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Monday, July 14, 2008

Starting Point: One Light

I'll admit it, I have fallen in love with the Strobist way of thinking about light: Less gear, more thinking, better images.There was a entry today about  Timothy Greenfield-Sanders who shoots with a large 8x10 camera, but with only one light  proported light source.  In the interview posted on the Strobist site, Timothy states that "There are critics of my work who say 'well he takes the same picture over and over again.'"  He agrees with that comment, but states that he is is making a document of a person and a time.  The images he produces have individuals with very stern faces in simple backgrounds.  The viewer is forced to see the subject.

I have never been one to specialize in anything.  I like being a jack of all traits, master or none.  It has served me very well through the years and I intend to keep it up.  I can see though the virtues of mastering every tool that you want to use.  Off-camera lighting is full of tools and toys.  I recently bought three pocket wizards solely for the purpose of being able to do off camera lighting. I have made the committment to myself, that before I buy anything else. I must learn how to squeeze every bit of usefullness out of what I have.  Going back to simple light forces the photographer and viewer to slow down and look at the subject. Capturing essence is more important to me than documenting.  One should never find being good at something as an acceptable criticism.  However, to keep doing the same thign over and over, simply because it works, doesn't leave much room to grow either.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Strobist Love for the Nikon SB-600

It's no secret that Im a big fan of the website Strobist. So at Mr. Hobby's prompting I bought a set of PocketWizards.  But at the same time I love my pair of Nikon SB-600s.  I don't have a Nikon SB-800 or SB-900 so I'm sure I don't know what I'm missing with all their fanciness, but I really like the Nikon SB-600.  They do everything I ask of them, but they don't have a PC connector that is required to use radio triggers. 

PocketWizards are as the Strobist stated, are the gold standard for wireless flash triggers. Now just like the US went off the gold standard, these too might not be the end all (***COUGH, RADIOPOPPERS, COUGH***) but for now, they do everything I want. They are reliable triggering of my strobes. So I order myself a pair through Amazon and get all excited about their arrival. I already had a set of stands, a few umbrellas and a set of hotshoe adapters that fit nicely on my light stands. In my excitement I download the PDF to the PocketWizards and what do I find, Duh!, PocketWizards have a mini mono plug on one side and a male pc on the other. My hot shoe adapters which allowed me to use my ghetto Gadget Infinity triggers with my Nikon SB-600 flashes wouldn't work. So I turn to Strobist for some help. The suggestion there was a cable that was something crazy like $47. Craziness. So I turned to Google - Google knows all. 

Google knows flashzebra.com

Google pointed me to flashzebra.com. There I found a nice set of PC to Flash Hotshoe Adapters (Item #0065). These things have a screw adapter on the bottom for my light stand posts, a hot shoe on top and two female PC connectors. Now we are cooking. The best part is these things are only $11 with very reasonable shipping ($3.50). I was very pleased with the service I received from flashzebra.com. The little adapters came nicely packaged, on time with little fuss and even a little note on my invoice thanking me. I appreciated that.  So now I don't miss the fact that my SB-600 lack a PC connector.  In fact, I would argue that this set-up is even better because there is no cable connecting the flash to the trigger - instead the trigger is connected to the hotshoe.  This means I can leave the whole thing connected to the lightstand.  If I need to take my flash off during a wedding and go back to on-camera flash it I can easily with just unlocking the flash from the hotshoe.

Also on flashzebra.com is the same thing I had before, a hotshoe with a connector wire, but instead of a male pc connector, this has has a mono mini plug to connect to a pocket wizard. It only costs $17, so price isn't a big deal, but to me, I think having two PC ports has more uses. PC cables are cheap and very versatile. So I'm very happy with the decision I made.

So, moral of this post is if you have a small flash like the Nikon SB-600 and you want to connect a pocket wizard to it, I would suggest you pony up $11 and send it to flashzebra.com. Very cost effective. Simple.

