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Digital Lifestyles Gadgets Photography

Review: Lens Baby Control Freak

Serendipity” is the way to describe a recent interaction between myself and a colleague of mine. It produced several interesting photographic days for me.
You know:

ser·en·dip·i·ty [ser-uhn-dip-i-tee]
n. pl. ser·en·dip·i·ties
the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way: a fortunate stroke of serendipity | a series of small serendipities.

I had just written to Britt Stokes to comment upon the Lensbaby article that he had written and his response was to inform me that he had just dropped my name to the Marketing Manager of the Lensbaby company to suggest that I might enjoy reviewing one of their specialty lenses. He knew me too well; of course I would enjoy it.

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
Books Featured Photography Reviews

The Nikon Creative Lighting System: Using the SB-600, SB 800, SB 900 & RiCi Flashes

As a landscape, architectural, and product photographer I seldom actually photograph people, and most of my artificial lighting is done with "hot light", that is, continuous lighting done with Lowell or similar tungsten-balanced equipment. Therefore, flash units for me are usually confined to snapshots and general family pictures. My experience with on-camera flash has been limited to the level of advanced amateur if I'm being completely honest with myself. However, a couple of years ago when I bought a Nikon D2x to replace an aging D100, I felt compelled to purchase three Nikon SB-800 flash units with the goal of becoming more familiar with them. My best of intentions was defeated by lack of time and the Nikon manuals which I have ranted about before as being written by engineers who want to tell the reader about all the things their product will do but only tell in the most cursory manner the HOW to do something. It's an organization approach that makes the customer read separate accounts from a half dozen widely separated categories. For a mind that has no trouble selecting information from column A, then column B (thirty pages later on) and then from column C another forty pages later…well. That's not me. I want to get all my information in linear manner from one source in one place in the manual.

Because of that I really ended up letting two of those new SB-800's sit and pretty much limited myself to using one SB-800 mounted on camera unless I got really daring and used an SB-29 cable to let me shoot with the flash off camera (by a couple of feet) for family gathering shots if I couldn't do them by available light. I stuck to my hot lights and usual way of professional working and ignored the wonderful wireless capabilities of the SB-800 flash units. Two things finally created a change in my working habits. The first was a former student who uses six or eight SB-800's at the same time who shamed me into rethinking what I usually did. The second was the arrival of a new book from Rocky Nook that made it possible to throw away Nikon's manuals. Between the two of these events I gained the incentive to charge up a ton of AA rechargeable batteries and get to playing with the flash units. 
 

The book that made the difference is Mike Hagen's THE NIKON CREATIVE LIGHTING SYSTEM: USING THE SB-600, SB-800, SB-900, AND R1C1 FLASHES.

If you are a Nikon Camera user then you are familiar with Mike Hagen from the Nikonians website or if you've had an opportunity you may have participated in one of Mike's workshops. His workshops range from African safaris to Montana game ranches and to Hawaiian trips. In between his workshops he somehow writes books and articles. Good ones!

THE NIKON CREATIVE LIGHTING SYSTEM, as a manual, shines in that it is a step-by-step HOW TO manual that takes each of Nikon's SB series flash units, matches the unit with a particular camera or cameras and spells out the step-by-step sequences necessary to make the units (notice the plural) work together wirelessly. Along the way, he teaches you everything you need to know about Nikon's iTTL flash system.

He does it by listing the steps one at a time in such a way that I fired up my copier and copied each set-up as he described them and then laminated the sheets into cards that will slip into my camera bag. I did this for the Nikon D2x, D300, and the wife's D80 so that I could refresh my memory after a spell of not shooting family pictures—and yes, I've begun to shoot some of my architecture interiors and products with flash as well.

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Mike starts with the SB-600 and moves on to the SB-800 and Nikon's newest SB-900 and R1C1 flashes as well. The book is set up so that he repeats himself where necessary regarding each flash so that you do not have to jump ahead or back to find something that is already taken for granted.

I have to mention Rocky Nook's book quality at least in passing. It pleases me so much to see on an inside page of the book the information that tells me that the book is printed on archival paper. That means that the pictures won't fade and the manual will be vibrant for years to come. I still have a couple of film Nikons (F2's) and manual lenses that are still operational after 30 years; so why can't I expect a book to last equally well and continue to perform as well? This one will.

Categories
Digital Lifestyles Photography

Nikon D700 v. Nikon D3

In my work as a Motion Picture Still Photographer, I felt I needed the extra resolution of the full size camera sensor (23.9×36) for my posters and gallery shoots. Nikon named the full size camera sensor the FX sensor as opposed to the smaller DX sensor featured in the D60, D80, D90 and D300, and every Nikon except the D700, D3 and the now flagship D3x.


 
While I was reluctant to lose the 1.5 x length of all my lenses, I did regain the full wide angle of my lenses with the change to the FX sensor. DX lenses that are designed for use with all the DX line of cameras will work on both the D3 and D700, but they will crop part of the image. However, the viewfinder of the D3 and D700 shows you exactly how it will be cropped.
 
I purchased the D3 first, within the first couple of months after its introduction. I got the D700 when it was later released as a backup camera and put in my sound blimp.
 
After working with both cameras for the last year I will attempt to explain the differences
between the D3 and the D700.
 
