Tag Archives: flash

Come Sail Away

One thing that a photographer needs to learn (truthfully, most people need this) is how to make lemonade from life’s lemons tossed your way. I had the absolute misfortune of being taken off my flight at Heathrow airport due to the ash cloud shutdown of Europe’s airspace on April 15, 2010. We were loaded and ready to go when we were told “everybody off”. I was one of the lucky ones, I was able chase down my luggage and clear customs with relative speed, only about three hours. Some other had not gotten their luggage in three days after the event.

Two days after Heathrow shutdown

Two days after Heathrow shutdown

3rd day of ALL FLIGHTS CANCELLED

3rd day of ALL FLIGHTS CANCELLED

I had booked my flight with a very good travel agent, Linda Christen since I was going overseas and past experience has taught me to avoid the self service sites like Orbitz and Travelocity like the plague. She was able to dig up a room at a local hotel when all hotels were saying “we are full”. It was not a cheap room but definitely cheaper than many around it and the neighborhood sucked being right at the airport. However, it was clean and beat having to go to London proper which was twenty miles or so away then having to either cab it or take the underground back each I needed to be at the airport. During the week it took me to get out of Heathrow, I had over nine flight cancellations in six days. I had to extend my room four times. And even when they opened the airport, my airline still cancelled flights and would not take new reservations due to the existing flights already being booked up weeks in a advance. Some airlines were and still are offering specials to booked passengers who are willing to cancel their flights to free up seats. So it was looking something the first week of May before I could really consider getting out.

First Flight from Heathrow in 5 days

First Flight from Heathrow in 5 days

This brings up something very important to anyone traveling not just photographers, make damn sure you have a good line of credit. I brought my ATM card which is how I normally pay for things but I also had brought my business AmericanEx card plus one MasterCharge with a fairly good limit and nothing on it. As it turns out, since I had the MC card AND I had called them ahead of time to let them know I was going to be in the UK, I had zero issues with using the card, even to charge the cruise to it. All sorts of people around me were struggling with cards maxed out or not being accepted because they were overseas and so on. The good thing is by putting the cruise on a single empty card, I know exactly what part of this debacle is the cruise and which part is the hotel. Since my flight was booked on AmEx card, I might get some of it back via the built in insurance policy but we shall see.

Since I had been in Oxford on a holiday to see my eldest daughter, I had not planned on being out of country more than 6 days. So by week two, laundry was becoming an issue. I had been able to take advantage of the dorm laundry when I was visting so I had a buffer of a few days of clean clothes. However, it also that meant that in a few days I was in the shower washing shirts and underwear while getting myself clean. Since I never knew when I could leave, I could not risk the paid laundry since it took two days. My hotel did not have any kind of gift shop, so I had to shop at other and nicer hotels to buy razors and other supplies. This was a one mile hike to get the closest one and I found a minimart at a carwash that had some soap and sold cheap boxed sandwiches to avoid the twenty pound lunch at the hotel.

In the end, a very crazy idea that I had on saturday night paid off. I had sent an email to my travel agent to see about booking passage on the Queen Mary 2 which I had read on the internet was leaving in a few days out of Southhampton. And yes, she thought I was nuts but she humored me and she put my name on the wait list of two hundred people. This was before the ongoing flight cancellations all week. I had done it as a “last resort” type of thing and when I got a call on Weds saying there was a cabin available, the waitlist had over 1,500 people. I had a flight for thursday but American Airlines would not confirm the flight would even take place. As it turns out, it did not take place. So for about 2/3s of the price of staying in a hotel for yet another week plus bad food, I was able to get a cabin on the biggest and the only true Ocean Liner left in the world.

My ride home - Queen Mary 2

My ride home - Queen Mary 2

Oh yes, I am terribly underdressed for this event. In fact, as I write this entry, everyone around me is getting ready for Captian’s Night which I have zero chance of attending as it’s tux only. I dont even have slacks much less a tux, I have good working jeans that travel well ūüôā But the food at the buffet is very good and my jeans are perfectly acceptable there.

