Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Nikon Df - First Look

Hello all.  We wanted to give you a quick look at the newly arrived Nikon Df.

In the "body only" box:
  • Nikon Df camera in black
  • EN-EL14a battery
  • battery charger
  • viewfinder cap w/ tether
  • camera strap
  • manualsViewNX2 software
  • body cap
  • USB cable
This camera has been quite an opinion piece for a lot of the forums and bloggers.  Before anyone had this in their hands they were either praising it as the next coming or panning it as an overpriced piece of trash that is nothing more than a way for Nikon to bilk money from fanboys.

The above 2 images were taken using the Df's in camera HDR mode setting (2EV).

As with most things in life, going to either extreme is a very emotional, reactionary way of looking at this and generally just causes more trouble than its worth.

What we do know is this as of this writing:
  • The heart of the Nikon Df is, arguably by some, one of the best high end DSLR full frame sensors made to date - that of the Nikon D4 and the Expeed 3 processing engine.
  • The price of the Nikon D4 is $6000USD, the Df $2747USD.
  • The Df is weather sealed to the standard of the D800.
  • The Df is about still images, so no video mode is present.
  • The Df standard for digital fusion.  What this means is that you have a conglomeration of manual controls from legacy cameras in the Nikon line up like the F and FM series SLRs.  You also get the control system of the modern DSLR with front and rear control wheels.  Its your choice how you want to work with this camera.  Plus some of the control methods can be combined!!  More on that further down in the post.
  • It is the lightest full frame DSLR that Nikon makes right now(710g with no lens)
Feel free to visit the Nikon site to get the full list of specs...but you get the idea.

1/13, f/4, ISO 1600, 36mm, Nikkor 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5VR
Below, I'm going to share some things that I found interesting.

Feel Of The Camera:
It is lighter than you would expect, but feels very solid.  The control wheels are stiff and I think would be fine even without the wheel locks for a lot of users.  It would be nice if the locks were "on/off" and not "press and hold", but for me it was not that big of a deal.  I've gotten used to running the exposure comp and ISO dials by feel - no need to move my eye from the finder.

  • Auto Focus - Because the weather here has not been the best, most of my tests have been indoors.  Cannot say that I have seen this camera hunt for focus at all.  The majority of my shooting has been with my old 50mm f/1.8D lens.  It focus' fast and sure.  I plan on eventually running every lens I have through the Df to see how they all perform.
  • Manual Focusing - A lot has been bantered about regarding manual focusing.  Some people think that it will be difficult if not impossible to manual focus lenses on the Df because they believe that the viewfinder is the same as a D800/D610 or because it does not have a split prism focusing screen.  My findings showed me that I was able to manually focus without issue.  Not 100% dead on rate, but better than when I tried on my D300 or D700.  So far, I've tested manual focus on 50mm f/1.8D and the Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6.  The image really did "snap" into focus and I could tell even without verifying with the "little green dot" in the finder that the focus was there.  This is one of those things that you really need to investigate for yourself if you are going to want the Df for those old MF/AI/AI-s lenses.  Make sure it is going to get you where you want to be.
1/80, f/5, ISO 200, 68mm, Nikkor 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5VR
Black and White processing in onOne Perfect B&W 8
Exposure Controls:
  • Shutter Speed - I think that Nikon put a lot of thought into this and gave us a lot of options. You have the choice of going one stop steps with the shutter dial on top of the camera.  Nikon also gives you the option of putting that dial in "1/3 step" mode and then using a command dial to adjust the shutter speed.  Pretty standard stuff.  Now this is the extra stuff and where the "fusion" style starts showing itself.  There is a setup option that you can active that will allow you to do a kind of "program shift" with the rear command dial while using the top shutter speed dial as the main setting.  With the "f11" menu setting "easy shutter-speed shift" it will allow you to increase or decrease the shutter speed by 1/3 or 2/3 of a stop using the top dial as the base.  Pretty slick if you ask me.
  • Aperture Control - The Df gives you the option of controlling the aperture value from the command dial, or if you are using a non-G type lens with an aperture ring on the lens(this does not include some older AI lenses) you can use the aperture ring on the lens.  If this mode is on and you switch out the "D" type lens and put on a "G" type, it recognizes that and automatically activates the command dial for aperture value adjustments.
  • Auto ISO implementation - I like how this works.  You setup in the menu the minimum and maximum ISO you want to allow the camera to "bounce around" in.  They also give you a menu setting to set minimum shutter speed as well.  What I like is that if I override the min or max from the ISO dial, I get that overridden value.  I think it is a very smart way of doing the ISO.
Shutter Sound:
Yes, it is very quite.  We need to keep it in perspective, though.  It is quite when compared to other DSLRs.  My D700 and D300 can sound like someone is racking the charging handle on an M240 machine gun in comparison.  But if we compare this shutter sound to say a Fuji X-E1/X-Pro1, then to my ear(not scientific) it is louder.

1/40, f/4, ISO 140, 35mm, Nikkor 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 VR
Black and White processing in onOne Perfect B&W 8
Customizable Buttons:
There are a lot of buttons on the camera body that can be customized.  The OK button in the middle of the multi selector, the multi-selector, command dials, AE-L/AF-L button, the preview button, the function button, the LCD illuminator button and the BKT button.
Not all are programmable equally, but it is nice to have the flexibility to set these up how you want.
For example, I really never use the DOF preview, so that button I set to "flash off".  I do this at times when working with on camera flash or radio triggers and want an ambient only lit image.  Instead of having to turn the flash/trigger on and off - I just press the "flash off" for that image.

