Categories
Featured Gadgets Parallel Desktops

The Accidental iPad and How I Use It

When Steve Jobs announced the iPad a few months ago I didn’t think “Wow, I gotta have me one of those…”. Though I was intrigued by the form factor and slightly motivated by Steve Jobs’ demonstration of the device, it didn’t scream out at me as something I needed. I was actually more amused with all the criticism surrounding the choice of iPad as the name for the device.

I yawned and went on with my life.

Nearly a month ago I walked in to our local Apple store with my family. We weren’t looking for anything in particular, just letting my kids fawn over the Mac hardware as we thought about buying a MacBook for my son before he heads off to college. I asked one of the Apple store employees if they had an iPad I could take a look at. He handed me an 8 x 6 inch card with a picture of one on it. The device was far thinner and lighter than I expected.

He then asked if I would like to reserve one.

Categories
Featured Gadgets Photography

Digital Camera Infrared Conversion

Since the 1930’s, photographers have enjoyed the use of infrared films for both scientific and pictorial use. The infrared spectrum is beyond the ability of the human eye to see, and objects viewed in light from the infrared spectrum often look quite different from visible light. Most living foliage will appear light or white in a final print shot with infrared film, and human skin can be almost translucent, with veins showing through the skin like magic. But with the advent of digital capture, most infrared emulsions have been discontinued. I know of only one infrared emulsion easily available now.

An initially unintended consequence of the digital photography revolution was that many digital sensors were very sensitive to infrared, to the point manufacturers put a filter over the sensor to block infrared light. With that filter removed and an infrared-passing filter put in its place, a new world was opened to digital photographers.

One of the main problems with doing infrared film photography was that there was no way to meter the level of infrared in a given scene. Exposure was a series of trials and errors (mostly errors for me). Many photographers bracketed exposures heavily, over and under exposing frames around what they thought was the proper exposure. There were a lot of other problems with infrared film that just made it difficult to work with. Handling was only in total darkness, the film was very heat sensitive, and it was very easy to fog the film.

I first became aware of digital infrared around the year 2000, at a workshop on Photoshop. The lecturer displayed a few images in their presentation that had been shot with a Minolta DiMage 7 camera. I was intrigued. I immediately bought a DiMage 7 and a deep infrared filter, and started on the road to digital infrared. One thing that immediately struck me was that I could see the infrared image – no more guessing if I got the exposure right. No more shooting six stop brackets to insure a good exposure. No more wondering how the scene will look – if the model’s clothing will render the way the eye sees it or not. Wow!

Fast forward 10 years. I’ve been shooting a converted Nikon D100 for over 5 years now. I had a showing in 2008 of my infrared work at Angelina College. The infrared world has been very good… but now, I wanted more. More megapixels, and with the now greater selection of infrared filters available for camera conversions, greater variance on infrared vs. visible light captured, and more color.

Yep, color. The only way previous to digital to do color, or “false color” infrared, was to shoot one of Kodak’s emulsions like Kodak EIR Ektachrome Infrared. Green plants turn shades of red, and Caucasian skin tones turn shades of yellow. Images with this film were stunning… but you still had the problems of difficulty in handling and exposure. With the current crop of sensors and filters, some rendering of color is found in the images captured.

I recently had a second camera converted to infrared by Isaac Szabo, a Fayetteville, Arkansas photographer (http://www.isaacszabophotography.com/). Isaac shoots a wide variety of photographic subjects, and does all of them well. His infrared work is great. I found him while doing an eBay search for “infrared conversion” – I was pleasantly surprised to see his price for a conversion. So after thinking about it for a few moments, I clicked “buy it now” and shipped Isaac my Nikon D200 body.

Not only did the camera get converted, but Isaac set the focus for the lens I supplied with the body. Infrared light focuses at a slightly different distance from the lens than visible light, so this can make some real difference.

My D200 came back converted in about 10 days. I opened the package and immediately shot an image through the window of my office. I was pleasantly surprised to find that at ISO 100, I was able to get a hand-holdable shutter speed. Surprised because my converted D100 would have had to be on ISO 400 or ISO 800 to get the same image. I took the camera to lunch that day (it didn’t eat much…) and shot a palm tree in front of a restaurant… and was again pleasantly surprised. There were shades of color in the obviously infrared image. Back at the studio, I opened the image in Photoshop, and ran Isaac’s action (I forgot to mention that Isaac provides this action and instructions to customers who purchase a conversion) to switch the red and blue channels. The result was stunning… blue sky in an infrared image.

