Category Archives: equipment

Shooting a veggie a day

So today was a practice day for me. I have been threatening for weeks and weeks to shoot some food and today was it. Or at least some of it. I used a 50 dollar battery operated LED video light, a mirror and a home made silk that uses Toughspun. I spent about ten dollars for the various veggies and fruits which is cheap for models. I used a c stand to hold my video light attached to my monopod stand which doubled as a boom. The mirror provided some light from the side and underneath the glass. My post processing was done in Lightroom using a preset that emulated Kodachrome 25 since I wanted that very contrasty punchy look. You can see from the set shot that I didnt do anything special other than clean off the end of the dining room table.

I used my D300 with two lenses. My first lens was a favorite of mine, the 17-55 F2.8 and the second was a Lensbaby composer at F4. My ISO was 400 and I shoot from 1/60 to /1/160. No flash was used, just the video light which I got from Amazon for something like 50 dollars plus 30 for a battery and charger.

When you are shooting something like this, it can be trickier than people at times as the still life does not move at all unless you move it. So you are always on the look out for reflections, lines, composition and so on. You need to worry about color and texture plus what props you are using. Lighting becomes critical for shadows and highlights.

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New Year, New Site

WordPress

[dropcap_1]I[/dropcap_1]  hate New Year resolutions as a rule. To promise to change something for a new year because you feel guilty about it can not be a good way to effect a change. But, in this case, I decide that this year I would do a few things differently. I started early by joining the studio coop in December. I posted about that a bit ago and so far, it has been a very good arrangement.

A second thing that I really wanted to do was make over my website. I had not been happy with my hosting service for a long while. It’s not that they were “bad” or anything but I had ongoing issues with memory and WordPress plugins not having enough and they could never get it to work quite right. In truth, they sell canned templates and hosting service for those templates. I dumped that two years ago and built my own wordpress site using iBlog. So I was already out of their comfort zone in doing that. I was also paying alot more than I needed to since I was not using their sites or any of their features. I had found them too limiting for what I wanted to do.

So last month. I ordered up a new domain name which will be the umbrella name for my photography, my fusion video efforts and some training work coming down the pipe. Signed a deal with Machighway.com (they host on Macs) and started a new site. After one disaster of a template, I started over, found a cheaper template that worked alot better and you now see the results.

[blockquote]Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.- Henry Ford [/blockquote]

Welcome to my NEW and IMPROVED website and blog for Michael Sweeney Media.. aka Michael Sweeney Photography. I’m able to put up my blog, my galleries, a nice splash page and more without any issues with memory or other troubles. I plan to get back on a regular posting schedule and I plan to put up more images now I can get it all to work better. Please, take a look around and be a bit patient while I get the bits and pieces moved over and working again.

Thanks for visiting!

 

MikeS

 

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Shooting high quality pictures on the cheap

Compact fluorescent light bulb

Image via Wikipedia

I hear alot from photographers, both pro and amateur alike about all this expensive equipment they “need” to have in order to shoot good photographs. I know it well since I also used to say the same thing. Or at least I did till I saw some work done with cheap equipment, obsolete equipment and DIY equipment. I also read up on what some of the famous photographers used to make their images. What Ansel Adams used to make most of his famous images would be considered junk by most photographers today if shown the camera without the backstory. Oddly enough, if you gave the photographers the backstory, then the camera would suddenly be imbued with mythical qualities of just the right lens or some other quirk that gave Ansel the edge he needed. None of which addresses the one critical fact that is Ansel KNEW how to make an image before he even tripped the shutter.

I see the same thing with lighting, I see it with cameras, lenses, bags and more. Photographers are equipment junkies which in itself is fine but when it gets to the point that you can not take a pictures without several thousand dollars of equipment and it’s your kids birthday party, you might want to rethink things a bit. I’m as guilty as the next photographer who grabs the three thousand dollars selection of equipment to take a family snapshot. But, in recent times I have become much better about using whatever camera I have handy for my images. Why? Because I’ve grown as a photographer and I have learned how to take pictures regardless of the camera. Some of the important things I’ve learned about is getting the right pose or using a piece of white paper to give me a touch of fill light while shooting with my iPhone and other tricks. Another very important lesson is not worrying about the last 20% of the picture quality when the first 80% is good enough for what I will be using the image for. Honestly, do you really NEED to shoot a snapshot with a five thousand dollar camera body/lens just to stick it up on Facebook?

