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