If this sounds like it is for you, check out eBay… do a search for “infrared conversion” and look for the infrared photo of the lone tree  – the auction will be titled “Infrared IR Conversion Service for Digital Cameras” and is currently priced at $200.  (or click on the image of the ebay listing)

And, look for a follow-up article in a few weeks – I plan on shooting my newly converted D200 heavily on an upcoming trip to Mexico.

Categories
Featured Gadgets Hardware Photography Tutorials

Lighting On A Budget – Pt. 2

My 6-light CFL fixture worked well in the studio, but I wanted more light and the option to add a light modifier.  I decided to move up to 3” PVC and install eight lamp sockets around the outside of the pipe.

We’re going to call this fixture a SPIDER, you’ll see why in just a moment.

Here is my original collection of parts.

A 3” clean-out plug serves as a hub for the sockets.  My original idea was to attach the clean out plug to a 3” bushing that would be attached to the front of the 2” tee fitting.  The power cord would run out the back of the tee and the light stand would attach to the base of the tee.

I measured and marked the clean-out plug and drilled it with a 5/16” bit.  I made a simple jig from scrap wood to hold the fitting in place.

Using a 2” lamp nipple and a pair of channel locks, I carefully cut the threads for the shorter nipples.  This is where the working characteristics of PVC came into play.  You can cut threads into PVC with a bolt and a little patience, instead of using a tap and die.  I chased the threads all the way through the side of the fitting.

Here is the clean-out plug with all of the lamp nipples fitted.  I chose a clean-out plug as opposed to a regular cap so that I could access the wires more easily.

Each socket was wired and the wires passed through the hole of the mounting bracket.  The design of the bracket and the lamp nipples allowed me to keep all of the wires hidden.

Above is the front of the SPIDER WITH the wiring in place.

Above is the back of the SPIDER with the wiring in place. The sockets were wired in pairs, then the pairs were wired together.  I used wire connectors instead of soldering so that a socket could easily be replaced if it failed.

LOOK; it works! 

At this point I realized that my original design was way too front-heavy.  I needed to move the center of gravity farther back.  So, I’m off to Home Depot yet again.

I found a 3”-3”-2” tee fitting that solved my problem of balance nicely.  I added a 3” to 2” reducer to the back of the tee fitting and a 2” to1.25” threaded reducer to that.  A 4” circle of plywood and a 1.25” male fitting is attached to the reducer and this holds the speedring to my Paul C Buff OCTOBOX™ firmly in place.  A 2” to .75” threaded reducer is mounted at the bottom of the tee for the light stand fitting.

Here’s the light inside the OCTOBOX™.  It throws a very even lighting pattern, even without the diffusion panel.  It’s well balanced and easy to handle in the studio.  I’m working on an improved version for my still photography.  Stay tuned…

Kirk Draut
Director of Design
Aarthun Performance Group, Ltd.
281.580.5705

 

Categories
Gadgets Hardware Photography

Lighting On A Budget (Pt. 1)

A few months ago, my boss told me that we are expanding my department (me) into the world of video production. I was given complete freedom in choosing the camera, computer, and lighting. Like any good photographer, I spent the entire budget on the camera and computer.

Whoops!
 
I initially thought that I could use 500W work lights with diffusers, but two problems arose.
 
 
One- the color temperature of the work light bulbs is very warm and it changes with bulb life. Two- They throw out a lot of waste heat. Sitting between the equivalent of two space heaters gets old fast. The PVC clip "T" holding the light also began to warp from the heat. I needed something different.
I decided to go with CFLs instead, but I couldn’t find any multiple bulb fixtures that fit my non-existent budget. I wandered around Home Depot for a while grumbling until I saw the security light aisle and the modular fixtures. I sat on the floor of the aisle and started test fitting parts, with a couple quick trips to the plumbing aisle for fittings. A stop at the grocery store and I had everything I needed to make my new light.

Let’s get started:

16" mixing bowl
6 light sockets
2 ½" PVC tees
1 ½" PVC threaded tee
1 ½" PVC cross
5 ½" PVC 90-degree corners
½" PVC pipe
The total cost for materials was less than $35. CFL bulbs were another $18.

The PVC is assembled as shown. Short pieces of PVC pipe are used to join the fittings. The threads on the PVC match the threads on the light fixtures. The wires for the fixtures will run through the PVC.

