Digital photography opened the door to millions of new hobbyists who had never considered the craft when there was a need to learn metering, composition, aperture, or shutter speed before you could take a decent photo in the “old” film days.

Today, just like in photography, Kickstarter has given tens of thousands of people a peek into the world of R&D, prototyping, and manufacturing.

What used to be a simple click of the mouse or a visit to a retail location to pick up a new, cool gadget, Kickstarter has allowed these same consumers to get in on the ground floor of a gadget’s introduction to the market.

It is funny to read all the notes and comments that are being left by “investors” who provided seed money for a new project.  Okay, maybe not funny from the consumer perspective, but quite funny from a manufacturer’s or designer’s perspective.

No gadget, car, pillow, deodorant, plastic spoon, or you name it comes to market without the engineering, tooling, and most importantly retooling of molds, dies, etc. that always precedes the final “perfect” item shipping to a store near you.  The only difference is the consumer was never made aware of this timeline until now.

In many cases, the next irritation is already in the design stages when the preceding version is shipping to their distribution points for the very first time. And, no, most companies will not divulge this to their own salespeople. So, don’t bother asking when the next big thing is shipping; the salesperson is usually the last to find out! That is why we now have rumor sites that try to get this data from (likely unethical) vendors, designers, or partners.

I got in on two gadgets that I think will make my photographic life much more fun. There was no actual need for any of these, but there was a “want”.  So, as long as there is no dire need, there is no rush.

This cool gadget, ought to make landscape panoramas a lot easier, but that is all.  Looks like a neat toy to add to the camera bag, but it is not a lifesaver.  I am looking forward to receiving my all-black version sometime next year.  Is there a rush? Heck no, I want it to work. And work well.

What photographer does not have a gazillion camera bags that never get used, all in the name of finding the perfect bag!  Although two come close, this belt is a brilliant idea. The heck with bags, just carry the lens on a mount attached to a belt. How cool. Again, it is not a life changer but a cool gadget. Let’s be patient and get it right before it is shipped. I am sure neither the creator nor I want a $4,000+ lens to drop to the ground.

What are my 2 near-perfect bags?  One is the Kiboko 30L that handles all my gear on a safari or birding trip.  Yep, it will take the 500mm, 300mm, 24-70mm, two camera bodies and much more AND still fit in the overhead of a small regional jet. The other is a small bag that doesn’t weigh a thing and still holds enough for any photo shoot or short trip – plus a 17” Macbook Pro.  It is the ThinkThank Shape Shifter. Both bags have straps for my tripod.

So, just as digital technology has done an incredible job for relatively small camera manufacturers, Kickstarter will do the same for many small companies trying to launch the next big thing. But, unlike using your camera in “P” mode*, getting in on the ground floor of a great idea doesn’t mean all will be easy or smooth sailing! Kickstarter will make many thousands of investors a much better consumer by finally learning the ins and outs of launching a product.

*  The “P” stands for Program. I like to think it stands for Pray your image will be what you intended it to be!



Debunking the Nikon D800E myth

Having spent two weeks shooting the newest Nikon dSLR while on a photo vacation in Peru, I can safely proclaim that the D800E is indeed a low light, no tripod, high ISO capable camera.

The camera came along as a backup to the D4, but after looking at some images it was switched to the go-to camera for landscapes and portraits.

(click on any image to see the larger size)

In the first photo, the camera was handheld, ISO at 100, shutter speed at 1/90 and the 50mm f/1.4 set to 3.3. I was crouching and balancing the D4 with the 70-200 in my lap. Photo B is the same image cropped to 100%.

In the next image, the D800E was set at a faster speed with the 16-35mm telephoto lens at f/5.6 and 35mm. Camera settings were as follows: shutter speed at 1/4000 and ISO at 560.

The lizard was shot at 1/250 second and ISO 200, the 50mm lens was set at f/9.5.

In the next photo I intentionally threw the background out of focus by opening up the lens enough to blur anything beyond 15 feet. Look at the sharpness of the Bromeliads, and the cobweb. The photo was taken shortly after sunrise, camera handheld, arm stretched with the camera away from the face for best angle. The lens used was the 50mm f/1.4 at f/8. Shutter speed was 1/90 with ISO set at 200.