Black and White Ireland Castle Bell

I just got back from a trip to Ireland where after much internal struggle, I took two cameras. Neither of which was one of ¬†my expensive bodies/lenses and that was because I really didnt trust my own judgement ūüôā ¬†So what did I take to Ireland? The last time I took a D80 with a cheapo 18-55mm VR lens. This time I upgraded a bit and I took a Canon G11 which I know I can shoot well with, it was my camera of choice when I went to Oxford last year.

But  I also took a old D70s with a bargin 18-105 F3.5 VR lens. I took that because it has a bit more reach than the G11 and it has less noise than the G11. But the G11 is very convient to drag around given how much smaller it is over the DSLR.  I left my very expensive equipment at home. So why would I do that? A couple of reasons to be honest. I did not want to drag all that expensive and heavy equipment around and risk it on a trip that was personal. I make money with the D300 and the expensive glass I use with it. If something happens to it, I need to replace it and that can cause a few problems even with insurance. So I took two cheap cameras so  that if something happened, it was not a serious deal, it would be more of an annoyance. There is another reason that I like to take some of my lesser cameras on trips like this.

Portrait using bare CFLs and cheap home depot reflector

I have my share of pro level lighting and modifiers, I have become somewhat taken with very cheap lighting and shooting pretty nice portraits without even a modifier. And when I say cheap lighting, I’m talking about using eight dollar reflectors from Home Depot and single CFL (Compact fluorescent Lightbulbs) screwed into the reflector. If you know how light works and how a camera works, you can take good solid pictures even with this cheap lighting. The picture shown here is one of my¬†experiments¬†taken with a couple of the single CFL lights without any modifiers. This image is a lesson in that you do not need alot of expensive lighting to make a good portrait. And in this case, I did shoot the image with a Nikon D300 but I used a relatively cheap 50mm 1.4 lens. My Nikon D70s would have worked just as well.

The Strobist community has made an art form of using small battery flashes in ways that most photographers never thought of. And not just the expensive small flashes like the Nikon SB900, but ANY flash such as the five dollar reject found at Goodwill that was designed for a long dead camera brand. Light is light and once you know that, you are ten steps ahead of everybody else.

Matching polkadot  dress and hat

In this image, I used two small battery flashes, one with an umbrella and one facing a 15 dollar reflector and set -2 stops from the umbrella. I shot this on a grey background and then used a texture to give the image a nice background. This was a cheap and easy portrait without alot of money sunk into lighting modifiers, expensive strobes, power packs and all the rest.

I hope you enjoyed this post and the takeaway of the fact that you dont need expensive equipment to take nice pictures. The expensive  equipment can help you by making it easier to make images, but it is not required. And in some cases, the expensive equipment can hinder you making solid images because you dont know how to use it as well as you need to.

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Shooting Portraits with vintage cameras and film

Who says film is dead? Not by a long shot around here. I just got a roll of 120 Ektacolor Kodak Pro 160 film back from the lab and scanned in a few of the negs. I shot this roll of film using my 1958 Yashica model D TLR (Twin Lens Reflex) camera. This camera is older than I am by a few years and after 90 dollars for refurbishing, it takes awesome pictures with that great vintage depth of field and “feel” to the picture.

 

Portrait using Yashica 120 film camera and adjusted with photoshop CS5This picture was taken out the front door of my house and I took two of them since the girls would not sit still and were goofing around. ¬†So it’s a bit of a marriage of modern software using CS5 Photoshop and vintage film. I did a head swap on the center subject and did some basic color balancing and sharpening. ¬†But that is pretty much it and what you see is what came out of the camera.

It only takes a few days to get the film back from the lab and then I load up my Epson 4990 and scan away. Once the film is scanned, I treat it like any other digital film with one exception, I do not run any noise reduction software on it. The grain of the film is a significant part of the charm of the look and feel of film and I dont want to loose that to overly agressive software.