The PVC assembly is test-fitted on the back of the bowl before any cuts are made.

The bowl is primed and marked for cutting. 

IMPORTANT: EYE AND EAR PROTECTION IS A MUST WHEN CUTTING METAL WITH HIGH-SPEED TOOLS. You only get one set of eyes and ears. The drill and the Dremel™ both throw tiny pieces of sharp metal that can instantly end your days as a photographer.
 

My trusty Dremel™ tool made short work of the bowl. I used a 1/4" drill bit to create pilot holes, then opened up the holes with the Dremel™.

Each light fixture is threaded through the hole in the reflector, into the PVC assembly. The fixtures have a lock washer at the base that allows them to be tightened in place.

The wires from the fixtures pass through the angled pipe. My original plan was to run all of them into the central tee fitting, but the pipe was too small. I drilled a 3/8" hole in the backs of the tee and cross fittings and ran them out the back of the assembly.

I used twist-on connectors to join the wires to a computer power cord that I had in my big Pile-o-Cables. Zip ties are used to secure the power cord and keep the wires from being pulled apart.

Each fixture gets a 23-watt CFL bulb. This gives me the equivalent of 600 watts of incandescent lighting for a quarter of the power and a lot less heat. I can also vary the color temperature by changing out bulbs. The light attaches to my light stand with a piece of SCH 80 pipe fitted with a thumbscrew. 

 
 
It’s alive! Even without a diffuser, the new CFL light gives a nice even light with less heat, bulk and power. 

Stay tuned for part 2 when the CFL light gets a big brother…

 
Kirk Draut
Director of Design
Aarthun Performance Group, Ltd.
kdraut at aarthun.com
 
 
 
 

 

 

Categories
Featured Gadgets Photography

Offset mounting bracket for Nikon P90

So I love my new Nikon P90, but I don’t love the fact that the battery and memory card are behind an ill designed battery/card door on the bottom of the camera.  Which has a hinge so close to the mounting point that you cannot open the door to get to your memory card and battery while the P90 is on the tripod.   This fact never bubbled to the surface in researching the new camera before purchase, but I thought, well, I’ll just live with it and download the pics over the usb cable.  However, tearing down the camera to get to the battery mid shoot was really getting on my nerves.

So last night I decided to go on a scavenger hunt through my boxes of harvested components, parts, chunks of material, and found a suitable piece of aluminum. I post this here for you photobugs that have a Nikon P90 or any other camera that has the same problem. It’s easy to do if you have a bit of patience.

Problem: My nifty new Nikon P90 (which I love) has the battery and memory card behind a door I can’t open when the camera is on the tripod (which I don’t love.)

Solution: Machine a bracket to mount the camera about an inch over. I had a chunk of square aluminum with a round cut in the top that I could chuck up in the lathe, drill the center hole on the lathe, and tap it for 1/4×20 threads. I then clamped it into the drill press to cut the two holes for the screw, one for the threaded part, one larger to accept the screw head.

Works great, fits great, but skids a bit when it’s installed.  A quick search for something thin and grippy left me with a small square of rubber shelf paper. This keeps the camera from tilting on the screw axis, as it needed JUST a little more area to find purchase. Shelf paper solves the skidding problem.

I had to find a 1/4 x 20 screw and turn it down on the lathe short enough to fit the bracket and the camera.

About two hours in the garage, and I have something that works. It’s very stable, and allows me to get to my battery and memory card without removing the camera from the tripod, which seems to always happen when I get a shot set up.

Problem solved!

 

 

Categories
Featured Gadgets Hardware Photography Reviews

Lensbaby Composer: A Selective Focus SLR Camera Lens (pt 3)

A Three Part Series  Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Pt. 3 of 3: Be My Lens, Baby…always

Another improvement over my Lensbaby 2.0 is the lens cap – the 2.0 shipped with a nice, heavy solid metal lens cap that screwed in place… unfortunately, it was kind of slippery and difficult to get off sometimes. The Composer ships with a new squeeze-type lens cap (the style that lets your fingers get inside a lens hood, hmm, what a handy accessory that would be?). Easy on and easy off, but not so easy that you can lose it. In fact, the lens cap is flush with the front of the lens only when focused at the closest possible distance, so the style of the lens cap has something to do with getting the cap on and off when the lens is focused at a further distance and the front element is recessed into the front of the lens housing. The size is compact, about the same physical length as my Nikkor 50mm lens.