Since both cameras use the same sensor, they both offer really outstanding picture quality. The resolution will astound you and the low noise levels at high ISOs are truly outstanding. While Nikon was slow in introducing the full size sensor, they hit the nail on the head when they did.
 
The first big difference is the price : D3 – $4995 and the D700 – $2995. However, both cameras have since come down a couple hundred dollars at most retailers.
 
The major differences in the workings of the camera are:

  • The D3 is a blazing 9 frames per second, which is really good at sporting events and for all kinds of action. The D700 is 5 frames per second with 8 frames a second possible with the optional MBD10 battery pack.
  • The D3 is heavier and much more durable. It’s built like a tank as they say.
  • The D3 is better sealed for dust and moisture although the D700 is fine for most instances.
  • The D3 shutter is tested for 300,000 cycles while the D700 is tested for 150,000 cycles.
  • The D3 has an electronic Virtual Horizon telling you how level the camera is compared to the actual horizon.
  • The D700 is noticeably quieter than the D3 (a definite advantage in the film industry), which I’m sure, is because of the shutter and high-powered motor of the D3.
  • The D3 offers a selectable 12 bit or 14 bit AD conversion enabling photographers to choose between a smaller file as faster operating speeds or a larger file with smoother tonal gradations at slower operating speeds. Both offer outstanding image quality.

All in all the D700 is on par with the D3 in all other categories, so if you don’t need some of the features of the D3, the D700 is a great camera and a real bargain.
 
Of course, now there is the newly introduced D3x to consider.
Anyone have $8,000 I can borrow?
 
Here are some working images from the D700 in the every day work environment:
 
This was a beautiful old 1959 Chevy Apache Pickup at dusk that was part of set dressing on a recent film.

 
This is Matt our ‘A’ Camera Operator shooting in an ATV in the middle of a cornfield in Florida.

 
This a Shoe Tree literally at just before dusk.

 
Here-a night shot- working in minimal light shot which is where the D700 excels.

 
This is camera operator Jimmy Lindsay shooting a Panavision HD Video Camera from high above in a Condor lift.

 
There you have it. I hope these few working shots will give you a little sample of the day to day difficult lighting situations which are faced by the still photographer on a movie set, and how the Nikon D700 handles the images.

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.
 

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Books Digital Lifestyles Photography Reviews Software

Complete Guide To The Nikon D300 By Thom Hogan

On User Manuals, Digital Books, Travel, The Importance of eBooks and The Foresight of Thom Hogan

I like physical books.  By that I mean I like a book I can hold in my hand, feel the texture, and maybe even revel in the smell of the paper and the ink.  I like to consume well-done images that inspire or instruct.  I like books that open themselves flat and allow me to look at them without having to hold down both sides of the tight binding of a signature in the book without being afraid that the book would snap closed if I turned lose with one or both hands.

But then I have to say that there is a “but” that goes with all of that.  The bigger a book gets the less likely I am to have it along when I want it.  Big books in heavy bindings don’t fit easily into the weight requirements of modern-day air travel.  They’re, well, “big” and “big” and “ease of travel” are oxymorons.  They just don’t work interchangeably.

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Digital Lifestyles Hardware Photography Workflow

Musings on Washing Machines and CompactFlash cards

If you have read any of my previous articles, you will already know that as a writer I tend to ramble, and that I am a photographer and computer geek. I like cameras more than computers, but use both every day.

One personality trait I have not shared in the past is my hang-up about things working… I like objects to work the way I want, when I want, every time. Yes, I will spend more money on an object if I believe that it will perform the way I want over a lower priced version of the same object. I spent more money on a clothes washer about two years ago than I really wanted to… I got a nicer front loader that had some features I wanted, and uses far less water than top loaders.

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Commerce Digital Lifestyles Hardware Photography Workflow

The Nikon D3

I was always an F kind of guy. My first Nikon pro camera was the original F – a 1971 black body FTN. It supplemented my FM2 and I had it until just a couple of years ago when I sold it to a close friend, who bought it with the understanding that I might occasionally need to fondle it… call it conjugal visits.

A few years later I found a really nice F2 that I still have… I skipped the F3 and F4 entirely

Categories
Digital Lifestyles Photography

EXPLORING DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY & GROUP THERAPY, TOGETHER

When I studied traditional photography over twenty years ago I did not see how much the art would shift for me in the way I executed it and what it meant for me.   I believed like many of us that the silver halide was a thing of exacting beauty that could never be replaced.

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Digital Lifestyles Photography Workflow

The Nikon D300 Camera at Work

My job as a Still Photographer in the motion picture industry requires me to get the best possible images for publicity purposes. This requires me to constantly update my equipment when new and better technology is developed.

Such is the case with the Nikon D300 camera which hit the market in Dec 2007 and is now available without the waiting list that it had for several months. I had been using the Nikon D2x and the Nikon D200 cameras for several years, and a Nikon D100 and D1x prior to that.

Categories
Hardware Photography

Camdapter by Jim Garavuso vs Nikon SLR Hand Strap

A former student of mine dropped by to show me his new Nikon D80 camera.  He stopped in because he knew my wife had the same model and he wanted some help with a couple of menu choices.

I noticed a handstrap on the right side of his camera, into which he slipped his right hand, which left his other hand free to support its long lens. This is a feature he uses frequently shooting sports and wildlife. Having just come back into the world of pro-weight cameras, and being older than I once was, I realized this might now be for me too.