Tag Archives: Atlas PocketWizard Clones

Repurposing a light box to be a light table

I saw a very interesting blog posting on how to shoot flowers using a light box. I took a different approach since I did not want to build a cardboard box so anything else. I took my large softbox and flipped it upside down. I could do this because I use C stands with boom arms and it becomes very easy to change the orientation of a modifier. I just made sure that the legs were in the right position to take up the low weight and added a few sand bags for good measure.

I then put a piece of clear plexiglass on top of the softbox or now light table and put my subject on top of that. I have a Photogenics 1250 strobe but now I would pull it and put in the 600 instead. The 1250 is too strong even turned down as low as it can go. I plan to try it with white plexiglass whereas I’m shooting with clear right now. The white should be worth a couple of stops.

White on White Lilly

 

 

I had a second mini softbox using an SB800 in SU mode on a monopod that I held over the subject. I manually set the SB800 to something around 1/8 power and about 3 feet high. I tried straight on, sideways and all kinds of angles. The best results seemed to be feathering the small soft box slightly to pick up some edge shadows.

I used a pair of Atlas pocket wizard clones on this shoot only because they were handy and my real PWs were packed away. I shot with:

 

SB800 flash mounted to small softboxLight table set up shot

Next time I will put the small light box on a second C stand instead of holding it. That was just too much trouble but I was in a real hurry to try this and get back to the family outside. The ladder was the only way I could get enough hight to shoot down on my subject, anywhere else and I was shooting across it and it did not work nearly as well.

 

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Atlas, Pocket Wizard Clones by Phottix

One of the signs of “making it” for a budding professional photographer is the purchase of some PocketWizard wireless triggers. When you trade in the ebay specials that you learned on to the pro gear, it’s a really nice feeling. But, that feeling can be costly with a PW costing about 170.00 USD each. The company called Phottix has developed and released a new wireless trigger that looks and feel alot like a PW trigger. Same shape, same size, mostly the same controls but some differences. The biggest is the price, the Atlas costs about 90.00 USD and includes cables plus a set of brand name AA batteries. The unit itself also has some differences for the better and I will detail them in a few moments. One difference to point out right away is the metal hotshoe!!  No more cheap plastic hotshoes which are the bane of the Pocket Wizard.

Atlas Wireless Triggers

Atlas Wireless Triggers

The picture above shows the unboxing of the new trigger. You can see they are well packages with Duracell batteries, cables, lanyard and a decent set of directions. The buttons are well labeled and easy to read. The build quality is excellent, in some ways, I think it’s better than the real Pocket Wizard. Two additions are very welcomed for photographers. The first is a metal tripod mount and the second is the metal hot shoe mount. Both are incredible useful in the field and even in the studio. The radio runs on cheap AA cells and work very well on a diet of PowerX Imedion AA 2400 low discharge cells.

There are two plugs in the top, one for controlling the flash OUT and a second for flash IN/OUT. These in and out ports will let you daisy chain strobes to be triggered by one Atlas.

The units support WRS mode or Wireless Remote Sync which lets you shoot the flash off AND trigger the camera remotely. You can lock the unit down as a transmitter only to  help avoid interference simple by pressing the test/shutter button while you turn on the Atlas. When you have a red light on status, release the button and the status LED should now go to green and blink green once a second. When in transmit and receive mode, it will blink once every two seconds.

The Atlas has four channels to choose from and WRS uses two at a time. For normal use, you just need to put them all on the same channel. The Atlas is compatible with two Sekonic light meters, the L-358 and the L-758R so long as both are using the RT-32 transmitter. While the Atlas trigger frequency is compatible with PocketWizard’s MiniTT1, FlexTT5, MultiMax, Plus II (& probably the original/old PocketWizards) for both sending and receiving, I was not able to get the Atlas to trigger the PW PlusII in a fast test. I plan to get a few PWs to test further with and see what happens, I’m told the Atlas will work with PWs. I am thinking that the PW can trigger the Atlas but not the other way around.