Holding The Camera:
The grip on the Df is going to need to be adjusted slightly.  Anyone coming from any retro styled digital camera or a vintage film camera will be familiar with this.  I'll compare my grip on my D700 versus the Df.  The D700 gives you a deeper grip, which allows you to keep your fingers parallel to the ground when holding the camera at eye level.  Your index finger and thumb then naturally fall to the shutter release and the front and rear command dials.
The grip on the Df is different however.  You need to drop your palm downward and angle your fingers 45 degrees to the ground when the camera is held at eye level.  This then puts your index finger at the shutter position and then your thumb and index finger are also in proper position to get to the control wheels.

I've taken some images of me holding the D700 and the Df below to illustrate.  Pardon the stubble...I'm growing in my winter coat!!  lol  :D

For those interested in a deep dive, the manual can be found here:

Here is an interesting story for you.  I went to my local photo store to pick up the Df.  When I was checking out the salesman and I had this exchange:
Salesman: "Yeah, when we first heard about this camera, we were not interested in it."
Me: "Really?"
Salesman: "That was until we took our demo out shooting last night.  Now we finally understand it."

At the end of the day - this is quite a unique design.  You do not want to read the blogs of people that have never used the camera.  You cannot appreciate this piece of kit from afar.  To truly understand it, go in with an open mind and use it.  Then if you still don't like it, at least you gave it the benefit of the doubt.

The way I see it, you are getting a still image only version of the Nikon D4 with a price tag of less then half that.  That is nothing to disregard lightly.

Another item that I would like to share is the comments about the 1/4000th shutter speed "limit".
I put in the shutter speed filter in Lightroom and out of the 35,000 image catalogue, I had under 100 images that exceeded the 1/4000th shutter speed mark.  Most of them were images that I forgot to switch the ISO back down after shooting indoors.  I understand some people's need for a shutter speed that fast, but I think for the target audience of this camera, the 1/4000th should do them just fine.

Here are some street images captured on my first "day out".  Went to the North Market and Short North area in Columbus, OH on a brisk December day(roughly 28F).  Just took the Df and the 50mm f/1.8D out for a stroll.  Still looking for the "just right" settings.  All these images were taken with the "standard" picture control and then processed in Lightroom 5.2 and onOne Perfect B&W(which is my standard workflow for post).
1/250, f/4, ISO 800, 50mm

1/640, f/4, ISO 100, 50mm

1/60, f/5.6, ISO 400, 50mm
My Personal Feelings About The Camera:
After shooting with this camera for a week, I can honestly say that I love using it!!  It draws very little attention,  creates great files, and shoots like a dream.  I love going out and shooting personal projects with this camera.  I find that, for my shooting style, there are no compromises that need to be made.  I get top rate performance.  I could not ask for anything more.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 VR - Gear Review

Next on our gear review list is the relatively new released Nikon 24-85mm. This lens was released as a kit lens to the Nikon D600/610 series of cameras.

Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G VR
Why purchase this lens, especially since we already have the older Nikon 28-85mm f/3.5-4.5? 

Nikon 28-85mm f/3.5-4.5 Macro

The older Nikon lens is actually a great lens. Very sharp for what it is,  sturdy metal construction, smooth zoom doing,  and can be found for next to nothing.   I picked this lens up a few years ago when I wanted a walk around zoom for my full frame Nikon D700.  Did some online shopping and found it for $62USD at KEH.

Ault Park Pavilion - Cincinnati, Ohio
ISO 100, 1/125, f/10,  32mm(no VR)
We've shot some street with it and a few community events.   It has held up well and performed admirably. It does have a bit of a slow AF speed performance.   It also lacks VR.

Strategically Lit
ISO 1600, 1/15, f/5.6, 50mm(VR active)
Fountain At Night
ISO 1600, 1/30, f/5.6 24mm(VR active)

So we went looking for a replacement and found a refurbished 24-85mm VR for $349USD. 

So far,  initial use has been positive.   It is definitely a sharp lens,  even acceptably so wide open at all focal lengths. The VR works as advertised, but we found little need for it until we started getting into the 50mm focal lengths and beyond or started shooting in very low light(night scenes).

Mass Transit, Downtown Cincinnati, OH
ISO 1600,  1/40, f/4.2, 44mm(VR active)
The newer 24-85mm also had the full time MF override capability.  

Test Platform:  Nikon D700 with Picture Control Standard (I do this because I like to post process all my JPG images in Lightroom/PS CC).  All the images here are hand held.

Size:  In comparison to the older Nikon 28-85mm zoom,  it is shorter, but larger in diameter.

Handling:  What you would expect from a zoom of this grade.  A little sticky at times, but overall pretty smooth.  I expect it to smooth out more with use(it has already).  It also has the same focus and AF ring positioning(zoom toward the front, focus ring toward the back) like on the Tamron 70-300mm we reviewed earlier. Not bad,  just different, especially since the older Nikon has the zoom ring to the rear of the lens.  Full time AF override, so you can crank that manual focus ring if need be.

