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 25, 2015

In Memorium: Paul C. Buff, 1936-2015

Paul Conrad Buff, founder of Paul C. Buff, Inc., longtime Professional Photographers of America member, and inventor of lighting tools that include White Lightning, Zap, AlienBees, and Einstein monolights, died March 14, 2015, at his farm near Theodore, Alabama. 

A native of Glendora, California, Buff was born April 24, 1936. He enlisted in the U.S. Marines and served 1954 to 1957. He began his career in the music industry by building Pal Recording Studio in 1957 in Cucamonga, California. Buff was an early innovator in multi-track recording by building his own console to record five tracks on half-inch wide tape. As studio owner and recording engineer, he helped create the sound of surf music with the hit records “Wipe Out” and “Pipeline.” One of Buff’s early employees at Pal was budding musician Frank Zappa, whom he mentored and later sold the studio to. 

After selling Pal Recording Studios, Buff founded Allison Design where he continued his career as inventor and innovator in the field. In the mid-’60s he moved to Nashville where he became involved withthe company Valley Audio. Allison and Valley morphed into Valley People, where Buff remained president until 1984. A pioneer in computerized control of the sound recording process Buff invented various audio tools including the Kepex (Keyable Program Expander), the Trans-amp, the Electronic Gain Control Device, and the Valley People Dyna-mite. These recording tools were used by many artists, including the Beach Boys, the Beatles, Carole King, and Barry White. Many of the designs are still in use today.

After becoming interested in photography in 1980, Buff looked at the available electronic flash lighting equipment and decided he could use more modern electronic engineering to make it more efficient and affordable. As a business strategy, he elected to keep prices down and shorten the lines of communication between customer and manufacturer by selling directly to photographers. The first product, the White Lightning 130, was introduced in 1981. A yoke-mounted monolight that resembled a fat white coffee can, the WL130 sold for an unprecedented $139.95. It was later replaced by the Ultra, Zap, and the current X-series. White Lightning Ultras gained a reputation among photojournalists and other working and amateur photographers for being rugged and reliable as well as precise and affordable. Features included the Balcar light modifier attachment system, wireless remote control options, wide output range, and a powerful modeling light.

As an adjunct to the more expensive White Lightning series, in September 2001 the company introduced a second and more affordable product line, the AlienBees. More recently a third line, the Einstein E640 was introduced and remains the state of the art in manual monolight design. Other products include the Vagabond series of high-capacity rechargeable lithium batteries and a wide range of light modifiers. According to company’s website, since the introduction of the AlienBees series, Paul C. Buff Inc. attained and maintains an approximate 60 percent annual sales share of electronic flash sales in the United States.

Buff is survived by his wife of 16 years, Debbie, stepdaughter Kimberlee Jones, stepson Julian Smith, and grandchildren. The company will continue. 

On its website, the Paul C. Buff corporation has invited people who wish to offer condolences to send them to CelebratingPaul@paulcbuff.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/ .

February 19, 2015

Review: Wrap It Up with a Miggo

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

I have a love hate relationship with camera straps. They are useful, and save my wrists (not to mention keep my camera safe). But they tend to be uncomfortable, bulky, and most annoying, make it more difficult to stow away my camera when it’s not being used.

So when I saw the Miggo Strap & Wrap, I was intrigued. A camera strap that doubled as a soft case? Interesting. For this review, I received a DSLR/Mirrorless (CSC) Strap & Wrap. They have one in development for “professional” DSLRs ­­ that should be able to hold full-frame sensor bodies like my Nikon D3. For this review, I pulled out a smaller DSLR, my Nikon D200. I’ll talk about the fit more in a little bit, once I explain how the Strap & Wrap works. 

The Strap & Wrap is a long piece of neoprene with a zipper down its length, an enclosed mounting plate at one end, and a padded neck strap at the other end. Below you can see how the strap looks zipped and unzipped before you attach a camera. 

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The mounting plate is sturdy but soft, with many little holes so you can adjust where the strap is mounted to your camera depending on where the lens sits on your particular camera model. You’ll want to play around with off­-center installation and find the location that's best for you.

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The mounting screw comes apart so that you can move it to whichever location is best. Note that there is a rubber washer on the one side (that goes up against your camera) and the metal screw goes on the outside (below). You can theoretically keep this camera strap on and use the female threads on the outer surface of the screw to mount the whole shebang to a tripod. Or maybe a mounting plate would be more practical, depending on how often you intend to stabilize your camera.

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Once installed on your camera, the strap will rotate freely around the screw post (it doesn’t have threads along its entire length for this reason. Here’s what it looks like attached to my camera body.

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See the blurry white arc in the upper right of the frame? That’s actually a lens cap holder. This is a godsend for me, since I am always misplacing my lens caps. They have a mind of their own and don’t like to stay in my pocket, so having a special stow pocket is fantastic.