The one thing that a photographer who is not used to with film is the wide exposure range. What normally would abruptly blow out is a nice gradual blowout and even then, you can still pull back detail that a digital file just will not  have available.  The key difference is that film is analog and has several stops of latitude (except slide film) where as digital has about three stops, maybe four stops on a really good day and IF you are shooting RAW. This is why when I first starting shooting digital in 99, I had some issues with getting my exposures correct. I was used to shooting for the shadow details since I could always bring the highlights back with more printing time for that part. Digital required me to shoot for the highlights since when the numbers hit 255, there was nothing left, not even a trace unlike a film negative.

This is probably the biggest gotcha for anyone new to film who has only shot digital. It is a small but critical item for the photographer to know and to remember as they switch around from film to digital and back. But, as you can see, when you get it nailed, you get some really cool images. Long live film ūüôā

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Behind the scenes of a photoshoot

Photographers love to show of images from their last photoshoot. Everyone likes to “ohhhh and ahhhh” over the images that are retouched, mashed up and worked over in a good way we hope. But, personally, I love to shoot the behind the¬†curtain¬†shots. You know, the things that make a photoshoot what it really is and can have you really¬†appreciate¬†all the more the very cool image when the¬†environment¬†is anything but cool.

I attend a monthly workshop that is a mix of a social hour, some food, shop talk, instruction and shooting over at Redgum Creative Studios. A friend of mine, Richard Radstone is the instructor and mentor for those of us who regularly attend these socials and it’s always fun to be there and be involved in the day’s shoot. We have a model or two with a MUA (make up artist) present plus the crew at Redgum to help pull it all together.

So in the spirit of sharing, I’m posting some of the set up and during the shoot shots of mine of the last social/training/breakout Redgum Studio shoot. It really will give you a sense of the afternoon and what a real photoshoot is like. I’m not talking about a “shoot” where the softbox is made from a empty box of corn flakes and the light stand will blow over with a single breath. I’m talking about a real photo shoot, with real models, make up artists, real grip equipment and a real studio setting. The only thing missing is the stress of ¬†having the client on set breathing down your back.

I’ve already mentioned the MUA and I would like to point out the use of C Stands (century stands) instead of the more common tripod stands. These are portable only in the sense that you can carry them from one side of the stage to the other or roll them if they have casters. They are very stable and with the sand bags, they will not be falling over unless you really go out of your way to try to knock it over. The same goes for the big gun strobes, the hot lights, various bit of grip equipment holding it all together and the rest. Things are taped down, locked down and safe. Many photographers would do well to take some notes of the set up of the gear, I know I did when I first started and I have invested more than a bit of “extra” equipment that just makes putting a shoot together a bit more enjoyable and safe for all concerned.

In the other images you can see some of the students from Brooks Institute that were visiting, the cameras of choice for the day and of course, the model getting prepped and having some shots taken.

To myself one of the most interesting things are how the lighting is set up. You can see the lights used, the scrims and/or diffusion used and how the stage is configured overall. There is alot to learn from these types of events. And when you understand that the four hours of social mixing, shooting and listening only costs 25 dollars, you can see how it is a real bargin.

I hope you enjoy this short visit to the backside of a photoshoot and I hope you enjoy the detail shots. So here are two of the final images from the day. So now you know both sides of the shoot, the prep and set up of the shoot and the final outcome.

Final Portrait

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Reflections of Light

No, not what you think. I’m talking about using a reflector to bounce some light into or onto your subject. I had a chance to shoot a fun family portrait session a few days ago and I walked into it not really knowing what to expect. I ended up at a public facility on the base without any trees or shade to speak of at 10AM on a bright day. I did find some shade by a gazebo and so I set up shop there. I was on soft grass and a bit of slope with a three year old running around so I was not comfortable in setting up a softbox with my SB800s so I went another way. I tossed a diffuser on the SB800, put it on the camera (yes, I hear the howls already about the evils of on camera flash) and set the camera to manual. The flash was set to TTL but that varied from -1 stop to +1.5 stops.

I was shooting pretty much head on to the subjects so you would think “washed out, hard shadows etc” and normally you would be correct but this time I pulled out a 36 inch silver reflector. I put it on a stand and locked it down and used it to cross light my subjects and fill in alot of those nasty shadows from the on camera flash. I did not have to worry about it being knocked over or anyone getting hurt. I did not have to go hunt for power (none around) and I didnt worry about the softbox falling over in the breeze and soft soil.