AF speed:  Dead silent and heads and shoulders faster than the older 28-85mm.  Not pro grade lens fast, but acceptable for everyday use.

Optical quality:  Pretty close to even, I don't think I could give a nod one way or the other.  They both were very good.

Image Stabilization:  As mentioned earlier, we found very little need to use the VR until we got at and well past the 50mm focal length and into some night scenes.

Mall Christmas Tree
ISO 1000, 1/30, f/4.5, 24mm(VR active)
The sample images are from a wide array of scenes.  EXIF data provided will show that we were able to successfully use the VR for handheld night shots.  Generally, I would have used a tripod and a lower ISO for these kinds of images, but its good to know you can "run and gun" with some higher ISO and VR and get acceptable images.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Just Amazing!!! The Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 VC

Took a trip to the Cincinnati Zoo and decided to really stress out the VC on the new Tamron lens.  All I can say is that the VC not only works, but really surprised me in just how well it worked!!

I've had other VR lenses in the past and they have all worked well.

Look under the sample images below and check out the EXIF data.  Yes, these are not "fast" aperture lenses, but my goodness the VC on this thing is miraculous!!

Gear loadout was the Nikon D700 and the Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 VC, attached to a BlackRapid sling strap.  No tripod, no leaning on a wall or pole for support.  Straight hand held.

1/60f/5.6 ISO 640 300mm

1/20 f/4.5 ISO 1250 125mm
The ones above, numbers wise are good, but check these next few out.  CRAZY!!

1/8 f/4.8 ISO 1250 160mm
1/4 f/4.0 ISO 1600 80mm
Yeah, 1/4th and 1/8th of a second.  Those are not typos and I'm not pulling your leg.  I did not doctor the EXIF info in any way.  I'm still a little shocked looking at the last 2 images and seeing the EXIF data numbers.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 VC - Gear Review

As most follows of the BLP blog know, we have switched back to an all Nikon shop.  All the Fuji gear we had sold and the proceeds gone to the Nikon Df.

Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 VC
Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR
The Nikon Df will be our new take everywhere and travel gear.  To that end, we like to keep our travel and EDC(every day carry) kit to a minimum.  To that end we are going with 2 great zoom options.  The wide to medium telephoto will be the Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 VR(on order and coming this week - review to follow) and the newly acquired Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 VC.

Sabre In The Backyard
1/250, f/5, ISO 200 @ 160mm
Aperture Priority
Barn Door
1/100, f/5.6, ISO 200 @ 70mm
Aperture Priority

Squash(left) = 1/20, f/5.6, ISO 200 @ 70mm (VC active) Aperture Priority
Water Pump(right) = 1/400, f/5.6, ISO 800 @ 260mm (VC active)  
Aperture Priority

 This gear review, we will concentrate on the Tamron lens and compare it some to the tried and tested Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR lens, which was in tight contention with the Tamron.

Cow #1
1/80, f/8, ISO 200 @ 240mm (VC active)
Aperture Priority
Lets look at the this lens compared to the Nikon and why I chose it.

I was lucky enough to get into Midwest Photo Exchange and worked with Sonnie on comparing these 2 lenses.

Broken Wagon Wheel
1/60, f/5.6, ISO 200 @ 250mm (VC active)
Aperture Priority
What we had to work with:
Nikon - refurbished
Tamron - factory new

Test Platform:  Nikon D700

Size:  The Tamron was slightly smaller in length, but larger in diameter than the Nikon.  The Tamron has a larger lens hood as well.

Handling:  They both handled about the same.  Because of the plastic construction, the zoom was a little sticky at times on each.  Nothing like the pro 80-200mm f/2.8 or the 70-200mm VR lenses...but then again, we are not even in the same price range or size here.

AF speed:  Slight advantage to the Nikon, but not by much.  Sounds wise, they were both whisper quiet.  They both also have the full time manual override of the AF, just by turning the manual focus ring.

Optical quality:  Pretty close to even, I don't think I could give a nod one way or the other.  They both were very good.

Image Stabilization:  Both worked as advertised.  I was getting relatively good hand held shots in the shop at 200mm, f/5.6, 1/25 and 1/50 of a second.  I did notice a little different "activation" of the VC compared to the Nikon.  Not better or worse....just different.  Noise wise, the Nikon VR was more noticeable, but only from the shooter at the camera.  In real world application, no one would notice.

Mama Cow
1/30, f/4.2, ISO 800 @ 86mm (VC active)

Other Thoughts:
I own/have owned other Tamron lenses in the past and they have all performed very well optically(Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 and Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Macro).  I'm not opposed to using their lenses on professional shoots at all.

FYI - The sample images I took were either from my back yard or from Slate Run Living Historical Farm.

What swung me to the Tamron:
  • f/4 at 70 on the Tamron versus f/4.5 on the Nikon.  It doesn't seem like much, but when these lenses are that close you start to get really nitpicky.
  • Price.  Midwest Photo had a refurbished Nikon($386) or a new Tamron($449 - $100 mail in rebate = $349).  Slightly better price, nod to the Tamron(6 year warranty is great as well).
Some things I'll need to get used to:
  • Weight.  I'm so used to the weight and size of the Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 that this thing seems very light.  Not a bad quality for a travel/take everywhere  telezoom.
  • Zoom/focus ring switched.  Every lens I'd had up to this point have been the more traditional zoom ring closer to the mount and the focus ring toward the front of the lens.  Both lenses were designed that way, so it would take some adjustment either way I went.