UPDATE:  I have since sold my PocketWizards and bought a set of CyberSyncs.  Why? Because they are smaller, cheaper and work just as reliably as my PW's.  The CyberSyncs work exactly the same as above with the PocketWizards. FWIW.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Why I Hate eBay and PayPal

I became a member of eBay October 1, 1999 and I am regretting the decision completely now. I recently went digital and therefore have found myself not needing my film based cameras anymore. Where do you sell cameras? eBay I thought. I have a Nikon N90s that has been a real workhorse for me. So I put it up on eBay and it sells for a good price. I mail it to the high bidder. He writes back claiming there are three deficiencies with the camera 1) That it did not include a cover on the eyepiece, 2) that the multifunction back didn't work because it was flashing, and 3) the camera did not work and was defective. So I write the guy back and say 1) I didn't include the cover because Ive never had one, nor claimed it was included, 2) the multifunction back works, it just needs to be reset, 3) the camera worked fine before I sent it, but if it got damaged in shipping I would be happy to take it back, but he should try putting batteries in it. Well, the buyer didn't like those answers so he just shipped it back to me. When I got it back, I opened it up and put four batteries out of one of my flashes and turned it on. WHOA! It works. Crazy. You put batteries in the thing and it works. Here's the short ending. I asked the guy to accept a refund that was the price he paid minus the shipping. He refused and initiated a chargeback. I got screwed by both eBay and PayPal. I got charged for all the eBay and PayPal fees, plus a chargeback fee, plus I had to sell the item again - so I got hit with eBay and Paypal fees again. Bad luck right? .

So I put it up on eBay again. It sells again, this tile for $50 less than last time. I package it up and send it to Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is a part of the US right? So, I can use my good old USPS to get it there. Well the package made it as far as Florida and now it seems to be lost again. I have a feeling Im going to get screwed again by eBay and PayPal. I would have been better off throwing the camera in the garbage - I would be money ahead.

So where do I go from here? I guess I find a new place to sell things and a new shipper. We will see if the USPS helps me out. The package has a tracking number and insurance. Oh boy.

Here's the update...
So USPS finally decides that Puerto Rico is a part of the US, Iguess, and the deliver the camera-- beat up box and all. The buyer posts good feedback for me and says the camera looks better than the pictures. I sigh in relief. Next think you know, I get an email saying the cameras autofocus is defective. I ask what kind of lens he has on it. He says an off-brand. I suggest he finds a nikon lens to put on it and see if that doesn't fix it. I heard nothing for a while and then he comes back that the camera must be defective because the autofocus searches. At this point I loose my cool and tell him that I will be happy to give him a refund if he ships the camera back, and how displeased I am because I know the camera worked fine before I shipped it. I am finding those who are buying film cameras right now don't know what they are doing. GRRRRRR. Short of the story is the PayPal dispute that the guy filed gets dismissed because he never replied to my offer to refund his money. But again I get to pay the stupid PayPal dispute fee plus they charge my account the money that may get refunded to the guy. Stupid PayPal/eBay/People that don't know how to use cameras.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Geotagging Photos

So why would you want to geotag your images?

Geotagging is the inserting of GPS cordinates into your photos. The ability to be able to tell when you took an image is great and with almost all digital cameras you can also know how you took the picture (f stop/shutter/iso). With Geotagging you can also know WHERE you took the image. So say you are wandering around Ireland and you tale a picture. A year later when you finally get around to going through your pictures you wish you could remember where the picture was. Ah HA! now you can.

Here's the simpliest ways to get geotagged images:

1. Buy a camera with built in GPS.
Nikon Coolpix P6000 13.5MP Digital Camera


2. Buy a GPS Tracker that connects to your camera
Nikon GP-1 GPS Unit for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras
Geometr Gps Receiver For Nikon


3. Buy a GPS Tracker and Sync with software
Amod AGL3080 GPS Data Logger
GiSTEQ PhotoTrackr

Helpful Software
Any GPS device that can make a track log can be used to geotag photos. It takes syncing the clocks on the GPS and the camera and then finding a program that can merge the two. I personally use Downloader Pro 2.2 ($3o) and think this is the greatest tool for the job. It is simple and effective. Geotagging is very easy in Downloader Pro though it takes a little forethought. You have to download the tracklog from the GPS unit and then tell Downloader Pro where that file is. Then you can downlod your images. It really is rather slick and because I like to use Downloader Pro anyway its a nice added bonus.