In this photo, The 70-200 f/2.8 lens was set at f/4 and 200mm. The camera was set to: ISO 100, and 1/350th. No moiré visible in what certainly would have been the perfect scenario of repeating knitting patterns.

I will agree with all the pre-release reviews that this camera will excel wen placed on a tripod in great light conditions. But, aren’t all cameras going to excel under these conditions?

This newest Nikon is a superb camera. In over 1,400 photos taken with the D800E during the two weeks, I have not come across a single incidence of blur or moiré as feared.

Go ahead and order the camera, you will be a very happy camper!

Testing the Elinchrom Ranger Quadra

I fell in love with an extremely light (weight) lighting system at a camera show back in December.

In early March, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and acquire this Ranger Quadra kit. Although pricy, having the equivalent of four (4) Nikon SB910 firing at my subject for the cost of only three SB 910s made sense to me. No, don’t ask because I will never know why it made sense; it just did! One has to have a reason to buy a new toy, right? Besides, it is so much lighter than 3 SB910s!

The flash head itself is extremely light, weighing in at 8.8 ounces (0.25kg). The battery pack does weigh a bit, but is an extremely comfortable 3 pounds (1.4kg) over the shoulders. I did carry it for almost five hours last Sunday.

The kit comes with a 5.3” reflector and a diffuser / protective lens over the diffuser. I also purchased the Reflector Adaptor that will accept all other Elinchrom reflectors plus a snoot and a 10-1/4” 50 degrees sports reflector (on e-Bay).

Last week in the Dallas Zoo I carried the gear with the snoot plus grid to photograph some not-so-wildlife. The photos did have something unique…. A bit of a sparkle in most of the animals’ eyes, just what I wanted.

The photos in this link show the performance of the flash with different accessories in front of the bare light. The tree is 55’5” (approx.. 17 meters) from where I set up the tripod, the wall is only 8” further back. Never mind focus, I am looking for light patterns here. All flashes were at the same 100% power setting, 1/250 sec. and f/3.3 on the AI AF DC Nikkor 105mm f/2.0D.

What was immediately visible was the strength of the flash with the 50-degree reflector. By far the most even and powerful light.
I will buy a 7” (17.8cm) 60 degrees Reflector to see what kind of difference this makes and report back once I have it in hand. It might just make the preferred package a lot lighter and allow for on-camera hot shoe operation.

The main thrust for the idea was wildlife in general, safari in particular, and just as a walkabout. I think I nailed it with this setup. I will need to see how it does on the fast setting with birds in flight. I will report back.

Nikon D4

Took the D4 for its first test drive — at the zoo!

I am impressed with everything I have seen so far, especially resolution, much wider dynamic range than I am used to, and very high ISO noise capabilities.

There is one major issue, and that is ….. COLOR. I am not sure if this is camera firmware or Post software related.
I am sure there will be soft or firmware changes that will fix this, but the manner in which ACR and NX2 read the “auto” color is way too cool – as in blue!

All lenses I have tested so far appear to be dead-on and do not require any change in Fine Focus Adjustment. The D3 needed quite a bit! A few more lenses to go tomorrow.

Here are the images…

Time to walk away from the computer now. Tomorrow the camera will get some indoor racing photo opps!.

MT057C4 Manfrotto Tripod Test

I was loaned a MT057C4 by our area Manfrotto / Gitzo rep and took it out on two seperate occasions. Once with a 800mm telephoto and the last time with a 600mm VR lens (both Nikon systems).

It is a massive 6′ tall tripod with center column thta extends beyone this height.
Even fully extended there is zero torsion with the D3 & 800mm super tele lens on a Wimberley head. I could not claim this on any other Manfrotto or Gitzo tripod I own or tested.

This is an extremely lightweight tripod (7.7lbs) for tis massive size that would replace all others I use for telephotos on the 35mm platform and all my 4×5 to 8×10 large format equipment.

Of course tere is no need for such a beast for use on wide angle landscape shots with the dSLR, but for all other occasions I must highly recommend this carbon-fibre tripod.