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The Tao of I. T. Al

The Tao of I.T. Al #58

[flv]http://digitalapplejuice.com/wp-content/uploads/flash/al-mad.flv[/flv]

 

blame madbadcat for this episode too.

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.
 

Categories
Graphics Reviews Software Workflow

Review: Jumsoft Keynote FX Series (pt2)

iWorks Keynote by Apple is an excellent presentation application program for backgrounds and templates for text and images. The finished product (movies, reports, etc.) can be exported into QuickTime, PowerPoint, PDF, Images, Flash, HTML and iPod versions. Apple ships Keynote with thirty-six standard themes, providing the end user with a strong foundation and giving you plenty room to expand your library.

Jumsoft is just one of a number of companies that supply add-ons to use in Keynote. We recently reviewed Keynote Themes 7, Keynote Photos 2, and Keynote Stills 3.

Due to the nature of the Keynote FX series, we have created FLV video presentations to review these products. But first, an introduction to these products:

Keynote Themes FX 3.0

Keynote Themes FX 3.0 consists of seven new and visually innovative themes: These themes provide a delicately animated background style and plenty of slide layout options. These small background actions will liven up your presentations without distracting your audience from your main point.

Keynote Themes FX

Even if you already use Keynote Themes FX you will discover that your presentation will come alive with a new verve and sparkle when you apply the new visuals that are available in the ten new backgrounds in BackgroundFX 2.0. These backgrounds can be used in conjunction with any of your themes as they do not come with basic slide layouts.

ObjectFX 3.0

If you are unfamiliar with photo objects, they are images of objects with a transparent background.  they are a very effective way to “isolate” a visual to support your presentation or bullet point. Jumsoft ‘s ObjectFX 3.0 are 70 detailed 3D images  that are easily pasted into presentation pages. Optimized for 1024 x 768 frames these cleanly cut objects  suit a number of ideas and concepts.  Keynote Objects is only $39 and the upgrade from Keynote Objects 2.0 costs just $19.

Keynote Animations 5

Finally, for my own usage, the last of the Jumsoft packages that I find powerful is the Keynote Animations 5 package.  Priced slightly higher ($45) than the other add-ons, these animations allow the addition of eye-catching movement to an otherwise “pedestrian” static frame. There are 180 animated images that can be used to attract attention or produce emphasis in your presentation.  These images can be cut and pasted, resized and looped in Keynote’s QuickTime option.

Keynote Quartet FX bundles together  the latest versions of Keynote themes FX, Keynote Animation, Keynote Objects FX and Keynote Backgrounds FX at a discounted price of $99 (or as an upgrade from Keynote Quartet ’06 for $45). That’s great buy.

If you are an Apple iWorks Keynote user, check out Jumsoft’s offerings at http://www.Jumsoft.com to invigorate your next lecture, sales meeting or presentation.

Madbadcat’s Note: The road from Keynote to QT to FLV to WordPress is a long and winding one. I decided that the most important thing was to focus on the animations- not the transitions, or interactivity- so each slide holds for 5 seconds then moves on. There are many reasons for this. Mostly its because I don’t think Keynote was ever meant to “publish to the web”. It might be an option they should consider for a future version.


Keynote Background FX 2.0 (11.5mb streaming; no sound)

[flv]http://digitalapplejuice.com/wp-content/uploads/flv/bgfx.flv[/flv]


Keynote Objects FX 2.0 (3mb streaming; no sound)

[flv]http://digitalapplejuice.com/wp-content/uploads/flv/objectfx2.flv[/flv]


Keynote Themes FX 3.0 (10.4mb streaming; no sound)

[flv]http://digitalapplejuice.com/wp-content/uploads/flv/themesfx3.flv[/flv]


Keynote Animation FX 5.0 (8.2mb streaming; no sound)

[flv]http://digitalapplejuice.com/wp-content/uploads/flv/anim5-700.flv[/flv]

Categories
Parallel Desktops

After a week with the iPhone, what’s great, what’s not

I’ve had my iPhone for a little over a week now and figure it’s a good time to settle in and talk about what I like and dislike about it. I have not really changed my calling habits too much as a result of having the iPhone; the way I use the phone in general is about the same as I’ve done in the past. Where it has changed my daily activities is in the additional stuff I can use it for outside of being a simple phone. No longer do I get stressed out about having to waste time standing in line or sitting in an airport terminal waiting for a family member’s flight to arrive. I simply whip out the iPhone and check my e-mail or hit the Newsgator mobile site to see if there are any new developments on my Washington Redskins.

I haven’t tried the full iPhone version because I’ve been so pleased with the web based model. I love the Safari web browser built into the iPhone. Other than Flash sites everything I’ve pulled up renders great and is readable easily by zooming in. If the font is reasonably sized I can sometimes pick it up without even having to zoom in. Scrolling is also a wonderful experience. The best part? Coming across a site that’s been optimized for the iPhone. This is going to be a requirement for any web products I build in the future. The 3G access in my area of Northern Virginia is excellent with 5 bars in many places, 4 in others. If I can’t tap into a good wireless spot the 3G provides a reasonable alternative. When I’m in Southern Delaware I don’t get 3G but I do get excellent Edge signal. It’s significantly slower than 3G though serviceable. Sending and receiving SMS messages with the iPhone is great.

I love the iChat style presentation since it makes carrying on a conversation much more natural. The fact that I have a real keyboard means that my text messaging conversations tend to be more human readable too. The Mail application is fantastic and works very well with my Gmail account. I love that it works with my online folders via IMAP, can quickly pull my recipients out of my Contacts and can deal with attachments so easily. Someone has a phone number in their e-mail sig and a simple tap allows me to call them. The Calendar application is a nice implementation of iCal, though I don’t like that fact that once I create an appointment I can’t seem to change it from Work to Home calendar. Since I sync my calendar through iTunes with iCal on my Mac if I make a mistake and place something on the wrong calendar I can change it there. The Contacts list is also a strong point, syncing seamlessly with my Mac Address Book.

I have found myself dropping in pictures for all of my contacts because it is so easy and I like seeing the face of the person calling me. The battery life on the iPhone has been decent for me, considering how I am using the device. I can generally get a full day out of a charge with reasonably heavy use. This is not a "I can go for 5 days before I have to charge my phone" kind of device; I plug it in at night while on the road or sync it up with iTunes on a daily basis when operating from my home office. Not quite perfect On the downside I’ve had to restart the iPhone a couple of times now after it locked up on me. There are also times that the iPhone can respond very slowly, especially in the Contacts application. If I activate it and then try to pull up a contact record or click on the alphabetical list on the right it can sometimes take about 5 seconds before I get a response. Once it starts being responsive everything is fine; it’s just that initial delay that’s an issue.

This is not a regular occurrence but it is often enough to be noticeable. If I could pick one feature that could be added to the iPhone that would be very helpful it would be a modest clipboard function for Copy/Cut/Paste. Finally the camera in the iPhone is pretty weak. If the lighting is perfect—basically outdoors on a bright day, sun at your back—it can take an excellent picture. Indoors with decent available light it can take reasonably good pictures. The lack of a flash and white balance controls makes it pretty unusable if there is any back-lighting. Want to take a picture of a person that has a window behind them? Forget about it. These little complaints aside I really am happy with the iPhone. When I consider all the things that the iPhone does brilliantly it makes the list of complaints I have seem pretty weak.