Microsoft Pro Photo Tools 2
(Free) is a free program that like Downloader Pro can geotag your images automatically for you based on a track log you provide to the program.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Upline Falls - Mozy Still loves you

I am still a big fan of Mozy. I think their service is just A'OK. Speedy and reliable. What more do you want in a backup service.

If you have felt the wrath of Upline's downfall, or you just want to save a bit of extra dough on Mozy, they have a 25% off coupon right now for a yearly subscription. You can almost always find a 10% coupon, but 25% is something better. The 25% off coupon is short though - one week. The 25% off coupon code is UPLINE. It expires on May 1, 2008.

Mozy can help you avoid taking a million Pulitzer quality images only to have your hard drive die, or worse yet stolen. Mozy quietly sits in the background and uploads your images securely to a far away land to be held in trust until you need them. It's digital insurance if you will.

A yearly Mozy account would normally cost you about $55. But with the coupon UPLINE it will only cost you about $40. Cheap protection. Just for your information, the total Internet crash that I reported on a while ago was a joke.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Keep Your Gear Dry :: Eva-Dry Mini Dehumidifier Review

Here's a little toy that should find its way into every camera bag: the Eva-Dry Mini Dehumidifier. This little device is full of water hungry crystals that will help keep your gear dry, and mold free. This is a must if you are going from hot to cold or cold to hot a lot. It will pull moisture from the air in your bag and around your gear. Clever. At $17 its a no brainer.

Order Eva-Dry From Amazon

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Cash Back with ev'reward

Why? This is a photographic thought, because ev'reward is one of the few ways I know to double up on cash back on sites like B&H Photo, Adorama and other pertinent stores (examples).

As many of you know I am the self-proclaimed king of the good deals. If there is something online, I can probably find a good deal on it. ev'reward is a great tool that I use everytime I purchase something online. How it works is you go shopping online like you normally would, find what you want to buy and then click a button to ask ev'reward what cash back site gives the best return. This will include sites like Fatwallet, Big Crumbs, Jellyfish, and Mr. Rebates. Each of those sites usually pays a different amount in cash back if you click through their site.

There are two ways to use ev'reward. For example, if you wanted to purchase something from Buy.com then you could either 1) install the ev'reward toolbar booklet, which will place a button on your bookmark toolbar. Which allows you to shop like you normally would at Buy.com and then click the ev'reward button. That would take you to the Buy.com page at ev'reward (click here to test). There you will see there are several choices to choose ranging from 1% - 3%. Not earth shattering cashback, but better than a kick in the head. Often, there are also coupons for the store. The other way to use ev'reward is simply to go to www.evreward.com, search of the store you want to shop at and click your favorite cash back site.

Yes, it does add some time your online shopping. But I think the additional discount is worth it. Neither
ev'reward nor any of the cashback stores cost anything to sign up, though some of them do require a PayPal account to cash out for less than $100.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Little Things in Life

I just love a good close-up. Seriously, there is nothing better than a full frame still life to me. I have bought a lot of crap that I thought would get me where I wanted to be photographically and have been let down. Shooting small is just the same. The basic rules of buying macro gear applies to pretty much any other kind of gear. 1) Research, 2) Research, 3) Acknowledge that the quality of your gear will only get you so far, 4) toys are toys, and 5) Don't be afraid to spend money where it will do you good. With those as my basic assumptions, here are some thoughts on shooting the small.

Macro (or Micro in Nikon talk) is simply the ability to shoot subjects that are small at a closer distance than your "normal" lens will allow. The amount of magnification is measured as a ratio. 1:1 is considered true macro. Think of it as, what is 1" in real life would take up 1" of film or your digital sensor. The image to the right is a raspberry dropped into some wine. Because the images wasn't cropped, and because we know that a raspberry is approximately the same size as my Nikon D80's sensor, that image is a 1:1 macro. If I was to print the image out as a 4x6 the berry would now be much larger than life size. So goes the sexiness of macro.