Monday, November 11, 2013

How I Got TheShot #37 - Chamberlain College of Nursing Induction Shoot

Chamberlain College of Nursing has an annual induction ceremony that we have been invited to for capturing images of the night as well as getting portraits of the inductees into the Sigma Theta Tau society.

We wanted to run you through the night and give you some insight on how we got these shots.

Creative Process:
We had 2 parts to this job.  The first was to get some grab shots of the groups and then get individual portraits of all the inductees.  We ran this one pretty straight forward.

We were located inside a ballroom style area with very low ambient lighting levels.
Luckily, the walls and ceiling were white, so that helped us out a lot when were getting the grab shots during the event.  It also helped us out for the portraits as well.

Nikon D700
Nikon 28-85mm f/3.5-4.5
Alien Bee B400
Nikon SB-26
Nikon SB-600
Umbrella Box
Radio Popper JrX Studio transmitter/receiver
Light stand
White Reflector

EXIF Info:
Shot in manual mode
Camera quality setting - JPG fine
exposure: 1/250, f/5.6, ISO 200(portraits), ISO 800-1600, f/3.5 to f/4.5, various shutter speeds(walk around)

Alien Bee power 1/4
SB-26 Power 1/8 power
(walk around)
SB-600 CLS -1EV

Lighting Setup:
For the walk around images, we used the Nikon SB-600.   I mentioned earlier about the walls and ceilings. We did not use straight flash, instead, we used bounce flash.  Either off the ceiling or we angled the flash head behind us and used the rear wall as a large light source.
In these situations, the room is too large to light the whole thing so you light what you can and let the rest of the ambient fall where it may.

Bounced the SB-600 off the wall behind me and into the forefront.  The rest of the room we "drag the shutter" and let it pull in the ambient.
For the portraits, we setup our lighting to stage left.  We had the AB400 in an umbrella box to the right of the subjects and at your standard 45 degree angle.  When we did the test shots, we were liking the light on the face, but we were not liking the dark shadows under the models chin.  We used a light filling technique where we place a round, white reflector on the floor and shot the SB-26 into it.

We had 36 portraits to get in a quick few minutes.  So we did not want to do anything too complicated   These portraits were done while the induction was going, so we did not want to have anything too disruptive.

Post Processing:
We did our standard portrait retouching using onOne Software's Perfect Portrait 8 beta.  We did a little blemish control and popped the eyes and teeth.  Nothing more.
We then did some basic contrast, sharpness, color boosting and then threw in a vignette to make the subjects stand out.

We Are Back To Being An All Nikon Shop! Find Out Why Inside.

The New Kid On The Block - Coming To Us Early December 2013

For those of you have that have been following the blog, you know that we have been using Fuji's new X series cameras for some of our work and for personal projects.
Through out the post here, we will show you some of the great moments we captured with this gear.

Hubbard Bar and Grill
Fuji X-E1, Fuji 35mm f/1.4R
It has been a very good run but in the end Nikon is going to win out. The Fujifilm gear is great with a good sensor and a spectacular ergonomics. The lenses are top notch and you should expect nothing less from Fuji as they make great medium format lenses and have done so for years.
There has always just been something with Nikon that has always resonated and felt right for me. With the recent announcement from Nikon regarding their new DF camera, this will be the one for me that I wish the Fuji would have been.

Dee Snyder Zombified
Fuji X-E1, Fuji 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 OIS
While I was certainly able to get some really great images from the Fuji gear,  there were always some lingering deficiencies that kept it from being the number one camera in our kit.
These included such things as slow wake up times and non-traditional continuous focusing system and a slow response contrast detect auto focus.  We here at Best Light Photographic do a lot of sports and action photography, and while the Fuji gear produced excellent image quality, at the end of the day Fuji could just not fit all of our needs the way that the Nikon DSLR gear and the new DF camera can.

Hat Shop
Fuji X-E1, 18mm f/2
Please know that the Fuji cameras are great for what they can do and are great for those that can get the best out of them. We have nothing but love and respect for the time and the images that the X series camera gave to us. You never know, in the future there may be room in our camera bag for maybe an X100s or even an X20!

Helping Prepare For The Cold
Fuji X-E1, 35mm f/1.4R
So really, the big announcement is we are all back to being 100 percent Nikon cameras.
This was not a decision that was made lightly,  and while the Fuji X cameras were an 8 out of 10 for our perfect take everywhere camera the Nikon DF is a 9 out of 10. There's just so much great Nikon glass out there that it makes the decision to go back to all Nikon the best logical choice.
If you want to learn more about the new Nikon DF camera here's a link to their official website with all the details.

Ohio State Fair
Fuji X-E1, Fuji 18mm f/2
For years we have been looking for a camera the harkins back to the days of simple image creation. Something uncluttered by extra features that we just simply don't need and a control structure that is simple to use has all of the exposure options readily available and not buried in menus and is in a small form factor that can go everywhere and anywhere. Most important is image quality and the ability to get the shot with minimal fuss. While we think that Fuji has hit a homerun in this regard we feel that Nikon hit a grand slam. The fusion of the classical control scheme from their original F and FM series cameras with the new DSLR digital format and exceptional Nikon D4 sensor make this an almost perfect still image making machine. 

