Category Archives: reviews

The incredible Shrinking Camera, Olympus OM-D Micro Four thirds

To get to the meat of the article, Yes, it looks like a toy but it takes very good images. Done.  Now, on to the details !!

I’ve been eyeing a micro four thirds camera for a while now, something between my D700 boat anchor and my iPhone. I have a Canon G11 but I hate the controls and I find the picture quality to be marginal in high contrast situations. I also despise the noise control of the G11. I’ve been hearing a lot of good things on the Olympus OM-D and a deal popped up to get the camera body, a 17mm F/ 1.8 lens, a 12-50mm zoom, a grip and the TTL flash for a good price. So I decided to go for it and pick it up.

I have to say, while it’s small, the build quality is very good. The 17mm lens has a very nice feel to it when I’m using it and the body while small in my hands, has just enough heft to keep me from thinking it’s a lomo toy camera. The flip screen is lovely but like every other LCD I’ve ever used, bright light just kills the display. But the OMD has a cool proximity sensor so when you put your face up the the viewfinder, it automagically switches from the preview screen to the viewfinder.  The stabilization is to die for. I wish very much that Nikon would take a lesson and use something like this over their VR system.

I’ve added in an assortment of images that show the camera used from a moving car, bright daylight, night time and some snapshots. All the images were shot in RAW then processed in Lightroom 5 and sometimes, CC6 Photoshop.

I would not hesitate at all to shoot one of my professional sessions using this camera. I would think twice or three times about shooting a wedding with it. I find the controls to be awkward and small for my hands. I do not like the low light performance compared to a FX sensor. And there is the perception issue of using a “Consumer” camera while being paid to be a “Professional”. Yes, size does matter at times. When a bride is paying upwards of five thousand dollars for the full deal, she generally wants to see something that her mum is not shooting with.
This first gallery is using my 17mm F/1.8 lens and natural night with the camera to aperture priority.

The next gallery shows off the ability to shoot outside in bright light and handle extreme contrasts.

The final gallery shows off using the OMD at high ISO (1600) and slow shutter speeds. These were all hand held shots and you can see how sharp they are even with the slow shutter. The OM-D holds up pretty well in the noise arena but my D700 can go to ISO 3200 with less noise so for now, full frame (FX) sensors work better. This not to say the OM-D is a slouch, it’s not but it’s not up to beating a full frame camera just yet.

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A Scanners Tale

Fujitsu Logo
Image via Wikipedia

Paper is the bane of my office. I have magazines that I want to keep articles from, torn sheets from magazines that have ideas for shoots, bills, reference paperwork  such as maps from travels and more. All this information, no way to search it, no way to catalog it and no up to now, no way to digitize it quickly or easily.

Change is upon me in the form of a new scanner from Fujitsu called the Snapscan S1500M. This scanner comes in two flavors, Windows or Mac. And unlike many shops that claim Mac compatibility, this really IS compatible with the Mac. The software installs easily and has been absolutely reliable, not a single crash or hicup. The scanner is not cheap compared to others but 400 dollars for a scanner that does double sided scanning of 100 pages in less than five minutes is pretty cheap. The processing that takes the scan and makes it a searchable PDF only adds another five minutes to the time of scanning 100 pages.

So I have this PDf now on my computer,  just what can I do with it? Well, what I do is what I had told to me by XXX. I got a premium membership with Evernote and I sync this folder and files up with Evernote so now everything is in the “cloud” and available to all my devices. This includes:

  • iPhone/iPad/iTouch
  • Windows
  • OSX
  • Windows Mobil
  • Palm Pre
  • Blackberry
  • Android

It’s searchable so I can run a search on a topic and get just those matches. I do not have to thumb through old magazines guessing where I saw that article at. Or look for the sticky hanging off the outside with a scribble on it.

Here is the user interface for the OSX application. Clean and to the point.

Evernote OSX Application

Evernote OSX Application

And Evernote is not just for scanners, you can clip from the web or use your webcam to snap a picture. I love SOHO Notes but this might just replace it for me. You owe it to yourself to check it out even if you dont want to scan anything.