I could have used the white one I had but I wanted a bit more “edge” to the light so I went with silver. It has a brightness to it that works well with the SB800 flash.

Family using light infrared preset

Family using light infrared preset

Cross light with SB800 flash and reflector

Cross light with SB800 flash and reflector

You can really see here on the arm and around the boots, there is not the hard shadow you would expect from the strobe being on camera and just a piece of plastic to diffuse the light. Her hair on camera right also has some really nice light bringing up the highlights while there is a touch of the sun on her hair on camera left.

SB800 TTL manual mode and silver reflector

SB800 TTL manual mode and silver reflector

Here is a quick diagram of the shooting situation. I had some shade, bright sun and a silver reflector. The SB800 provided most of the light and the reflector provided the fill light.

 

lighting-diagram-Reflector and SB800

lighting-diagram-Reflector and SB800

So get a reflector or a few of them. And it does not have to be a California Sunbounce.. I used a cheapo that came with a strobe kit I bought off ebay a few years back. You can also use those windshield reflectors or anything else that reflects light. White fabric will provide a softer light than the silver while gold will provide a warm light.

 

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More hotlights and vintage portraits

I’m have a ball with my new hot lights. The vintage portrait project is coming together as I work out how to use the lights, get Lightroom and Photoshop to rework color to black and white and get a good workflow down. I’m also relearning how to shoot film as part of this project.

So the last entry on this subject was about shooting with a single light and this week, I’ve taken it to two lights. The idea is to provide some fill and highlights. And lest you think that one needs an expensive studio or alot of room for this style of shooting, that could be further from the truth. The sample shot I have included this week was taken in a 5×5 space right in front of my front door entry way with some white polarplus gaf-taped to the wall. Pretty low tech if you ask me.

So here is the “studio” shot. I have used my Wacom to mark it up a bit. As you can see, not very high tech at all or expensive.

Vintage studio in house marked up

Vintage studio in house marked up

But the results you can get are pretty amazing. I used Lightroom and Seim’s Power Workflow 3.0 Snapped B/W as my basic conversion from color to Black and White. I’m not sure if I’ll stick with this one but it’s a starting point. I then moved it into CS5 and used Focht’s Touchflow Palette to smooth out skin and add a touch of pop. I also used my Wacom to paint in and paint out extreme shadows, hot spots and such.

Blowing a kiss to fans

Blowing a kiss to fans

Not bad for the price of a doorway studio huh? I’ve found a book at Amazon called Hollywood Portraits: Classic Shots and How to Take Them
which goes into quite a bit of detail in how the old school Hollywood shots were created so that has been ordered. I’ve also¬†ordered¬†up Nik’s Silver Efex kit since it’s on sale at Adorama for a killer price. And yes, it soon will be 64 bit which makes those of us running 64 bit Photoshop very happy. You can download a free 15 day trial from Nik and give a workout to see if you like the outcome but I have to say, it makes some really nice B/W conversions.

I’ve mentioned the clone of the Arri lights before but here are the real deal if you are inclined or feel more comfortable with the brand named item. This can be very important if you want to rent out the kit as grip equipment or the like. This is the complete kit with 3 650 watt lights, roller bag, stands, barn doors etc.

 

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Hollywood Glamour and Noir Portraits

One of my newest projects is ramping up to offer old school style of portraits in the Hollywood Glamour and Noir style. This type of portrait was made famous by photographers such as George Hurell in the 30s, 40s and 50s.  They were a very dramatic black and white picture with very distinctive light and shadows. Many times these were shot with fresnel hot lights that normally would be used to shoot movie films. Many folks have tried to reproduce this style of image using strobes, snoots and reflectors. But while these can get close, the old school equipment has some unique qualities that add subtle but very important changes to the image.

Hollywood Hotlight Glamour

Hollywood Hotlight Glamour

Lets take a look at the one of the biggest difference between shooting with¬†continuous¬†lighting vs. shooting with strobes. Many photographers of the digital age have no idea what a hot light (I’m¬†referring¬†to¬†continuous¬†lighting here) ¬†is since all they know are strobes. In their mind, who would want to use a light source that is big, bulky, can run very hot (unless shooting fluorescent bulbs¬†), need AC power, barn doors, scrims, dimmers and more? The “disadvantages” are many in most photographer’s minds.