If you want to see more of out X-E1 images, check out our Flickr stream.

This is really just our opinion and you may feel the same or you may feel different.
At the end of the day all we want is a masterfully crafted tool to help us create the best possible images for our own personal satisfaction and to the satisfaction of our clients.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Art installation at 5 Bean Coffee continues!

Just an f.y.i to everyone that our art installation at 5 bean coffee shop will continue on through the end of November. 1 item has already sold and it has been replaced with a new item. Please feel free to stop in and patronize this establishment and check out all the great art that is up for sale there.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Photography, Art, and a Different Way Of Thinking

I've had some discussions recently with some other photographers about a bit of a different subject.  It centered around these particular images.

These images have been  popular ones for me, and while that is all well and good, I don't post images on the internet to get accolades or to see how many people favorite them, +1 them or anything like that.  I love photography.  It is one of the creative outlets that I have that I feel I have had any success in.  I share the images in the hopes that they will reach someone, make them feel something - or at the very least see if they can share in what I saw at the time.  Given back and helping others learn is something I feel I need to do.

I have to admit that early on, we as photographers often fall prey to many a pitfall.  We get suckered into thinking we have to buy the biggest, best gear because of the marketing hype, when we really should evaluate and buy the gear we need to help make getting the images we want easier.  We get caught up in pixel peeping and thinking that if a certain lens doesn't look tack sharp at 100% magnification then the resulting images from it will all be crap.  Not true.  Photographers from the past have captured iconic images with lesser gear and without auto focus.  It's about the captured moment in time and does it have the capability of expressing the situation to your viewer without you even including a description in writing to go with it.

Along those lines, let us think about the hat image above.  For me, I was going for "did I transport you back in time" to a place where clothing was custom made and not "off the rack".  Is that what you saw?  Did you appreciate the image for the story it told, the mood it set?  Or did you look at the exposure, the shadow and highlight detail, the post processing and the sharpness?  Did you wonder if that was straight out of camera with a bit filter applied to give it the Ambrotype look?

While all those different ways of looking at the picture are valid ways of looking at it, if the first thing you did was look at the technical and think shutter speed, f stop, ISO - I invite you to stop doing that and start looking at the image as a story.  Look at it as if you know nothing at all about the process of creating a photograph and view it as art.  See it as a means to convey a story or you "feel" anything from it?  

Only then can you truly appreciate the image.  All the technical stuff is easy and mostly trivial.  If you understand the basics of photography, it is pretty easy to dissect the images technical merits.

Bottom line is - when looking at your images or someone else's for that matter, it is all too easy as a photographer to get caught up in the technicalities of the image creation and then you lose sight of the feeling, meaning, depth of the story it is trying to tell you.

My other point I'd like to make is this:

Your photography is your art, make it however you want it to be.

I've often got flack from people regarding some of my post processing techniques.  Mind you, I do experiment quite heavily in camera and in post processing for my personal projects.  As an artist, we should have that freedom to do so.  What we consider cliche'd, overdone, garrish, and over baked may be the trend of the future.  An artistic process from the past may come back in vogue.  You just never know.

We all have our right to our opinion.  If you see something and you don't like it - that is OK....just like it is OK for someone else TO like.  Both sides need to respect their counterparts opinion.  Be respectful, voice your objection constructively - but refrain from personally attacking the creator of the work because they chose a different way of thinking.

Again, using the example image above - I've had 1 or 2 people nitpick, criticize and personally attack me about the processing methods used on this image.  Go figure.....some people have nothing better to do with their time.  I don't let that get to me, and don't let it get to you either if you find yourself in that same situation.  If you choose to engage in a discussion with those kinds of people, I recommend the following approach:

1)  Be respectful and argue your case.   Stick with the facts and don't get personal, even if they do.  If someone gets personal in their debate, 99% of the time its because they really have no good argument or defense so they try and pull you into a mud slinging match.  Its not worth it to go there.

2)  Know when to bow out.  If you've made your case and no more need be said, don't endlessly engage in back and forth just for the sake of it.  Be the bigger person and walk away.  That might also be something you consider before even engaging in #1 above.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Art Installation At 5 Bean Coffee!

We are excited to announce that we have 5 metal prints currently being exhibited at the 5 Bean Coffee shop in Central Ohio on SR256 in Columbus.

If you happen to be in the area, stop by and check out the images, but also indulge in some of their expertly crafted coffees!

The images will be on display and for sale throughout the month of October.

Friday, September 27, 2013

How to Carry Your Cameras - Alternatives To The Neck Strap System.

This has been a long standing theme for a while on quite a few of the forums I read.

Image Courtesy ©

One of the reasons I hear for people wanting to go from DSLR to a mirrorless system is because of the weight.  A very legitimate reason, for sure.  The overall weight of the mirrorless systems can be less than a DSLR, but is weight enough to justify tossing the DSLR for a mirrorless alternative?

Those that know me, know that I am a big preacher of using the right tool for the job.  If a DSLR is the right tool, it would be a shame to give one up just because you did not investigate alternative carry methods.

Lets look at this for a minute.