Now I can either chop the spine of the magazine off and scan it all then clean it up with Acrobat or I can just razor out the pages I want and scan those. In the past day, I’ve cleaned out one year of Photoshop User magazines and a pile of razored clippings. I clean up my scans by deleting all the ads and stuff I dont want since there is a monthly limit to the uploading at Evernote of 500 meg. This sounds small but the typical razored article is about 3 pages cleaned and under a meg in size or a tad over if I keep the color images.

I just put the scanned files into one directory and I have that sync automatically with Evernote’s website and I’m good to go.

So in short:

  1. Razor articles
  2. Toss remains
  3. Scan articles
  4. Clean up ads
  5. Sync

So far so good, I can access my new files on my iPhone or iPad without any issues at all no matter where I am. I have copies locally on my MacPro and I have them in the cloud. I have pulled about 50lbs of magazines out of my office and more on the way. I can even find things now with Spotlight. This is a win all the way around as far as I’m concerned even more so at the modest cost involved.

  • Scanner = 450.00 from Amazon
  • Evernote = 50 dollars a year for the premium account, the entry level account is free
  • Supply of razors = 10 dollars

Optional cost would be a real nice guillotine cutter that can handle 200 pages at a whack to take care of the magazines but so far, the razor works fine.

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iPad, Love it and hate it

iPad 64 GB Wi-Fi with the case.
Image via Wikipedia

So I have my very own iPad with Wifi , 3G and 64 gig of RAM. Yep, I went for the gold when I got it. And now that I’ve had for several days and traveled with it via Southwest airlines, I have a few thoughts on it.

For photographers and that is my viewpoint here, the iPad offers some tantalizing possibilities. Some of these possibilities apply to other folks as well and some of my observations are a more “corporate” viewpoint. The iPad is very well made with some excellent controls and one or two glaring omissions. The slide switch to lock the display is brilliant. The lack of a switch to shutoff the 3G is stupid. Why do I have to drill through several menus to turn of the battery sucking 3G?

The iPad displays pictures really well.. better than alot of other devices I’ve seen and that I can show off pictures even with the screen locked is an excellent idea. The built in photo support is OK.. nothing to really get excited about but there are other apps that really amp up showing off your images.

Speed is life

When the 3G is enabled, it is slow. The app store will barely function and that is within a 20 miles radius of my home off at different locations. Even the WiFi is slower than I expected. I run my Macpro daily off wifi and will get a full 10Mbps download/1Mbps upload. On the same wifi connection, the iPad barely ekks out 3Mbps download and about 900Kbps on the upload side.

Speed Test Results iPad

Speed Test Results - iPad

Casing the joint

Lets talk about cases shall we? I got the Apple case when I ordered up the iPad, I mean, how bad could it be? Turns out it can be pretty bad. The case is junk.  The only thing going for it is that it’s none slip but it literally hurts to hold it since the hot sealed edges are rigid stick out a 1/8 inch and then cut into your hand. You can charge the iPad but not dock it when it’s in the case and the case is a pain in the butt to get on and off so doing this daily is a non-starter. And did I mention the really flimsy “stand” on the back? the one they show int he picture that rocks back and forth with threats of leaving your pretty iPad laying face down on the tabletop? There are two settings, low and high and neither is useful. the low is a about 1″ off the table and the high rocks like it’s ready to fall down at the slightest breath. This was a wasted 20 bucks.

App here, App there

One app that really brings the iPad into the realm of being useful is from Wyse and is called “Pocket CLoud“. This is one of the nicest RDP clients I have used to push a windows desktop out to the iPad. A second really useful app is called “Print Central” and lets you print from the iPad via WiFI. 3G or other. It does require a free piece to be installed on the PC/Mac sharing printers called “WePrint“. You might wonder why I’m suggesting apps that do not look like “Photography” apps? Well, to run a business, it’s more than showing off pictures and listening to music. You have to do WORK and things like remote desk and printing allow you to WORK and be productive with the iPad. Another very useful app is Keynote for the iPad. You can make some amazing slide shows with Keynote and the price in the app store is pretty reasonable. Another slide app is “slide Show Builder Lite” and I found a cool tutorial on it at Granny Joans blog. I will add that it’s nice but you can not share the slide show unlike Keynote.

