Category Archives: Gear

Topics on specific tools and their uses.

Decisions, decisions…

Can't decide animation.
We are on the verge of the first D700 shipments (on sale July 25th, in Japan for sure). So with the D700 officially “outed” people (me too) are starting to ask, “what’s next?” Once again the rumor mill starts to churn.

Apparently, Amazon.com is selling the Nikon D3 body for $4,541.97. Probably in response to the huge amount of D700 pre-orders but fewer D3 sales — which are already in stock. B&H Photo is still at $4699.95 — I put more faith in B&H. For whatever reason, Amazon is having a fire sale.

Most agree that there are at least two more Nikon DSLR’s waiting in the wings: a D80 DX replacement and a higher resolution FX sensor body. Most pro’s and serious amateur’s are more interested in the latter. Nikon is on a “time to catch up” rampage, this year. Makes sense, it is a big anniversary year for Nikkor lenses and Nikon cameras — Nikon cannot afford to lose anymore face. Sony has already made it perfectly clear that they will release their “A900?”, 24 MP, full frame, mid-sized DSLR, flagship; later this year. Photokina? That fact alone almost guarantees (in my mind) a Nikon design high resolution FX sensor equivalent. The million dollar questions are, “What form factor?” & “When?”

Nikon could pull another “F6 move”. In case you never shot with 35mm roll film, the F5 was the only Nikon professional film body that had the integrated (non-removable) motor/battery/vertical grip. The F, F2, F3, F4, & F6 all had dynamic form factors (grip or no grip, it was up to you). For some reason — probably the battery — the big body/integrated grip form factor stuck with professional DSLR systems. But now the D700 is proof positive that a professional grade, FX, DSLR can be built into a more compact form factor. (95% viewfinder is the rub.) And just like with the F6, if you need the speed (extended battery life), you can add on the optional battery/verticle grip.

The D3 is a sports/action/PJ/event camera. There is no doubt — high speed is very important for the D3. Therefore it is totally logical that the integrated “speed grip” be built into the system. But what about a higher resolution studio/landscape type camera? As far as I know, 5 frames per second is more than fast enough for most studio and landscape situations. Do we need the speed grip on a high resolution studio camera? Nope. True, the vertical shutter release is very useful shooting hand held fashion–just ask the medium format digital guys who do not have it. BUT just about every other studio and landscape situation has you shooting off of a tripod or camera stand with a cable release–vertical shutter release is irrelevant. Will Nikon apply this same logic to their high res FX DSLR? We will see.

OR, this is what I am brain storming at the moment: D3 is to D700 as D3X is to ???? Who else thinks Nikon will pull a “D3/D700 marketing move” with the next FX body evolution?

Di-GPS tagging at work…

Click to view actual Google Map.

The link above will take you to a Google Map that displays my GPS coordinates while I was trying to photograph the fireworks at Pearl Harbor last night. The fireworks were actually staged South West of my location. Like I said before, the GPS tag is neat for messing around but it is hardly necessary while shooting in my ‘backyard’. The geotags will be much more useful (interesting?) when I travel. :-)


Gear: Performance Update, IRL.

Lots and lots to talk about! However time is precious so I am keeping this one brief. I shot a beautiful kitchen remodel today and was able to really test two pieces of equipment: Paul Buff, CyberSync radio slaves + my new DawnTech Di-GPS Pro.

First, the CyberSyncs: they worked splendidly! The only thing I had to think about (outside of my normal work flow) was to make sure all the receivers were set to the same channel as my transmitter. Once that was set they worked perfectly for the entire shoot. I was working with a 5 light setup. 4 lights in and around the kitchen and 1 kicker outside a window. Technically, I only needed one radio slave–for the outside light. But in between my shots, the designer was snapping away with a pocket camera (w/ on camera flash). Since all of my lights were bypassed with radio triggers the designer was free to snap away and not once trip any of my lights. Before radio slaves I had to switch off all of my lights first–huge pain in the butt. Paul Buff CyberSync’s = *two thumbs up!*

Next, Di-GPS Pro: although not at all necessary for my commercial photography…it is hella fun to play with the geotagged images in Google Earth afterwards! ;-) In practical terms it is simply one more layer of metadata that can be used for advanced cataloging. In Adobe LightRoom you can click on the fly out arrow under “Metadata–>GPS” and it will automatically take you to a Google Map based on your GPS coordinates. (I think its cool!) There are several software utilities available that make it possible to create a .KML file which creates an overlay–for Google Maps or Google Earth–where your GPS track and/or geotagged photos can be visualized. I have only tickled the surface of the geotagging knowledge base, so more on that later.