One of the number one reasons I hear regarding the weight issue is not the weight itself, but the "I don't want to carry 3-4 lbs of camera gear around my neck all day" line.

Another issue I see often is that people tend to bring too much gear with them.  They think that they "might" need that 300mm or that big f/2.8 mega zoom.   Then they carry that around with them all day and wonder why they are fatigued.  Really think about the gear you need, take only what you are going to shoot and not what you think you might need.  A lot of times, I'll take only my 300mm f/4 and nothing else.  It keeps the kit lighter and is good mental exercise.  It makes you shoot and think within the confines of your gear.

Yes, carrying that amount of weight around your neck all day can be tiring, annoying, painful and inconvenient.  So what are you still doing it?  Where does it say that just because the camera manufacturers send a neck strap along with the camera means that you have to use it!

I've attached quick release neck strap adapters to all my camera gear.  This allows me to connect and disconnect the neck straps, if I choose to use them.  Why would I do this?  I still have some legitimate use for them.
1)  If I am on vacation or out somewhere and I ask someone to take a picture of me I use the neck strap as a way to give a level of "drop protection".
2)  Sometimes I want/need to put the camera back in the camera bag.  In those cases, I use the neck strap as a makeshift hand strap system.   This gives me a level of security that gives me a tether or lifeline in case I drop the camera or get bumped.

When I went looking for neck strap alternatives, I came across many different systems.

One of which is the hand strap system.  This one generally connects to the camera tripod socket and one of the neck strap lugs.  You place the strap system around your hand only.   This keeps the camera secure, but it also keeps one hand almost permanently occupied with the camera.   This was a deal breaker for me, so this kind of system did not work for me.

Then we get into the other holster type systems like the Spyder Holster or Cotton Carrier.  These are more to my liking.  They attach to you body, and use your larger load bearing points (chest and/or hip) as places for lugging the weight of the gear around.  They are great, but some of their products require you to attach them to your belt.  Not a big fan of that....just don't like it.  Some of them do have "vest" options which are great.  I thought at first this is the way to go, but what happens is that they require a specific way to detach the camera from the holder and once detached, there is nothing in place to secure the camera from dropping or you getting bumped.

So I kept looking.

I finally found and currently use, the BlackRapid strap system.  It is a winner for me because it ticks all the right points with very few failings.  I have 2 of their products.  The "Classic"  RS-4 single, cross body strap as well as the "Double" DR-1.

The classic is great for those times when you need only one camera body.  The strap is light weight, but well padded.   It slings cross body, so your chest/shoulders are carrying the weight - not your neck or belt.  It allows for the camera to set by your hip.  When you go to use your camera, the strap still remains tethered so you do not have to worry about droppage.

The DR-1 is for those times when you need to carry 2 cameras at the same time.  You have a camera on each hip and all the benefits of the above mentioned "Classic" strap also apply here.  As an added bonus, BlackRapid made the DR-1 modular.  What this means to you is that you can disassemble it and have 2 single cross body slings if you so choose.

Now, before you think that I'm calling this an infoulable system, I'll cover some of the short comings of the BlackRapid system.
1)  The strap connects to the camera via the tripod socket.  If you need to use the camera on a tripod, you'll need to remove the retaining bolt each time you want to switch back and forth.
2)  With some setups, you won't be able to hold the camera like you used to.  What I'm referring to here is the times when you have a big lens on there, like the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8, 80-200mm f/2.8 300mm f/4 type lenses.  They have tripod collars on them and it is generally a good idea to attach a strap system like this to the tripod collar.  This distributes the weight better.  See where we are going with this?  You may not be able to hold the camera like you would with a neck trap because the connection point for the strap is going to be right where your hand usually goes to adjust the focal length on a zoom lens.  You will need to train yourself to adjust your grip.

I hope this helped some of you.  Just give it some thought before you go out and buy a whole new camera system - make sure that a sub $100 investment in a different carrying solution might not solve your issue better than a potentially thousand dollar gear swap - that in the end may not really be what you need.

Monday, September 9, 2013

"Other" Software and Tech I Use

It's pretty much a given that, as a working photographer, your either using some kind of Adobe product or Apple Aperture for your post processing needs.  I know of very few that use others.

Today, I thought I would go into a little bit more of a "deep dive" and discuss some of the other software and tech that I use and why.

Before we proceed,  just know that I am just telling you what I use and why.   I'm not providing them the best,  I don't get paid to hock them or for click throughs of any kind.

Just to set the base of the playing field my core workflow as of this article is as follows:

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5
Adobe Photoshop CS6

My work platform is PC based.   My current machine is a Dell Studio XPS 9100 tower.
It is an Intel i7 CPU 960 running at 3.2 GHz, 12GB RAM and 2 TB HDD.
OS is Windows 7 64-bit Home Premium
Video Card is a Radeon 6600 with 1GB of dedicated video memory.

Before using Lightroom,  I was using ACDSee Photo Manager as my cataloging tool.   It was good for me as a starter,  and at the time I got it,  there was no such 
thing as Lightroom.   I switched away from it because of Lightroom's non destructive editing and the ability for the catalog to handle large image volumes. 
It's integration with PhotoShop CS didn't hurt either. 