Alot of apps say they are “iPad” compatible and they are but they are not. What they mean is that they RUN on the iPad but not necessarily take advantage of the large screen etc. Some apps are so useful, that does not really matter but on some it is a pain in the butt so be warned that all iPad apps are not created equal.

You need some kind of cover for the iPad, it’s just too thin and slick to hold on to. Sexy but dangerous to use unprotected. Like I said earlier on, the Apple cover stinks. I have not found a replacement for it but I’m looking.

One thing the iPad excels at is playing back podcasts/videos for training. My lunch times are now “training” sessions where I prop up the iPad and watch it while I eat. I’ve used podcasts, MPEG files and ripped DVDs to play and it’s all good. I have watched movies solid for over four hours and still have over 60% battery life left. That is pretty amazing no matter the rest of my complaints.

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Free Videos: AdoramaTV with Mark Wallace

It’s bigger.. it’s better.. and it’s a FREEBIE!! It’s the new AdoramaTV show starring Mark Wallace. OK, perhaps it’s a bit much but Adorama as funded ALOT of shows featuring photographer Mark Wallace who will present shorts on equipment, techniques and product reviews.

Some will say it’s selling out to the “man” but I say it’s good business for Mark. From what I have heard, Adorama is pretty much letting Mark do what he does best and not trying to steer him to certain products etc. The quality is not bad, not the best but certainly better than alot of what passes for video on Youtube. The audio is too hot much of the time and the lower thirds are kinda of cheesy but it’s not too bad considering. Mark is saying that there should be three videos a week at least and for fifty weeks!! That is a heckva alot of video production and he talks about it on a podcast produced by our friends over at studiolighting.net. Mark goes into alot of detail on the effort it takes to produce this number of videos plus still do his normal business to avoid losing clients. Anyone willing to do all that work just to give it away deserves some positive karma and some to Adorama for funding it for Mark. After all, one of the best things about photography is just how many people are perfectly willing to share techniques, tips, styles, blogs, actions and more for free.

iPad Photography Applications

After watching this one, I’m much more interested in getting an iPad to try out.

Here is another sample of the Adorama video series, this one is Color Management Tools.

Color Management Tools

Any time you can get someone of Mark’s caliber speaking for fifty videos and they cost you nothing, it’s one heck of a deal. Even more so since I’m customer of Adorama and have been overall happy with their service. There have been some hickups but nothing I would call a deal breaker by any stretch. Skype is free too but I hate them with a passion so Adorama has nothing to worry about from me 🙂

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iPhone Camera, toy or real?

One of my biggest complaints against the iPhone is the dinky fixed focus camera that Jobs had put onboard. With most other phones, five megapixals is pretty much the current standard but Apple for unknown reasons, went with a 2 megapixal camera and not even a high quality one at that.

Of course, this just adds to the challenge of taking a quality picture with it and in truth, once you work out a few things like how to trigger the shutter without moving the phone, it can take a decent enough picture. My old Nikon 950 was only 2 megapixels but it had really nice glass and not a chip of plastic as a lens.

Software can go a long ways to improving a picture and the iPhone is not any different. You can get a free version of Photoshop on the iPhone and it really can work wonders on these pictures. I have an unretouched image of my Thinktank International V2 bag sitting at Sacramento Airport and then one after I did some enhancements in the iPhone Photoshop app. It made a very noticeable difference.