There are two short comings with the Di-GPS Pro. 1) On camera bodies besides the D300 or D3, there is no power management–the unit is either “on” or “off”. On my D2X, the Di-GPS Pro managed to drain my EN-EL4 battery in 2.5 hours! I started with a charge of 98% and after 2.5 hours the battery meter read 9%…NOT GOOD. 2) Second short coming–more like a minor irritation–the unit only tags images as they are captured–no continuous trip track, like a real portable GPS solution. (The unit wasn’t designed to do that though–so it really isn’t a short coming–I am just being finicky.) Technically, I can “connect the dots” to plot my journey based on the geotagged photos BUT I would have to be aware enough to snap images at regular intervals, otherwise “my journey” would be nothing more than random spots on a Google Map. In hind sight: a true hand held GPS solution would be far more useful, but I think I will keep the DI-GPS Pro–its fun! Di-GPS Pro = *one thumb up.* More to come once I have done testing on the D3.

Mahalo, thanks for reading!

Paul C. Buff: CyberSync Radio Slaves.

CyberSync System.For those of you shooting with Paul C. Buff strobe systems (White Lightning, Alien Bees, or Zeus) there are new radio slaves available. The new system is called “CyberSync (CS)“. This new CS radio slave system replaces the discontinued RFT1 units–which had a terrible reputation. Paul C. Buff Inc., has been nice enough to offer a “Buy Back” program for those who bought the old RFT1 system. Basically you get a $39.95 credit, per unit, towards the purchase of new CS units (one for one trade).

I finally got my CS set last week. At first glance they look much better than the old “generic flea market type” RFT1’s. Supposedly the CS units were designed and built in the USA. (Although, all of the electronic subcomponents are probably made in China.) A good sign is: the power plug bypass–on the receiver unit–says, “Taiwan”. If the subcomponents are indeed coming from Taiwan, then that is a great thing. I have heard (from business owners in Taiwan) that Taiwanese quality control is worlds better than mainland China.

CyberSync Transmitter.As you can see the CS units have a more “Pocket Wizard-ish” look with the antenna nub. The best feature is the new 16 channel design. The CS units use a rheostat-like rotary switch with click stops for each channel. (Hooray, no more silly pin switches!) I am not sure how cluttered the 2.4 Ghz band is but with 16 different RFID’s to choose from, you are bound to find a clear channel in just about any environment. (Unless you find yourself at a huge event, like the Olympics, with thousands of photogs trying to sync thousands of off camera strobes at exactly the same moment.)

For the most part the CS units are still very compact. The CSR (AC receiver) is bigger than the old RFT1-RX–almost double the size. But that is an acceptable “cost” for the added benefit of the new channel switching system and (advertised) longer range. The CST (transmitter) looks like a chibi (tiny) Pocket Wizard. It is kind of cute. It is smaller than the old RFT1-TX. But the new CST feels much more durable. When mounted to my D3’s hot shoe, it feels solid. Unlike the RFT1-TX, which felt like it would crack in half if I just tapped it against something. Over all the CS system looks and feels to be much higher quality.

I did a quick and dirty shake down of the new CS system. I was able to successfully sync 5 monolights, each in a different room, while standing outside my house–on the first try! They were all tripped via CS radio slave–all optical slaves were bypassed. The farthest light was about 100 feet away from the transmitter (closest light was 50 feet away).

CyberSync Receiver.One of the biggest problems with the old RFT1-RX in-line AC power design was unpredictable performance in homes with crossed or reversed wiring. (I am no electrician, so I do not pretend to know exactly what the problem was.) Basically in homes where the wiring was fucked up, the RFT1-RX would not work. Happily, my home is wired properly so both the old RFT1-RX and new CSR units work perfectly fine. I have not had the chance to field test the new CSR units yet. I really hope the problem has been corrected. If I find the problem still persists in the new CSR units, I am going to return them for the AA battery powered CSRB units (which are exactly like the old Pocket Wizard–single duty–receivers).

Which begs the question: “Why not just buy Pocket Wizard’s to begin with?” Well, because a single Pocket Wizard PLUS II Transceiver (PW) retails for ~~$189 + shipping. Do the math: 5 monolights = 5 PW’s + 1 master PW on camera = 6 PW’s @ $189 each = $1,134 + shipping! (FYI: the semi-equivalent CyberSync system costs $410 + shipping.) Sure it is a business write off at the end of the year but I am a cheap-skate. If I can find a reasonably equivalent solution for a fraction of the cost, I am going for it.