The range I’ve tested to so far is a bit over 100 feet line of sight without any misfires. I did a test where the flash was inside the house about 10 feet and behind double pane low E glass. The low E glass tends to attenuate my radios and I imagine it does the same thing to the Atlas triggers but I went 75 feet outside and still had solid triggering without any misfires. I plan to wander over one of the parks in the next week or so and really stretch out the range. But in truth, 100 feet is about the furtherest I have been from my flashes when shooting remote. My ebay clones used to start to miss about then even more so with a low battery.

So in the past month I’ve used these triggers on my D300 bodies, my G11, my Photogenics and my SB800s without any issues at all. They have worked every time and have been very reliable. Not bad for a 100 bucks a unit. Given that the eBay triggers were 40 plus shipping and required mods to really work well, these are a deal. What I can not tell is how well they will hold up under abuse like being dropped and kicked around.

Here are some individual shots of the Atlas. These were taken with Atlas triggers on my Canon G11 triggering a Photogenic 1250 flash with a 48 inch octabank. The white background is just white construction paper propped up in the back

Phottix Atlas Complete Kit

Phottix Atlas Complete Kit

Phottix Atlas Side and Top View

Phottix Atlas Side and Top View

Phottix Atlas Top View

Phottix Atlas Top View

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Shooting with the Canon G11

The more I use the Canon G11, the more I see that the newest and higher end compact cameras are under rated. I have spent over a week now shooting the G11 in all conditions and I have to say that while the ergonomics are poor, the picture quality is very good. And the camera has a very “well built” feel to it, like the difference between a Honda and a Mercedes.

The G11 itself is built very well and feels sturdy in your hands. Even the swivel screen does not feel flimsy as you swing it in and out. The problems I have with the camera revolve around where the right hand has to grip the camera body. There is a small bump to wrap your fingers around it on the right but it’s too damn small to be of any use. The body really needs to be extended here and in fact, on the older G series, one of the most popular accessories is a grip extender. Without it, my thumb ends up resting on the buttons since there is not any space to put it anywhere else. The “menu” button ends up jammed into my palm and the thumb goes right over the function button. So often, I find my settings have changed. Holding the camera in the vertical mode is worse, to keep your finger on the shutter button keeps my fingers hitting the buttons all the time. Most common I find my F stop has changed without my knowing it. A button lock switch would have been a killer addition. Something like small slide switch on my iPhone where I can silence the phone in an instant.

But since I dont have it, I make do. Ergonomics aside, the picture quality is very important, I mean, no matter how good the buttons are, if the picture quality sucks, then why bother? This camera had the sensor size “degraded” from 12 to 10 megapixels in order to clean up some of the noise from putting too many pixels on a very small sensor.

Now the noise is not alot compared to other small cameras, it is still considerably more than my D90 or D300. Even at a relatively low ISO of 400 is still noisy. This means in post, there is an extra step of having to run Noiseware (or whatever your choice for noise reduction is). In Noiseware, the “Film Grain” setting seems to work very well at cleaning up the images without ruining the edge details. In this picture, I shot at ISO 800 with a shutter of 1/125 F3.5 and 15mm. The noise is clearly visable but not too objectionable and would easily clean up. At 3200, you would be to pretty desperate to use the image even after clean up. ISO 1600 is pretty much the limit of the G11 to make a decent image that will still clean up well.
The Chancel Vault

Here is a crop of ISO 800 without any retouching or noise clean up.
Crop showing ISO 1600 G11

Given the price tag of the G11, I am surprised at the stunning amount of distortion in the wide angle settings. At a retail price of 500 USD, I would expect much better optics than this. In this shot of my MBP screen at it’s widest, you can see the barrel distortion all around the image.
First Contact