The Composer I received fit nicely on my Nikon, but you can also order Canon EF, Sony Alpha / Minolta Maxxum, Pentax K or Olympus 4/3. That covers most of the current digital SLR’s… of course, you could mount the Nikon version on your trusty Nikon F from 1965, and mount the Canon version on any autofocus Canon body ever made, including those that shoot (shudder), film. Pentax K mount may have had more bodies and lenses manufactured for it than all others combined. On my Nikon D3, I found that the website is essentially correct in that you need to shoot in manual mode and check your exposure via the histogram. I found it easy to get my exposure set for a scene, and then I set the bracketing to 3 shots (first exposure normal, 2nd exposure one stop underexposed, and the 3rd exposure is one stop overexposed). Most of the time, the normal or one stop underexposed produced the best images.

The first weekend I had the Composer, I visited my mother and grandmother. I got my mom interested in photography in the early 1980’s, and she has shot Nikon film bodies for 25 years now. At my gentle prodding, this year she upgraded to a Nikon D200, which she is never without. I showed her the Composer, and let her put it on her body… I almost didn’t get it back. I had to promise to order her one that very night to get it off her camera.

My shooting was sporadic over the time I had the Composer, but I did get to try it on a variety of subjects. Things, landscapes, people. I shot over 1,000 images with the lens… in other words, I barely scratched the creative surface. Having used many of the possible configurations, I have a starting suggestion for you: start with the Composer. It is not a huge investment by the standards of lenses made by camera manufacturers. Please check the Lensbaby website for current pricing at   http://www.Lensbaby.com/shop/ — there are some special pricing options there if you buy the Composer and Optic Kit and/or Accessory Kit at the same time. All told, you can get the entire system for the Composer and all the optics and accessories for well under $500.

A new feature I noticed as this article goes to press is the photo gallery on the Lensbaby website. There are many images to view with captions to tell you which lens optic made the image  http://www.lensbaby.com/gallery-photo.php . Every time you refresh the page, new images come up.


But Britt, surely there has to be something not perfect with the Lensbaby? Are you selling out? Well, no, I am not selling out. There are a couple of picky little things. When Craig Strong first developed the Lensbaby, my understanding is that he did it to fill a niche for his digital SLR. When he was first doing this, there weren’t too many full-frame digital SLR’s in the world. Certainly, I didn’t have one. So my original Lensbaby 2.0 looked and felt like a 75mm lens on my Nikon D2X (still half the focal length of the Sima, which translated to a 150mm). Now I have the D3… with the Composer (I have not tested the Muse or Control Freak), it is possible to skew the image to the point of cutting off or vignetting the image circle. Once I saw this and realized what was happening, it was no big deal. There is plenty of movement available without vignetting. I didn’t see vignetting with the D200 or D2X, which are both 2/3 frame sensors. Second, I wish the directions for removing and replacing lens elements were a little more detailed. Maybe I’m just not too bright. Are either of my minor gripes deal breakers? Not even close. One accessory I would like to see is a lens hood made to screw into the lens threads, although it would be funny shaped or maybe not possible because of the way the lens optic group moves into the body as you focus to infinity.

So, the bottom-line? Get one. I didn’t test the Muse, but it is essentially the Lensbaby 2.0 upgraded to use the interchangeable optics. In my opinion the Muse is best for fast, on-the-go photography.  Or, step up to the Composer (my recommendation). To me this is the most versatile lens in the series. If you shoot little toy soldiers in dioramas or architectural elements and want the ultimate in precision control, go for the Control Freak. Get more detail on all of these lenses and accessories at  http://www.Lensbaby.com/ . Any prices noted are current as of the time this article goes to the webmistress, but check the website for current pricing and availability… the Composer is currently in stock and shipping in about 3 weeks. The one that I ordered for my mom arrived in about four weeks, which was early by two weeks of the estimated shipping time on the website at the time it was ordered.

Lens Baby SLR Lenses

$150-270

Free Shipping Via USPS

For more information or to purchase, visit

www.lensbaby.com

The Lens Baby Composer – A Selective Focus SLR Camera Lens : A Review in 3 Parts

Part 1 |   Part 2 |   Part 3

Categories
Featured Gadgets Hardware Photography Reviews

Lensbaby Composer: Selective Focus SLR Camera Lens (pt 2)

A Three Part Series Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Pt. 2 of 3:  Be My Lens, Baby…again

Remember our fun with the Sima? The Lensbaby Composer (and all the Lensbaby line, since they use interchangeable elements) is 50mm in focal length compared with the Sima’s 100mm. That gets into the usable range for many landscape opportunities, and makes a decent average focal length for portraits and details. Need wider? They can do that… it’s that system concept I love so much. Offered as additional accessories are a 0.6x Wide Angle lens adapter and a 1.6x Telephoto lens adapter (in a set). That makes the 50mm equate to a 30mm or a 80mm lens via the front-threaded lenses. Yep, there is a macro kit as well, which would be really handy for those of us who shoot close details of things.