The huge difference in price boils down to range and speed. PW’s are reliable out to 1,600 feet. The CyberSync system maxes out at 400 feet (standard mode–repeater mode extends range but is dodgey at best). The other noteworthy difference is latency. The PW is capable of triggering as fast as 1/100,000 sec. The CyberSync stops at 1/4,000 sec. SO, if your off camera flash setups require super speed and very long range, you do need the PW’s. BUT, I shoot portraits and architecture…neither require super speed or very long range. Tight-wads, FTW! ;-) (By the way, I do own a pair of Pocket Wizard’s…they indeed work very well. But like I said: my type of work does not require such a sophisticated (expensive) tool.)

So far the CyberSync system appears to be a very good deal. (Time will tell if I was fooled again.) I will keep you updated on actual field performance. Thanks for reading!

Right tool for the job.

I am often asked, “what digital camera should I buy?” Well, there really is no simple answer to this question. Without knowing exactly what the end user wants to accomplish–it is difficult to offer a definitive answer, on the spot. I usually answer these kinds of questions with more questions of my own:

“What are you photographing? Do you have a camera already? What brand? How much you wanna spend?” Etc., etc., etc., etc.

Unfortunately, I have found this process can lead to frustration on the part of the original questioner–who really wanted a simple one-word answer. It also leads to frustration on my part because I am genuinely interested in helping people make the right decision. I have accumulated a wealth of knowledge over the years and it would be totally irresponsible of me to offer any buying advice without first understanding the needs of the potential camera buyer.

So how can we squash this frustration? Easy–do a little bit of homework and ask yourself these three simple questions…
Continue reading

Starry Night with a Nikon D3.

Star trails w/ Nikon D3.Last night I took a drive out to my favorite dark sky location. As you can see, from the orange “city glow”, it is not perfect. (What, in life, is?) I don’t think there is a perfect dark sky location on the island of Oahu–unless the power went out island wide. It’s probably better that the power stays on. ;-) The orange glow really helped me in the creation of this image though. It back lit the mountains and also provided a tiny bit of fill on the facing side. The image would be boring without it.

This was my first real session with the D3 and long exposure times. The camera performed splendidly! The image above was captured with a single exposure time of 1,055 seconds! (17.58 minutes) Nothing and I mean NOTHING else in the Nikon line can output images this clean at such long exposure times. (D300 might be just as clean but I do not own one to test–Fred can you help me out?) On top of that: I was shooting at ISO 800!!! Now, can you begin to fathom the creative power that is just waiting to be unleashed??? I get goose-bumps just thinking about it! :-D I was shooting through the 17-35mm f/2.8 @ 17mm and f/4.0. That may explain the illusion of the stars rotating about two different centers: the geometric distortion of the lens at 17mm.

For the first time (since I switched to digital) I can finally say – with total confidence – “I will never need to use 35mm roll film, ever again.” Key word being “need”. Of course there will still be times that I want to shoot 135. What a great night! :-)

I promise I will wrap up my holiday food ramble in the next two entries. (Both are favorites, so it will be fun!)

PMA is coming, PMA IS COMING!

OMG--it's PMA!!!I just had to interrupt my foodie series to let you all know about PMA 2008. AKA: Photo Marketing Association (International Trade Show). It is the largest and most anticipated photographic trade show in the ‘States (quite possibly the world) per annual basis. It is rivaled only by Photokina which is held every 2 years in Cologne, Germany. This year also happens to be a Photokina year so expect big things from all manufacturers of things photographic…digital or otherwise. Can you feel the excitement?! I can!!

Already, Pentax and Canon have both announced new entry level digital SLR’s. Pentax also announced a very nice “mid-range” DSLR with a 14 megapixel CMOS imager. Nikon already blew their D3 / D300-wad last year so I expect only a new “D80-type” camera from them. Though I am hoping for a “D3X-type”, full frame, high resolution, pro studio camera! If not at PMA maybe at Photokina–not bloody likely though. :-( Us Nikon guys would be lucky to see a Nikon studio DSLR (a la: Canon 1Ds Mk3) in 2009. I still have an eye on Mamiya and PhaseOne. . .

If anyone else is as excited as I am, you will want to keep your browsers on Dpreview or Imaging resource for reliable PMA announcements and live coverage. One piece of advice for anyone sitting on the, DSLR to-buy or not-to-buy, fence. If you are gonna do it, buy the newest model that you can comfortably afford. Older models “on their way out” may have an attractive price tag BUT ask yourself this question: “Would I buy a discontinued personal computer just because it is cheap?” I hope all of you answered “no”. Modern digital cameras are very much like your average personal computer. If you get 5 years of trouble free use out of your digital camera, consider yourself lucky. Professional cameras are a very different story…BUT the newest pro models start @ $4,500. (^^;)