To fix it, you need to remember to move the lens in just a touch and the level of distortion drops right off. This is overshadowed by how well the camera works in close up work and macro work. It can take stunning ly good close up shots in very difficult situation even holding it without any tripod. The IS that Canon added to it works incredibly well. In these shots, I was shooting through a case case in both shots.I was right up on the glass but not touching it and just using spread finger tips as a “tripod”. In both shots, the G11 was set to macro mode and in full manual. In the gears shot, I did use manual focus to get the focus exactly where I wanted it.
Gears Astrolab

I will say that I bought a spare battery for this and I find that I really dont need to use the spare even after shooting off over 300 images during the course of a day. Now, I did not use the flash very much and I tend to turn off the camera when I’m not shooting since it comes on very fast. But still, it’s a very good achievement in battery life

And lets talk about RAW vs JPEG. On my older Canon SD500, 550 and 800 cameras, the camera generated JPGs are pretty good. On the G11, they suck. Is that plain enough? The color balance and sharpness is not there. I find that shooting RAW is the ONLY way to really use this camera and then clean it all up in post. So in a major way, that defeats the whole reason for using a point and shoot which is connivence. Now, I dont mind since my workflow is already geared up for RAW but for someone like my wife, this camera is completely wasted on her and she is a pretty good snapshot artist. So if it were me, I would NOT recommend this camera to anyone other than a serious amateur or a working pro who really can use the manual settins and the close up/macro capability of this camera. Anyone else will be very frustrated by it. As it is, it frustrates me but I’ll live with it till someone designs a better semi-pro point and shoot.

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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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Long Lost Battery

Damn Lithium batteries are expensive for any laptop but more so for the Mac. So I had a battery die on me a year ago. So whats the story you ask? Well, I had tried to get the battery rebuilt by a company that specializes in such matters and the cost would have been about half of a normal replacement with more juice as a bonus. 

I sent my 80 dollar payment to batteryrefill.com via PayPal (who turned out to be useless) and they sent me a prepaid address via email. I shipped my battery for my Macbook Pro off to them and waited. And waited.. and waited. I sent several emails to them, a few phones calls and the story was “the cells were backordered, the techs are back logged” etc..etc. So after waiting 3 months or so, I went to PayPal to get my money back and they blew me off. I waited “too long” to file a claim and they could care less that I was trying to work with the vendor first. First lesson? Dont use PayPal, my normal credit cards do not have a problem with me disputing a non-delivered  item. After 6 months of hounding them, I gave up and wrote off my 80 bucks as a sad lesson and just spread the word that I was ripped off.

So imagine my surprise almost a year to the day when I get an email saying my battery has been shipped. Huh? Sure enough a battery shows up today and it looks like a brand new Apple battery. No marks of any kind to tell me it’s been apart and the apple stickers are still intact on some of the seams. It’s not MY battery since my battery had some pry marks where I almost took it apart on my own. 

So what the heck is going on? an attack of conscious on someone’s part? A rebuild or just a rebadge new battery? No idea. I’m charging it now to see if it works at all. If it works, I happy to finally have gotten a new battery but I’m annoyed that it took an entire YEAR without any communication from the vendor.

Edit: So here what I have learned so far. After testing and even calibrating the battery, it would only last 1.5 hours and showed about 3500mAh of battery capacity. I thought it felt light when I swapped them so I weighed it. The normal pack weighs 16 oz and this one weights 11. So there is a five oz difference. Now I looked up the part number and it I think what I have is a knock off of the original battery pack for the original MBPs. This pack has the right P/N but is missing the apple logo. But the P/N is for the OLD batteries that were recalled months ago. Maybe batteryrefill.com got a deal on NOS batteries that were supposed to be scrapped out.

So while I got a battery for my 80 dollars, I did not get 80 dollars worth of battery, I got about 20 dollars worth and even then, it’s questionable to how safe the damn thing is.

Do NOT use batteryrefill.com and use my experience with them as a warning.

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