There is one very important detail among everything else that the hot lights excel at. And that is the small fact that since the light is¬†continuous, ¬†you can shoot as fast as you can hit the shutter. So when the model hits her/his stride in providing the EMOTION of the shot, you can catch it without fear of the strobe being in the middle of recharge cycle. Most strobes require a second or two to recharge unless the photographer is shooting with multiple strobes and the power levels dropped down to encourage the faster recharge rate. Or the photographer is shooting with very expensive packs that can recharge very fast. Either way, speed costs money, how fast do you want to go?This does not really apply if the photographer is shooting posed shots where the model is set in place and needs to hold that pose specifically, I’m talking about the more organic style of shooting where the model has some¬†latitude¬†on the pose. In the static poses, you can afford to wait the 1-2 seconds between pops of the flash since the model’s job is to stay still till told otherwise.

Other points in the hot light’s favor, in particular, in the fresenel’s favor is the ablity to focus the beam and that the light is fairly constant over the diameter of the beam. Also, ¬†the beam has a naturally soft edge which is great for feathering the light on the subject and the¬†ability¬†to very quickly and easily adjust the shape of the light with barn doors. All of this leads to a very flexible lighting solution for portraiture shoots.

One more possible advantage is that with the hot light, the photographer does have to work around the model flinching every time the strobes fire off. This is not always the case, a model used to strobes would not normally  have this issue but a new model or someone who is a non-professional paying client will not be used to the bright strobes firing off in their face every few seconds.

For my glamour project, I looked at different brands of fresnel hot lights because I really wanted to recreate the old school hollywood glamour and noir images. So I went back in time a bit and decided I would use equipment close to what was used then for my lighting. I had tried strobes and I was not at all happy with the results. What really changed my mind was a shoot I went to a few months back that used hot lights and I had very little experience then with hot lights. I had grown up on strobes so I was really curious to why we would be using such old technology. I know that the film industry used continuous lighting but I could understand that but why use them with still photography? After shooting for a few hours and seeing how I could catch very small but critical changes in pose and expression, I got it.

So I went shopping to find some hot lights of my own. I could buy used lights but the bulbs can be very expensive if you dont know what you are buying but ARRI lights are bucks. I found some ARRI clones on eBay but over at Coollights, I found the same basic clone ARRIs, scrims, nice air cushioned stands, barndoors and a good quality roller case as a package deal. The ARRI package was 1800 and Coollights package was 1,100 USD. So for a savings of 700, I have what is for all intents, three ARRI 650 frensel lights, stands, scrims and case. The big difference is the stand mount, the cut edges are not as cleanly cut as the ARRIs and the aluminum is not beaded and coated. I can live it for now. I have pictures below of both lights

So what you do with hot lights? Set your white balance to tungsten and rock and roll. One piece of advice, get a light meter. It’s far easier to meter tungsten then trying to chimp when you have ratios of lights. I also bought 3 cheap speed controllers from Harbor Freight which are perfect dimmers for the hot lights to get the lights right on the money in intensity without having to move anything. Also get some toughspun for¬†diffusing¬†the light.

Hot Light Glamour Shot

Hot Light Glamour Shot

This shot was taken using a set of ARRI 650s. The shot below was taken with the Coolight ARRI clones. I could not find any difference in shooting with them or in post with them.

Hot Light Noir Shot

Hot Light Noir Shot

Above all, be careful and make sure everything is secure on the set. Use sand bags and plenty of gaffers tape to secure everything down. Hot lights are, well, HOT.. very hot and will remain hot for several minutes after you turn them off. Keep in mind your model is baking under the hot lights and so breaks every 10 minutes or so is the norm. It’s also very hard for a model to look directly into a hot bright light so dont think you will put a light head on and have the model gaze into it.