Lightroom Plug-Ins/Add Ons

Topaz Labs Bundle - the bundle at the time I purchased it included Adjust, Clean, Detail, Remask, DeJPG, DeNoise.  Of which I often use all of them except DeJPG.  The have since added some additional plug ins like B&W, Lens Effects,  and Refocus. 
This is similar to other bundles out there like Nik, onOne, etc.  I chose Topaz initially because their price point was great and the Noise plug in was doing a much better job than the supplied functions in either of the 2 Adobe products I had at the time. Their website has demos and tutorials, so check out our for yourself.   The other great thing is that they will give you a full functional trial of any plug on for 30 days. 

onOne Software Perfect Photo Suite 7 - I originally only purchased the B&W plug in from them because Topaz did not have one at the time.   I really like their posts as a good starting point. After many delays in  rolling out the version 2 of the plug in I purchased, onOne upgrade my single plug in purchase to the bundle.   That was really awesome!

Other PC Software - Photo Specific
Photomatix Pro 4.1 - one of the oldest HDR programs out there and it works really well.   Lots of options for tweaking your exposure and does a great job at lining up the image layers.   Works with RAW and JPG files. 

ProShow Gold - I don't make species often,  but when I do,  I love using this.   Way better than Windows Movie Maker because it gives you tighter control and more options. 

Colorvision Spyder2Express - monitor calibration is a must have of you are serious about your post processing.   I chose this because it works on LCD and CRT displays.   At the time I had both.

Other PC Software - Not Photo Specific
Filezilla FTP Client - a free,  but feature packed FTP client.   The are times when clients want images delivered to their server or you need to get files from somewhere else.   Good gives you a quick and easy interface to get where you need and get/put your files. 

Dropbox - I just recently converted all my clients from CD based image deliverables to a Dropbox shared folder.   It was quick and easy to do.   I put the images there and the client can pull them down add they need them.   Have not yet run or of space on the free account.

CDBurnerXP - when I still delivered images on CD/DVD I found this little gem of a program.   Completely free to use and has great features.   Even though I've gone all cloud delivery,  the optical drive is still used for backups. 

Non Computer Related Tech

Samsung Galaxy Note 8  - I know a lot of people out there that think that if you are a photographer and in the industry that you should be using iPads and Macbooks.  I don't believe in that.  Apple products do not do it for me and there are plenty of Android options out there that will get you what you want.  For instance the Galaxy Note 8.  Big enough to be useful and easy to see, small enough that you can take it everywhere with you.   The note series come with the stylus and believe me it is well worth it.  You can take meeting notes in your own hand writing, proof images, and you still benefit from the full range of Android apps.  I have had a 10 inch Xoom and a Nexus 7 - and they are great tablets.  I found though that I actually like using the stylus from the Galaxy Note 8.
The other bonus of this tablet is that with the purchase of a $2 OTG(on-the-go) cable, I can hook my camera/memory stick directly to it and download images on the go for clients or social media!

S Note - The note taking app that comes with the Galaxy Note 8.  Just because it is stock don't think it inferior.  Samsung has put a lot of work into this app and it shows.  Plenty of templates to shoose from, keywording, sharing options, cloud syncing.  It's all there.  Different writing implements like, pen, pencil, art brush and highlighter are easy to get to and use.  Probably my #1 reason for getting this tablet.

Samsung Gallery App - This is my #2 reason for getting the Note 8.  From the outset, it looks like your standard gallery app, but then you get into the menu and you see the "photo note" option.  This allows you to virtually flip the image over and write notes on the back of the images in the gallery!   When I used to proof images on my old tablets with clients, I would need to keep a separate notebook with notes on print sizes, number of prints and any a additional information.  Now I can do it all in one place.  It really smooths out the process.

Vignette - This is an Android camera app which I love.  It has great control placement, allows you to take an image just by touching the screen and it has a lot of post processing options.   I love the Illford B&W simulation  in it.

Sun Surveyor - an ephermeris app that allows you to find the exact sun and moon location any time of day in any place in the world.  The paid version has an augmented reality mode that overlays longitude and latitude lines and allows you to follow the timelines with the real environment around you.

Shot Designer - if you do any kind of flash photography then you've probably setup lighting diagrams to determine how you want your scene to be setup with model, lighting, background and props.  IF you have not, i highly recommend doing it.  Shot Designer was built originally for setup of motion picture scenes, but I find all the tools in the app 100% compatible with still photography.

Square Register - This is great because there are no ongoing fees.  You only pay when you use it.  The card reader is free as is the app.  I run it on my tablets and my phone with no issues.  Super convenient when cash is not an option

Sunday, August 4, 2013

New Tumblr Account!!

Just FYI to everyone.  If tumblr is your favorite favorite social media of choice, we have an account there too!  We will use that account to post images from time to time and post out our blog posts here as well as stories as well.  Check us out over there!


Monday, July 22, 2013

Outer Banks 2013 - Keeping It Simple

I've posted previously regarding family vacations/travel and photography.  In the post Travel Photography - What To Take, I discussed how to get the best images you can with minimal gear.

Took a family vacation to the Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina - the infamous "Outer Banks" or "OBX".

I switched up the gear a little bit this time and instead of going all Nikon D50, I took the relatively new acquisition of the Fuji X-E1 and the Nikon D50.  The X-E1 handled the ultra wide to moderate range and the D50 took the moderate to telephoto.  Why go this way?  Well, the Fuji 55-200mm OIS lens was not released at the time of this vacation, so the Nikon was still required.