Before iPhone Photoshop

Here is the retouched image

After iPhone Photoshop

I did all this just sitting in my chair with my iPhone and my finger. No special hardware, software or anything else. I just snapped it then loaded the mobile version and touched it up. Now I just need to find a noise reduction app for the iPhone. I dont know about anybody else’s iPhone, but mine makes very noisy pictures unless it is a brightly lit picture. This is one of the weaknesses of the iPhone camera, it’s junk in low light. No other way to put it but simply, it’s simply junk in low light. I have been able get a few nice shots at night or in a dark room but it’s more luck than anything else.

On the other hand, I have been surprised at times with what I can get with the iPhone. This image was taken out of the plane’s window while buzzing along at speed and in the low light of twilight.
Flying over Oregon

This is a pretty usable image all things considered. And given that it was taken with a phone and not a “real” camera, all the better. But that last comment is a bit unfair I guess. I have taken very nice images with the iPhone, remembering it’s limitations and working around them. This next image was taken in the dim light of the waiting area for Captain Eo at Disneyland. I did some touch up in iPhoto to color balance it and raise the saturation a bit, nothing more than I do for most of my images nowadays.
Captain Eo Redux

I think it is perfectly acceptable to send around to friends and family as a decent snapshot. And I had the added luxury of not lugging my DSLR around for the day 🙂 So once you work out the constraints of the iPhone, it is a very usable tool. Not perfect and Apple could have certainly done better, much better without too much effort on their part but I get the feeling that Jobs is not a big fan of cameras in phones and so it was added very grudgingly. Thats a shame.. because a “Apple Quality” camera would have just about made the phone perfect.

What is very cool about the iPhone camera is the ability to shoot and send it right away via email or SMS. There have been times where I found something for sale, shot it, sent it with a question and gotten a response back in time to grab a deal. You can shoot barcodes and get the lowest price in the area for the widget, talk about leveling the playing field. I have used it to shoot impromptu location scouting trips where I see a place that I like and I rip off several images to keep on the phone. Some complain about the lack of a flash but then I have not really seen the need or even one that really works well so I dont worry about it too much. In the picture below, you can see how I’m documenting a photo shoot with my iPhone in part because I had a 70-200 F2.8 slung around my neck and I wanted a close but wide shot. This is what I call a “personal reference” shot, normally seen only by myself to provide some visual details on something. But here I’m sharing it and I’m sure you can see the value in using the iPhone for something like this. And it’s a pretty good image given how bright the backlighting was.

Flashing Fundy

So in one way, I happily bash the camera and Apple but then I use it in some key ways that I could not easily do with my Razor or Treo in spite of them both having cameras. The iPhone integration just makes something just so much easier than anyone else. I just wish it was better.. but then I always think that about most of my toys 🙂

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Batteries and charades

We photographers love rechargeable batteries for our flashes, our cameras and all the other electronic widgets. The current favorite type of battery is called a Nickel Metal Hydride or NiMH for short. These cells have decent power ratings nowdays and can withstand some abuse like fast charging them instead of a slow charge. But they wont keep a charge well, they will self discharge due to internal resistance so after several weeks of storage, you may find the cells only have half their charge.

There are many manufacturers of NiMH cells and they come in all kinds of ratings, 2000mAh, 2300mAh and 2700mAh. They come in less but we are not interested at all in those for what we need them for. There are a couple of things that will make a very large difference in how well the cell works for you. One is the actual size of the cell. I have some Tenergy cells that work ok but do not quite measure up size wise. They are a bit short and a bit fat so they do not work in some tight battery compartments. Pretty damn frustrating at times. I used to buy Duracell 2350mAh cells but I found that they have a very high internal resistance and will self discharge the fastest to flat quicker than any other cell I have.. like in just a couple of weeks. They do not seem to hold up as well even fully charged in my SB800s.

My last favorite cell were the Energizer 2450mAh cells. They held a charge for a decent amount of time and they lasted pretty well under load. But my new favorites are the Eneloops from Sanyo. These are a “pre-charged” cell but most importantly, they hold the charge for something like a full year. And the prices are very close to the classic NiMH cells. And they fit everything I’ve tried them in. But you have to be very careful in buying “precharged” cells. There are only a couple of manufacturers of them and while the Sanyos are good, the cheaper imports from China are not nearly as good. You can not go by brand name either, I’ve seen both Japanese cells (Sanyo) and Chinese cells in the same brand packaging. One guide is to look at the top of the cell, the Sanyos are white, the others are black. A fellow blogger (stefanv.com) has done some really nice work on imperical testing of Sanyo’s Eneloops. You should drop by and read his article on it.