A parting trick is to get the 650 hot lights and then put in the 300 watt bulb if the 650 is too much all the time. You can always do down in wattage but not up. Also, using a dimmer to cut the output by 20% or so can give the lamp about a 50% increase in lifespan. The bulbs for the ARRIs and clones will set you back about 15-20 USD and they are rated at 200 hundred hours when used at full power. Never touch the glass of the bulb with your skin, the oil will cause the bulb to get a hot spot and burn out very quickly.

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SSD and the need for SPEED

a 2.5 inch Solid state disk, E-disk from Bitmicro
Image via Wikipedia

Faster, everyone wants to go faster, have a faster computer, a faster disk drive or a faster application. Once a VERY expensive option, the SSD (Solid State Drive) drive has become mostly affordable now they are being made in large volumes. You can get them in all kinds of packaging so you can put the drive into a PCI-E slot or replace an existing hard drive. The most common use for photographer is either as a extra volume or a replacement system volume.

Before we look at the speed of a the SSD, we need to understand how they work and what makes them differently than a traditional hard drive with a rotating plater. The traditional hard drive for years has been made with a motor of some kind spinning a metal or glass platter(s) in a rigid cast metal chassis. They were heavy, took a fair around of electricity to move the platters and it took time to move the heads across the platters. Over the years, the motors were improved, the platters were made lighter and higher capacity and throughput was improved with the new interfaces like eSATA (enhanced  Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) and SAS (Serial Attached SCSI). But even with all the improvements such as 15K RPM drives, glass platters, low power electronics and very sophisticated storage algorithms, they were still a very slow device  when compared to the lighting fast access times of a memory chip.

But memory chips had some issues like they lost their contents when the power was removed and they were expensive in the number needed for any decent capacity. Time passed and now we have FLASH based chips that keep their contents even with power removed, we can write thousands of times to the same locations without the memory location burning out and they are cheap enough we can build an array of chips to supply a reasonable amount of capacity on par with the traditional hard drive.

This brings us pretty much up to date where we can buy a 240 gigabyte SSD drive in an external case with Firewire, eSATA and USB interfaces for about 500 USD. You can buy a bare 500 gigabyte SSD drive with an eSATA interface that drops in as a replacement hard drive for about 750 USD. But why you ask? why spend four times what it costs for a 1 terabyte hard disk drive? In short, SPEED.

The SSD is very fast compared to a normal hard drive, there are no moving parts so the drive is immune to shock therapy and it can be easier on power but not always. Most of us are into the speed for our applications.

For example, I have a 240 GB external SSD from OWC attached using Firewire 800 to a dual quad MacPro tower. My testing of Photoshop, Lightroom and overall usage like file copies showed some very interesting results.

  • VMware Fusion booting Windows XP takes 22 seconds from power on vs. 1:20 for a internal HD
  • Copying 55 GB of data from the MacPro to the external SSD took 19 minutes
  • Photoshop CS5 starts in 17 seconds vs 22 seconds. This does not seem like much till you start using it. Then the speed becomes very apparent between loading large files or files with alot of layers and/or high resolution. It also becomes very apparent in running actions and working with video files which means moving larger chunks of data to and from the disk.

Now the downside to the SSD used to be ¬†the limited lifetime usage of the NAND chips. But that has been overcome to a large degree by over-capacity and by “data leveling” where the data is written out to ALL the chips over time instead of the same group time and time again which is like a traditional hard drive.Each memory location is rated at something like 100,000 writes. However, the cheaper SSD drives are not created equal and one of the corners cut is the over capacity and data leveling.

Where do SSD drives really shine? on the random access times for data. The typical read time is 0.1 ms vs. the 10-15 ms for a normal hard drive which has to move the heads to where the data should be and then wait for the platter to spin around and put the data under the heads. Random access for small files is the key place of performance for the NORMAL user of SSDs. All the bandwidth and throughput of large files is fine but on your computer, it’s mostly small files in random places on the hard drive. If the drive can not perform in this area, you will be hating life and the new SSD that you just spent a ton of money on.

Even the best SSD drives have a limited life time so using them for swap files space is normally a bad idea since the data constantly changes and is rewritten. But for the typical system drive or scratch drive, the SSD can work very well for two or three years of normal use. Any SSD drive will slow down some from the initial speed but they will still be faster than a normal hard drive spinning a disk platter.