Gear List:
Nikon D50
Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6 VR
Fuji X-E1
Fuji 18mm f/2, 35mm f/1.4R
Rokinon 8mm f/3.5 Fisheye in Nikon mount/Fotodiox Nikon to Fuji lens adapter
Joby Gorillapod for DSLR
Nikon SB-26

Did not need the speed light for exposure on this trip.I did use it for another reason, which I will explain later.

We tend to travel and find our own way around.  We do take some of the chartered stuff, but we don't plan out the entire trip and have a schedule for everything.

Nikon D50
Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6 VR
Ok, so I told you earlier that the SB-26 was used but not for the reasons you would expect.  The family wanted the beach and ocean in the background.  I placed the Nikon D50 on the Gorillapod and attached it to a hand rail leading into the beach.   Set the timer and fired it off.  The camera was sufficient distance away that we could not see the small light on the camera body that let us know when the timer went off.  Instead, I set the camera on manual and dialed in the correct exposure.  I then placed the SB-26 on top of the camera and placed it in manual mode as well, popping off at 1/64th power.  We just needed a confirmation on when the shutter was released.  We go the perfect shot in 3 tries!!

Fuji X-E1
Rokinon 8mm f/3.5 Fisheye

Fuji X-E1
Rokinon 8mm f/3.5 Fisheye

Fuji X-E1
Rokinon 8mm f/3.5 Fisheye
 The previous 3 shots were captured using the Rokinon 8mm Fisheye.  It is in Nikon mount and uses a Fotodiox adapter.  It has an aperture ring, so exposure in the camera is automatic!  Just set the aperture ring and the X-E1 will adjust the ISO and shutter automatically for you.   I used it just to get a different effect.  I very well could have gotten great shots with the Fuji 18mm, and I did...but sometimes you experiment and do some things a little different.
I chose to go with the Rokinon in Nikon mount because it can then also work with my Nikon D300.  Double duty is always good.

It is also a manual focus lens, so I get a large depth of field by putting the lens at f/8 and setting the focus ring to about 1.5 ft.   With this setting you should get everything from a foot and a half to infinity into focus.
Fuji X-E1
Fuji 35mm f/1.4R
Couldn't resist!  The above shot were some of the youngsters riding inner tubes down the sides of some of the dunes.

Fuji X-E1
Fujinon 18mm f/2
In Camera Panorama
Playing about with some of the in camera features, the Fuji X-E1 has the ability to capture panoramas in camera.  Just set it to that mode and follow the on screen guidance.

Nikon D50
Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6 VR
The shot above was helped tremendously by me going out and doing my "visual push ups" and taking up street shooting.  It doesn't hurt studying people like Fan Ho or Henri Cartier-Bresson....understanding their methodology and applying it.  I walked the beaches near our rental and treated it like a street shooting assignment.

Nikon D50
Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6 VR
This crab claw in the sand, most likely left here by a seagull after a meal, caught my eye as a great still life.  The contrast of the course sand/gravel with the smoothness and bleached out look of the claw really pulled my attention.  This is a situation where the VR came in handy.  It was bright, but I was standing straight up and shooting down at 200mm.

Nikon D50
Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6 VR

Nikon D50
Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6 VR
Nikon D50
Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6 VR
The 3 images above of the horses were taken at sunset.  These are wild spanish stallions that roam this area.   Back when America was first getting settled, the Spanish explorers would come into this area, and their large boats would get stuck in the shallow coastal waters.  They started throwing anything of weight overboard....and some of those things were the horses.  The ones that were never recovered, lived off the land and went back to their wild roots.
This is another situation where the VR really helped.  Most of these were shot at ISO 400 on the D50, which is still very usable.
The first 2 images were very typical of what you could expect to see, and the sunset light really helped pull out texture in the horses coats and the scenery.  We specifically asked for the sunset tour times for this very reason. Sometimes a little planning does help out!

The last image was shot on our way into the beach area.  The back lighting was so intense and the part of the beach we were on did not allow you to stop, so this was captured as a silhouette on purpose.   Sometimes you only have a split second to get that capture!

Fuji X-E1
Fujinon 35mm f/1.4R
In Camera Panorama
This is Currituck Light House.  We ended up here after just driving around exploring.  This is a situation where some of the in camera features save your bacon.  I only had the Fuji 35mm with me on the X-E1 and I could not get far enough back with an effective field of view of ~53mm.  So, I put the camera in Panorama mode and got this shot.

Nikon D50
Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6 VR
Here, we took the dolphin tour.  Spent most of the time racked all the way out to 200mm.  A lot of specular highlights from the water caused some havok with the meter.  So, we shot these in manual mode.  After looking at some of the shots, I'd say that the D50 was giving us a good under exposure of 1/3 to 2/3 of a stop under in aperture priority.  To not have to deal with the exposure fluctuation, we went right into manual mode and left it there for the duration.

Nikon D50
Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6 VR

This image is of an ospreys nest. There were three babies in the nest.  This was an unexpected find on the dolphin boat tour.

Fuji X-E1
Fujinon 35mm f/1.4R
We also made a trip to the NC Aquarium.  It is not large but a visually impressive show of sea life and indigenous OBX wildlife.