong like a seatbelt and has a ribbed underside, but it’s soft and supple so that the edges don’t dig into your neck. I think it would benefit from a gripping surface on the underside where it lies across your shoulder blade, though—something to hold the strap in place when the user bends forward. It’s far too easy for the weight of a camera to urge the strap to slide around your body, even with a fairly snug but still-comfortable cinch. The entire strap is made of a textile custom created by Joby.

201402we_joby_JA4_PSStrap_OnCamera_RGB.jpg

The attachment mechanism centers around a metal bolt and cylinder with a rubber washer on the bolt side and a plastic collar that smoothly rotates on greased bearings around the main cylinder. A thumbscrew lets you hand-tighten it into the tripod socket and then a coin groove allows you to secure it more firmly.

201402we_joby__connect.jpg

Trust in this type of tripod-socket connection is what divides sling strap users from sling strap haters. Many photographers fear that the screw-in connection in the camera’s 1/4"-20 tripod socket will gradually come loose, and in one horrific moment their most cherished glass will crash to the sidewalk. There are horror stories out there.

The strap makers have addressed this security concern in their own ways. Joby offers a Camera Tether, which gives you a secondary point of connection as a failsafe. It loops a strong but slender tie through the camera’s strap eyelet and tethers it to the sling strap with a screw-lock carabiner that doesn’t impede the movement of the sling strap. This tether is included with the new Joby Pro Sling Strap but is listed as an accessory with other models.

The Joby Pro Sling Strap worked well for me, with certain limitations. For me, the SpeedCinch pulley system works to hold the camera where I want it to hang on my hip, but not for the full-cinch, behind-the-back, close-to-the-body position. It works great on the male model in the demo video, but I’m a short stocky woman with a moderately large chest. The closest I can get to a secure cinch is to have the chest strap above my right breast and passing through my armpit. Needless to say, this is not a look that lends itself to professional appearance. As a plus, it does come in two sizes: S - L and L - XXL.

Joby makes the UltraFit Sling Strap for Women to address the squashed-breast issue, but in my testing I found that this works only for slender women (such as the one in the Joby demo video).

201402we_joby_UltraFit_SlingStrap_Female_VideoStill.jpgThe UltraFit Sling Strap for Women is available in just one size and is only large enough to use with the camera at my hip with the strap extended to its full length. When I tried cinching it up, the strap had nowhere to go but the above-breast, armpit position. On a slender coworker, it worked as advertised but the camera strap was still easily susceptible to slipping around the body when she bent forward.

Finally there’s the issue of carrying the camera behind you. It’s great if you have an awareness of where it is at all times and how much space your camera body and lens combination occupy back there. Have you ever been wearing a backpack, and instinctively turned sideways to get through a narrow space only to be reminded that you’re now thicker in a side orientation than you are full forward? Imagine turning sideways to go through a subway turnstile or a closing door and hearing your lens smack against a hard surface. If you plan to carry your camera behind you, practice, practice, practice knowing where it is and how much space it needs at all times.

That said, I’m still a fan of the sling strap for midrange size cameras and I would recommend this one. I prefer the SpiderPro camera holster system ($135) for comfortably carrying weightier pro DSLRs and big lenses. Having that weight on your hips instead of around your neck and shoulders makes a huge difference. But the SpiderPro’s nylon and Velcro belt with its big plastic buckle are best suited for hiking gear and casual clothing. The Joby Pro Sling Strap ($69.95) is more elegant and comfortable (with your camera at your hip), and has the capacity to complement professional clothing. 

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.


 
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