Instead of being happy with f/2, f/4 and f/5.6 with the Sima lens, we can now get down to f/22. Why would you want to shoot a “soft focus” image at f/22? Well, what the Sima didn’t do was skew the plane of focus… the Lensbaby skews the “sweet spot” of focus to the point you choose. Want the whole left side of the image to go completely out of focus? We can do that.



When the folks at Lensbaby shipped me the demo unit, I was very excited to open the box and find (first) a Lensbaby Composer (yes!) and a thoughtfully included set of lens elements. The Composer shipped with the double glass element in it, with the f/4 aperture. That seemed like a good starting point, so for the first several hundred shots I did with it, I left this configuration in place.

As I first handled the Composer, I was satisfied with the obvious build quality… it isn’t heavy, but feels solid. It is made of metal and composite materials, with a metal lens mount. The lens has a locking collar at the rear – if you want to lock the lens in position, simply turn the locking collar to lock it in place… since the lens doesn’t move easily on its own, I would think that most people would use the locking ring when on a tripod. Inside the lens optic, there is a magnetic arrangement that holds the f/stop apertures in place. With a little practice it is easy to drop the f/stop aperture in to the front of the lens, but if you have trouble, you can always use the handy magnetic tool provided for the task.

As previously noted, the Composer does away with the hard but flexible rubber bellows of the Lensbaby and Lensbaby 2.0. A composite ball-and-socket allows the front of the lens to move independently of the rear, creating changes in the plane of focus that the lens throws. This shifting of the plane of focus is what gives the Lensbaby its signature look.

Examples- Pt. 2


Lens Baby SLR Lenses

$150-270
Free Shipping Via USPS
For more information or to purchase, visit
www.lensbaby.com

The Lens Baby Composer – A Selective Focus SLR Camera Lens: a 3-part series

Part 1 |   Part 2 |   Part 3

Categories
Featured Gadgets Media The Write Stuff

Lost Your Camera? Did You Look On The Internet?

In 1977 while hanging out with some friends in Philly, I inadvertantly left my camera at an outdoor lunch joint near Second and South. Having shared a few bottles of Merlot (to wash down the double cheese steaks with onions and mushrooms) I hadn’t realized the camera was missing until later in the evening and by then, I figured I was out of luck. In those days, there was no craigslist on which to post lost & found, and I had no idea of the name of the place where we’d eaten lunch (see Merlot ref. above) so I couldn’t call them to find out if it was there.

That was then. The camera is history and as time goes on, the memories become soft and faded like an old pair of jeans. Fast forward thirty some years – timing is everything. What you lose today, has a good chance of showing up tomorrow, thanks to the internet and a few good people who still believe in reaching out.

In the summer of 2008 while hiking in New Hampshire, a man named Matt found a camera at the bottom of a river. The camera was completely rusted out and worthless. A kind and curious dude, Matt took the camera home and fiddled with it until he was able to retrieve the memory card from which, after a little more fiddling, he was able to extract over two hundred photos and movie clips.

Taking it one step further, he set up a blog (http://basinfoundcamera.blogspot.com/ ) and posted some of the photos there with hope that the owner of the camera would see them and he could reunite the two. Eight days later, that’s exactly what happened, giving rise to a great new site, aptly called: iFoundYourCamera. (http://ifoundyourcamera.blogspot.com )

Every Thursday the website is updated with photos sent in by people who have found cameras. Those who have lost a camera can browse through the photos and see if they belong to them. The two are then reunited.

The internet provides us with great opportunity, but people and ideas are what bring it to life. For those who look to reach out and perhaps further the greater good, even if it’s only one camera at a time, there is no chasm that can’t be crossed. All you have to do is picture it.

Categories
Featured Gadgets Software Workflow

Getting Organized: Evernote

Organizational Tool Reviews by the Unorganized!
Okay so I found Evernote in my latest handy dandy copy of Real Simple- a magazine I subscribe to in hopes that one day I will be more organized than not. I am getting there. The article started of with a warning that these apps may become addictive. I had no idea they were serious.