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The camera strap function is pretty self­explanatory. You unzip the zipper and hang the strap across your body or around your neck (Miggo recommends cross­-body for DSLRs). Comfort­wise, the neoprene works great. But for my petite (5'3") frame, the strap is just too long … the camera falls at my hip or below, even when worn cross-body. On the flip side, this length would be ideal for my husband, who is tall and usually struggles with camera straps being too short.

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To convert from the strap to a camera wrap, you simply zip the zipper closed and wrap the length of neoprene over the camera. Depending on the length of your lens, you will wrap it differently.

• Short lens: wrap comes up from below, over the LCD screen, then the top of the camera, around the lens, back over the LCD screen a second time, and then the open loop will secure around the padded lens.

• Long lens: wrap comes up from below around the front of the lens, then the top of the camera, over the LCD screen, underneath the body, and then the loop secures around the lens.

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You’ll want to have your camera’s lens cap on when you wrap it because the zipper does pass over the front of the lens. And while it is an invisible zipper (meaning it’s hidden/protected inside the neoprene), I would still rather be safe than sorry when it comes to my lenses. 

Wrapping up the camera wasn’t all that tricky. Depending on the lens I used, the fit was more snug or even a little loose. That’s why Miggo suggests two ways to wrap it up. 

Here’s what my camera looked like in the Strap & Wrap:

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And in case you’re wondering, yes, I was able to still use the grip on my camera (see below). 

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So, that’s how it works. The smaller the body, the larger the lens you can wrap up in the Miggo Strap & Wrap. Overall, I really like the concept of this strap/case. I’m a little bummed that the strap is longer than ideal for my height, ­­but if you are average height or tall, you’ll probably be thrilled. I wish that the strap could wrap around the sides of the camera body to protect that too (see the photos above, the sides of my DSLR remained exposed), but I guess the lens end or the LCD screen side are most fragile so as a soft case, this seems adequate. Miggo gets bonus points from me for eliminating the problem of where to store my camera strap.

And as I mentioned earlier, there isn’t a currently a version for large DSLRs—Miggo products are suitable for small and medium-size DSLR cameras only. The Strap & Wrap retails for $49.99. Miggo also makes a Grip & Wrap version that is similar in concept, but instead of a camera strap, becomes a wrist strap; it retails for $39.99. For more information, visit:

https://mymiggo.com/products/ 

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

Imaging USA: Expo Floor Finds

By Joan Sherwood, Senior Editor

One of my favorite parts of Imaging USA is setting aside time to scout the Imaging Expo and look for new and interesting items that I haven't seen before, spectacular exhibitor displays, and listening to what the crowds of shoppers are responding to. 

One of the first things I ran into was a massive crowd around the BorrowLenses and Spider Camera Holster booths. Just once was I able to get over to where Shai Eynav, president and founder of Spider Camera Holster was demoing their products (the new SpiderPro Hand Strap, the Spider Monkey quick-draw system for accessories, the new Medium Lens Pouch, and the Memory Card Organizer) a to a standing-room-only crowd.

borrowlenses.jpg

Album makers Finao launched their new Friends With Benefits loyalty program at Imaging USA 2015. There are everyday benefits with being a Finao customer, but the FwB program lets you reap more according to how much you spend annually with the company, sorting VIP customers into Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond categories. Rewards include Finao cash, free Xhibit fine art matted print, discounts, and additional goodies and perks.

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finao_limitededition.jpg

Then of course there is the benefit of getting to choose from some beautiful, meticulously crafted albums, like the Limited Edition Savile Row, Tufted, and Halson albums pictured above (click image for large view).

Sometimes you run across a gadget that looks potentially really useful, and the Grip & Shoot is one of those. Essentially it's a Bluetooth 4.0 remote for your smart device camera (compatible with iPhone 4S and newer, some iPods and iPads, and many Android devices), and it works at distances to 100 feet and more.

You can use it with your device in the JawZ Universal Holder, or with the Grip Adapter that lets you mount it on any stand with a 1/4"-20 thread. 

The Grip & Shoot system is also designed with an open API, so app developers can design apps to take advantage of it, including gaming and utility apps.

gripandshoot.jpg

Sweetlight Systems got a lot of attention during the show. They make a patented hybrid backplate for the Hybrid Pro that lets users easily switch from continuous lighting to strobe (via Spin Ring on your strobe unit) without breaking down equipment. Check out their site to get the full picture. 

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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.

painter-auto-paint-step1.jpg

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.

painter-auto-paint-step2.jpg

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.

painter-brushes.jpg

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.

painter-brush-glitch.jpg

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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.”)

painter-auto-paint-step4.jpg

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

painter-save-as-jpg.jpg

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:

painter-clone-source-warning.jpg

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.

painter-new-blank-painting-options.jpg

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.

2015-01-06 Abstract Strokes of a Flower.jpg

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:

painting-in-progress-series.jpg

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. 


 

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