A good charger is a requirement to keep your cells healthy and not burned out at an early age. I use a 8 cell charger (Maha’s Ultimate Professional Charger) and a 4 cell LaCross unit (LaCrosse Technology BC-900) and both work very well. I like the LaCross better and really wish it had eight slots instead of the four. At the miminum you need a “smart” charger, not one of the those stupid wall wart fast chargers which will cook your battery in 15 minutes and kill off the battery. Both of the mentioned chargers have options for a “fast” one hour charge and a two house slow charge and trickle charge. Both also offer reconditioning of the batteries which can revive a marginal cell.

A favorite shop to buy my batteries and chargers from is called Thomas Distributing. They offer all kinds of batteries, chargers, battery packs and more.

And speaking of recharging batteries and charades, bad karma goes to Engerizer and the stupid bunny for shafting consumers on their NiMH D cell batteries. They charge a premium for the D cell but in reality, it’s a repackaged AA in a plastic form to make it look and fit like a D cell. The folks at Naturalnews.com did a autopsy on a D cell and sawed it open to prove the accusation. So if you need the bigger batteries, look at Powerex for your needs. Their AAs are also a highly regarded NiMH cell so you would not go wrong with either.

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Lightscribe and DVDs

One of the expectations when one shoots a wedding or any other event is that your product will look “professional”. What I mean is that you really can not hand out a DVD of a 3,500 dollar wedding with the title scrawled on it in sharpie ink. Well, you could  but I doubt you would get much word of mouth referrals.  We photographers are always are looking for a way to be professional in our presentation, or we should be as it is a simple thing that can really separate you from the rest.

So with this in mind, I picked up a Lightscribe DVD burner to play with some. For those that do not know what Lightscribe is, pay attention, it is a pretty cool idea. You take a DVD and make it burnable on both sides. But the label side is set to  be a high contrast burn so you can burn an image and text into the label side and  have it viewable. Cool idea huh?  Yeah, I thought so too. It’s still a cool idea but not nearly as much as so as in the beginning.

I got my drive from OWC, a Superwrite Master DVD external burner. It arrived and was unpacked and plugged into the Macbook Pro ASAP. Hey!! not so fast cowboy!!! I could not see the drive with the Lightscribe labeling software. Ahh, so says the instructions, NO FIREWIRE. You can only burn Lightscribe using USB. Ugh.. So unplug it and replug it with USB. Now I take my special Lightscribe DVD (oh yes, special media if you want the label) and stick it in the drive. Turns out the software is just a driver and the label software is something I already bought that supports the Lightscribe driver/disk. Here is another dirty secret, Lightscribe only supplies a driver to the OEMs so the OEM has to come up with the software. In the case of Lacie, it’s ALL special which means you can only get support from Lacie which Lightscribe admits to on their site.

So I get the DiskCover software set up and make a new label. I insert my DVD and tell it to burn the Lightscribe label. And I wait.. and wait and wait some more. It takes 20 minutes to burn a single disk’s label. Not exactly what I wanted for my work flow for anything more than a single off disk. Damn.. It makes a very cool label but god, it takes FOREVER to burn it. When you can burn the disk in 5 to 10 minutes and it takes 20 just for the label, making a coaster by mistake really hurts the time line.

I still use it but only for special cases. And I’m still shopping around for a place that can print decent silk screened DVDs without breaking the bank in very small runs. I’ve tried inkjet DVDs and while they work, I am hoping for something a bit more professional  than the inkjet. Still, it’s faster than Lightscribe and its in color. I just give them a quick coat of photo sealer to keep the ink from running and call it a day.

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