On the web. On your desktop. On your phone.

I downloaded first my desktop version of Evernote onto my Imac and immediately started to document all the notes I had stuck to my computer, lying around my desk and in my notebook. After completing this task I felt rather proud of myself as I could once again see the shinny black desk beneath the piles of paper.

I also remembered that this article was originally written as a review for the Iphone so I proceeded to download that version as well and test out the ease of moving notes back and forth. It was fantastic. I could actually type my shopping list on my computer as the items ran across my mind throughout the day – shampoo, laundry detergent, batteries, check. Then at the end of the day all I had to do is hit sync at the bottom of the app window and they were sent to my online account easily accessible by the iphone plugin.

Now, because my Powerbook is not able to run Leopard (which is required by Evernote) I wasn’t able to download it there. However they have an online version that works perfect for when I am traveling with my laptop and need to pull down some notes. Just login to their website with the username and password you registered with and there is your info. Crazy shopping lists and all.

Capture what inspires you, find it when you want.

So lets talk a little bit about what this baby can do yo put a little ease into your life. After all we are all aware that “creatives” are not the most organized people on the planet. If we spent the time it took before these handy apps to keep everything organized then we wouldn’t have time left for our art, right? So here’s how Evernote can help you….

Here are some examples of things you can capture and store in Evernote:

  • Shopping/To-Do Lists
  • Notes and Project Research
  • Webpages for bookmarking later
  • Sketches
  • Snapshots from your phone(very handy)
  • Passwords that you will need remotely

and that is just to list a few…

My number one use for Evernote is to compile lists from client emails on particular projects that are on the calendar for a later date. It never fails when I start a new site for a client the first week after bid approval I will get a flood of content from them. However rather than it being in one email, it will be in several, sometimes 10 or 20 by week end. I am a little obsessed with having unread emails, so I copy the content from each email and make 1 note in Evernote containing all the info. Then I not only have it on my desktop, but phone and laptop if I need it for reference.

Another huge benefit to having the Iphone app is that if I am in a store somewhere and I come across something that inspires me (happens all the time) I can take a snapshot, send it to Evernote and have it for a rainy less inspired day. Evernote allows my memories to be available wherever I am.

My last most favorite feature is the easy pasting option. So, say you are online researching something and come across something totally irrelevant, but extremely interesting. You don’t want to forget that info, so copy the address, or page content then go to the handy Icon at the top right of your finder bar and choose the option to paste into Evernote. Then you can take a look at it again when you have more time or are not preoccupied with other things. This option also works when you are working in other applications, basically anything you can copy can be pasted into Evernote.

Requirements: Not Much!

There are two ways to do this the first requires no downloads and is all online and the second utilizes the desktop tools. I do a little of both….

1. No download required

  • Evernote Web
  • Web Clipper bookmarklet
  • Evernote Mobile Web

2. Downloads

  • Mac OS X Leopard
  • Windows
  • iPhone / iPod Touch
  • Windows Mobile
  • SanDisk U3

 

Getting your chaos organize with Evernote:

There are multiple options to getting your data organized with Evernote and here are a few…

CREATE – notes using desktop, web, and mobile versions of Evernote, synchronizing with all three once you create
SNAP – shots using your camera phone or webcam. Crazy, but there is even text recognition within the image.
CLIP – webpages, screenshots, PDFs or already existing images
DRAG N DROP – content into your desktop clients
EMAIL – notes directly into your account using your personal email address
SCAN – receipts, recipes, tags, brochures, and anything else into Evernote
RECORD – audio and listen to it whenever you want.

For a Quick Introduction to Evernote, visit http://www.evernote.com/ and click on the YouTube video at the bottom. Enjoy your new more organized clutter!!

Categories
Gadgets Media The Not-So-Daily Edition The Write Stuff

Simplicity In A Box

Last year, I asked my husband for a radio for Christmas. Something for my kitchen counter. Something that would allow me to listen to NPR while I cooked. Nothing fancy, I didn’t even really want anything digital, as I grew up in the day of the radio dial. I’ll even go so far as to admit that in my preteen years, all the cool stations were still on AM.

In recent years, I had a boombox, one that had a CD player on the top and looked like a WMD with an antenna. Big and oblong and obnoxious with a handle, should I want to take it with me to the mall. Over time however my kids had borrowed it and eventually, it went the way of all things that kids borrow, to the beach, perhaps a few tailgate parties and then to hell.