If you are a geek and want alot of geeky details on SSD drives, performace and how they really work, check out ANANDTECH and the article I’m linking to. It’s a really good piece of detailed information on SSD drives.

Is this short blog entry a definitive article on SSD drives? not a chance but it should show you that an SSD drive is probably the number one way to improve performance on your editing workstation all the way around. Now days¬†processors¬†are so fast that even a two year old mid line processor is pretty good and ram is so cheap that most systems are now spec’ed with a decent starting point of RAM. So the only real bottleneck to your workflow is the disk I/O speeds. The SSD addresses that in several places and can really boost your output.

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Why Film? and Why Medium Format?

Comparison of digital camera image sensor sizes
Image via Wikipedia

With the advent of digital camera came the keening of film’s death song. I mean, who in their right mind would every want to use film again? I have a plastic card that is the size of my thumbnail and it hold hundreds of pictures and costs 20 bucks. A roll of film before processing is 4 bucks and then 15 more just to get it developed and maybe some prints. And you still need to scan it to DO anything with it? So why film? Whats the draw to film?

Because film offers a depth and¬†clarity¬†that most digital cameras can only dream off. Film is analog so the number of tone changes are infinite. Digital is not analog, duh.. and goes up and down in a given number of steps. In an image that offer subtle tones such as a portrait, this can become very important. This is even more important in Black and White art since a digital image starts as color and then is converted to Black and White. In film, you can shoot with Black and White film and get that¬†gorgeous¬†tonality that you can not get with digital. Oh sure, you can get close, sometimes very close but it’s not same. If you put a good B/W digital conversion next to a real B/W print, you can see the difference.

Often, I can get a sharper cropped image from my Mamiya 645 that cost me 500 USD for the entire kit plus three lenses than I can get from a Nikon D700 full frame DSLR that costs 3,000 USD just for the body and then add another 1 to 2 thousand for the good glass. And even after all that money spent, I still have an image that is only 35×24 mm in size. My Mamiya is a medium format camera or 120/220 which means my negative is 60×45 mm in size. This is almost double the size so if you want to print BIG and you want SHARPNESS, the medium format is the way to go. This is why in some industries such as fashion, 120/220 medium format film is still used or if you are wealthy, you can use a digital back for your medium format camera assuming you can pay up the 35,000 or so for the full size sensor. I can buy a lot of film for 35,000 USD

Digital has it’s place to be sure, I’m not about to give up having 300 plus images on a single flash card or the ability to “chimp” and see in real time what my images look like. But I’ve relearned to embrace the time and effort needed to shoot film because in some cases, it’s still better than digital.

So here is a full size scan of a 120 frame. It’s 5500 pixels from a 2400 dpi scan using my Epson 4990. It’s not a super image, I was hand holding and did a snap focus to catch the monorail but it serves the purpose of showing off how much data you can get from a 120 film frame.

120 Full Size scan 5500 pixels

120 Full Size scan 5500 pixels

Here is a 200% crop of the above image. The crop is about 800 pixels in size and you can see how much detail is still there in spite of the insane crop. The 800 pixels would be a usable image for web use or even a small print if needed. Try to crop your D700 image 200% and see what you get. On my D300 crop sensor, 200% crop turns it to mush.

120 Full Size scan 5500 pixels 200 percent crop

120 Full Size scan 5500 pixels 200 percent crop

And here is a test shot using 100mm lens and 120 film. The film is B/W natively and it shows in the huge tonality range in the image. Smooth tones without having to fight with actions or conversions. I can amp up the tones very easily just like I used to do in the dark room using polycontrast filters and/or different types of paper. Given that I’m working with a real B/W image, the total processing time is less and I get better results.

ilford 400HP5 B/W 120 Film

ilford 400HP5 B/W 120 Film

This is NOT a religious thing with me nor am I’m a luddite who you will have pry my film from my cold dead hands. I’m someone who firmly believes in using the right tool for the task at hand. I also believe that sometimes in the rush for new technology, the benefits of the old tech is overlooked in the rush. I also firmly believe that while “good enough” is fine most times, to make the best art I can requires the use of the best tool I have access to. So while I can get “good enough” with a digital color conversion, I can do better with film and a bit more of an expense. And the few bucks more is “in the noise” when compared to the payoff.

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