Here's your macro choices:
1. Close-up Filters [Sucks] ~$20
2. Extension Tubes[Clunky] ~$165
3. 60mm Nikon [I Own] ~$380 or 150mm Sigma [I'm thinking about] ~$575
4. Reverse Ring [I own a wonderful macro, so never bothered with this step.]

So the first thing I bought was a set of close-up filters. Perhaps the biggest waste of money I have ever spent on camera equipment. The idea behind these filters is you can use your normal lenses and just screw these little guys on to be able to focus closer. Sounds great. They are cheap. They suck. They can world great if all you are shooting are flat objects. You have very limited depth of field. Perhaps what I hate most about them is once they are on, all you can shoot are subjects at close range. Blah. I want useful and versatility. The meter in your camera will still work as well as the auto-focus features - so those are both pluses.

Next up, the extension tubes. These are glassless tubes that all you to attach a normal lens to your camera, but move the optics away from the film or sensor. This allows you to focus much closer than you otherwise would. While the image quality you will get from these are better than what you would expect from a set of close-up filters, the usefulness is still lower than a real macro lens. To use the extension tubes, you still have to remove your lens, and add one or more tubes, replace your lens, and then take your picture. The amount of magnification will increase the more tubes you use. But be warned, so will the amount of light loss you will experience. Nikon makes a nice set of tubes, but I have read over and over, that Kenko's tubes are superior if for only the reason that they allow the auto focus features of your camera to work.

Another alternative is the reverse ring. This is a doodad that allows you to take your perfectly good lenses and turn it around backwards. I do actually have one of these, sort of. I have a holga lens that has been mounted on a Nikon body cap. I can unscrew the lens, turn it around backwards and move it in and out from the camera body to focus. I does surprisingly well for a lens cut off a $20 camera. I consider the reverse ring another solution that is good if you don't do macro all that much.

Here is where things get good in my book. Macro lenses. When I lived in Europe for a year, I took my trusty, now retired, X-GM and two lenses: a Vivitar 100mm 1:2 macro (yes, I said Vivitar) and a Minolta 28mm. I hardly ever took that macro off my camera. It was just a wonderful lens that was very versatile for me. I believe I paid $80 for it in 1996. The wonderful part about macro lenses, is they are pretty hard for camera manufactures to screw up. They have realtively few elements and they should NEVER EVER EVER EVER be a zoom lens. These are simple lenses that will give you a sharp image at a variety of distances. The wonderful part about using a macro lens for a travel lens, is if you are walking around, say Berlin, you can take all the images you want of Berlin Wall art and "zoom" in as close as you want by just moving closer to the subject. At the same time, if you wanted to take a nice portrait of someone, you have the focal length to give you a flatter image. Another bonus of the macro lens, is they usually come in f2.8. As autofocus lenses go, getting a 2.8 is a big deal. Just remember that depth of field is your friend, especially with macro. So don't get all excited that you are going to leave your lens at 2.8.

As you look at macro lenses, you will find that they usually come in flavors usually somewhere around 60mm, 100mm and 150mm. Every brand will be a bit different it seems, but overall, those are the common focal lengths. Shooting digital with a 1.5x crop factor, the 60mm micro I loved on film is now a 90mm. I can't complain one bit for the extra "zoom". If you are shooting flowers and other things that don't move on you too much (wind is your enemy), then 60mm will take you a long ways. If you are shooting things that tend to have no sense of humor for you being close, think bugs, then a longer focal length would be in order. I am seriously looking at adding a 150mm macro to my bag for that reason. Sometimes, things just don't like it when you get right on top of it to photograph it, think angry bees.

As you can see, there are all sorts of choices for you to spend you money on. In the end, you just have to look at the type of photography you do or want to do. If you want to take a lot of close-up images, and you don't mind carrying around another lens, and you have $375 - $600 to spend, then a macro lens is up your alley. If you just want to mess around for a while, you can go the filters or extension tube route. If you do go this route, don't get frustrated if you don't get the clear results you had hoped for. Same is true if you think macro is just a lot of work- it gets easier with a true macro lens.

Happy shooting.