I wasn’t upset over the loss of the box, but rather that I was then relegated to watching re-runs of "My House Is Worth What?" on mute, just for something to keep me company while I was cooking dinner. It didn’t take me long however to decide exactly what it was that I wanted.

A little radio with a little dial. Done. Nothing fancy schmancy with digital displays and flashing lights and shuffle and search and seizure, and a million buttons that I have no idea what they do and that I can’t see anyway. Just a radio. Is that so difficult? I have an IPod, I have a computer, I have a car with a radio and a CD/cassette player. We have Wiis, TVs, MP3s and DVDs enough to choke a horse.

And just when I thought things would never be the same again, he came through. A little radio in a handmade wood cabinet, with nothing but one little speaker and a dial, and a little light to tell you if you’re tuned in properly. That’s it. Pure and simple. Oh, and I might add, killer sound. The Model One AM/FM table radio by Henry Kloss for Tivoli Audio is touted by MSNBC as "the best sounding table radio ever made." We got ours at Target. From their collection of nostalgic goods. Nostalgia is a great trendsetter.

These days, I find that even if I have nothing to cook, I sit in the kitchen and listen – sometimes, it’s all about listening.

Categories
Gadgets Hardware Photography Reviews Workflow

Ray Flash: The Ring Flash Adapter

Ray Flash, a portable ring light for your Canon or Nikon DSLR camera system

Tonight I was making whipped cream for my wife’s dessert. It brought back fond memories of my mother making whipped cream, usually at Thanksgiving or Christmas, and I almost always got to lick a beater from the mixer. That was worth running from anywhere in the house – getting a beater with the thick, sweet whipped cream on it. Ah, those were the days. That is, until now.

A few weeks ago I got a box in the mail… the box was bigger than the hand mixer my mother used, but what it contained was sweeter than whipped cream. It was the Ray Flash attachment for my Nikon SB-800 flash unit, designed to transform an ordinary flash into a ring flash. This model was specifically for my D2X or D3, although it would also work on my old D1X. Ha… Christmas came early this year. And, I didn’t have to fight my brother for it.

Ring flash has an almost mystical following in the fashion and photography world. Ring lights are generally expensive, heavy, dedicated units that fit one manufacturer’s brand of flash pack. They can be very cumbersome to use hand-held. Oh, but that light… the wrap-around quality of shadow-less light is hard to create with any other equipment. The light produces a crisp catch-light in the model’s eye, with very even illumination and quick falloff.  The light that you can now, with your existing equipment, mount on your Nikon or Canon camera!

Imagine if you will a ring light that mounts directly to your camera mounted flash unit, and redirects the light into a perfect circle of light surrounding your lens.  Now imagine that it works totally TTL (through the lens metering with your camera’s exposure system)… finally imagine that it only costs about $300, not closer to $1,000 or more. OK, quit dreaming… it is here, in a real product that you can use now.

Let’s look at what you get in the box. First, you find the ring flash itself, with a head specifically designed for your model of flash (Nikon SB-800 or Canon 580EX). The ring slides on over the lens and the head cover slides onto the head of your flash and with a quick twist of a knob on top, locks securely to your flash. Second you will find a small Ziploc bag of shims… the shims are provided for the head if your flash head tends to droop under the weight. Finally, a short instruction manual. Do you need the manual? Probably not, but it is nice to have.

So far I have shot with two lenses, the Nikkor 24-120 AF VR and the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AF. I shot the 24-120 without the lens hood, as it stuck a couple of inches in front of the ring light. I kept the lens hood on the 50mm, as it was much shorter. Here is what I found… first, on the 24-120, it isn’t easy to zoom… the zoom ring is pretty close to the body of the ring light. It is possible with nimble fingers, and I think it could be learned with a little practice. The 50mm had no such problems. I think an ideal lens is my 85mm f/1.8, although I have currently loaned it out to a friend.

So, what do I like about the Ray Flash? Well, for what you are getting, it is relatively lightweight. It stays easily mounted to the camera, and doesn’t get in the way of the camera straps or camera controls with a couple of exceptions… the controls that are a little blocked are the mirror lockup, autofocus mode selector switch, and lens mount button. With the 50mm, I could simply swing the whole assembly carefully up and make needed adjustments, but the 24-120 wasn’t quite as easy. All the exposures are TTL reliable, with all your adjustments being easily controlled from the back of the flash. You do have to use either TTL or manual flash modes, as the Auto mode won’t work… the photo receptor on the front of the flash body is blocked by the Ray Flash. I can’t remember the last time that I used Auto mode on a flash… probably more than 10 years at least. Want to turn vertical from horizontal? Well this is complicated… just turn the camera. Ha. No more rotating the head of the flash – it’s round!
Teen model Lindsay photographed with Nikon D3 with SB-800 and diffusion dome… note the telltale shadow on the wall. Surely we can do better for such a pretty girl.

 

Same location but photographed after removing the diffusion dome and installing the Ray Flash ring light on the SB-800.

I found several nice uses for the Ray Flash. First and most obvious, I had to find a pretty young lady to photograph for my testing. Lindsay was as easy to work with as the Ray Flash. First we did a test shot with my normal flash arrangement (turning the camera to portrait mode and rotating the SB-800 flash head to match). This usually works well, but if you have a wall or other object fairly close to the back of your subject, you will normally get a rather objectionable shadow on the side of your subject. Next I installed the Ray Flash, and shot the same photo – presto, magico… the shadow went away, and Lindsay’s face was beautifully and evenly illuminated. We shot at a couple of locations, both in open shade and then the lowering gloom of a late fall post-sunset evening. The shots turned out great. I played with the adjustment on the flash to get the illumination level correct with the changing ambient light.

Lindsay posing about four feet from the turquoise garage door… this shot was in open shade just as the sun was going down.

Did somebody say wireless? Commander Ray, front and center! Yes, the Ray Flash works with the Nikon wireless TTL system – program your other SB wireless compatible lights as slaves, set the one on your camera as master, and prepare to make some really funky cool photos. As long as the photo eyes on the side of the slaves can see the ring flash go off, you should be in business.

Lindsay posing about four feet from the turquoise garage door- this shot was in open shade just as the sun was going down.

Another nice use is fill flash on close-up subjects, like flowers. I even did a shot of a couple of my trusty, if dusty, F2 to see what it looked like – worked just fine. I set up a second SB-800 as a background light to make it interesting.

Until I looked at this shot in Photoshop’s Camera Raw  module, I had not realized how really dusty my trusty  F2 camera is. Another use for the RayFlash is shooting  quick photo illustrations like this one to use for online  auctions. This was shot with the RayFlash mounted on  my SB-800 plus 1-2/3 stops with a Nikkor 60mm  Micro lens. In the full-sized version of this photo you  can see every glorious scratch and dent of this 1972  camera.

Ok Britt, you say, there has to be some kind of downside, some trade off with the Ray Flash. Well, there is – the Ray Flash is only as powerful as the flash you mount it on.  An SB-800 has a guide number high enough to be very useful, but you do lose some light in the Ray Flash. On the D3, that is not a big deal – just go up from ISO 200 to ISO 400 and shoot away.  (I found my best results for portraits were shots done within about 8 to 10 feet of the subject. For exact information, refer to chart on the Ray Flash page at  HYPERLINK "http://www.expoimaging.com" www.expoimaging.com.) It is somewhat bulky, and does block some camera controls, but no more than any other ring flash I have seen short of the small macro photo ring flashes that Nikon makes. And to be fair, the $300 price is a little steep for some people, but let’s be completely fair and say that the ring light attachment for my studio strobes costs about $1,400 and you have to lug a $3,000 pack with you that weighs 25 pounds. Oh, don’t forget that you have to have AC power or an expensive battery pack unit to actually use it. Is the studio strobe ring flash more powerful? Absolutely. Is it more convenient for fast-moving location work? Not a chance.
This shot is cropped to show the catch light in Lindsay's eye from the Ray Flash ring light. This is typical, although it seems that the further the subject is from the flash, the less defined the dark spot in the center of the catch light is. Love those freckles!

The bottom line is, if you shoot Nikon or Canon DSLR’s and want ring flash capability out in the real world, get a Ray Flash.

Oh, yeah… after I made the whipped cream, I got both beaters. What a day – playing with the Ray Flash and getting the beaters. Gotta e-mail my brother. He he he…

Ray Flash is imported to the United States by ExpoImaging, the same folks who bring us the ExpoDisc. It is available from select photo dealers or directly from ExpoImaging at  www.expoimaging.net or 1-800-446-5086. ExpoImaging stands behind their products and offers free telephone technical support from 9am to 5pm Pacific Time Monday through Friday.