Queen Mary 2 Grand Staircase

Queen Mary 2 Grand Staircase

Now, what does all this have to do with photography? Plenty, the photographic opportunities aboard the QM2 are amazing. I have seven days to shoot, shoot and shoot some more. There so much art and architecture on the ship to shoot that it’s a perfect place to practice and refine your craft without the pressure of time.

Queen Mary 2 Sunset on the first night

Queen Mary 2 Sunset on the first night

The QM2 has wireless in most cabins and in most public places. If you buy a block of eight hours, you will pay about thirty five cents a minute for internet. Not cheap but it’s enough to get email and upload small sized images to sites like Flickr or a blog. A side benifit of the wireless is that while the Queen has cell coverage, I can use Skype to call home. Why use Skype and not my cell? because even with international roaming, the voice charges are 1.40 USD per MINUTE and the data rates are 11.00 USD per megabyte. By contrast, I paid 167.00 USD for 8 hours of internet time which works out to be .35 cents per minute. Skype is free plus the .35 cents per minute so this is a no brainer.

This leads to yet another piece of advice for really anyone nowadays traveling. Bring a laptop or even a netbook that is fully loaded with the various applications like Skype, FTP, a couple of different browsers and emergency software like file recovery and/or flash card recovery software. In my own case, I had just gotten a new 13 inch Macbook Pro but I not had a chance to load all my favorite items on it and I decided pretty much at the last minute to take old reliable which is a 15 inch Macbook Pro from three years ago. A very good choice on my part since I have all my normal software loaded so I can edit and adjust images, post to my blog, phone home and more.

So with the travel tips finished, lets move on to shooting pictures on a cruise ship. On the ship, one problem is that they use a type of florescent light that is very yellow in color and will wreak havoc on your white balance. The best thing is to shoot RAW and correct in post. Lighting inside tends to be dim so ISO 800 is more the rule to get a decent shutter speed while shooting at F2.8 to F4.

The lens of choice so far after three days of shooting is my 11-24mm F4. So much of the ship is expansive and you really need the wide angle to bring it all in. I had my 17-55 F2.8 but so far I have not had a need for it. Another excellent item to have is a really good point and shoot. I brought my new G11 with me as a test and it has been getting quite the unintended workout in the past three weeks. The camera is perfect for most shooting on the ship but it has a very hard time with bright and dark in the same image. When the lights blow out, they blow big and fringe badly. So in some cases, I have taken my D300 and gone back to locations to get nicer shots that I had shot first with my G11.

Queen Mary 2 Quiet Time

Queen Mary 2 Quiet Time

The color issues can be adjusted in post so long as you are shooting RAW. With JPEGs, it will almost impossible to correct well. What is interesting is that while I see it as a pale yellow, the camera sees it as a vivid yellow, very intense. This ship also has halegon spots all over and when the two lights mix, it’s very tough to get a good white balance. I brought a set of gels with me so I will probably break out the SB800 and my gels to see if I can gel the lights. For that matter, I might just tape the gel to my G11 for a fast test. I brought a small roll of gaffers tape, dont you travel with some wrapped around a sharpy? You should!

Something else to consider when on the road, I have bought what I called “Extended Manuals” from Amazon via their Kindle service. I then use the iPhone version of the Kindle software to have these manuals for the D300 and G11 at the ready for reference. This is very important for times like now when I’m toting a new camera along for the first time.

Another invaluable accessory that I bought recently was the Luma camera strap. I also bought an extra lanyard for it. So I have one camera strap for two cameras. And when I have to clear security like getting on to the Queen Mary for example, it’s a simple matter of unclipping the lanyard and then reclipping it when I’m done. No more trying to lift a strap over my head, hat, jacket etc. To be honest while the Luma is awesome for the G11, I prefer my Rapid Strap for the D300, even more so with a long lens on it. The lanyard will twist and let the bounce around quite a bit on my hip whereas the BlackRapid strap tends to hold the camera against my hip and in the same position all the time.

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Posted in Hardware, lenses, photography, technique, Travel Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Traveling Light

Don’t you just love being invited to see someone’s travel pictures? Does the groan escape your lips before you can stop yourself or do you just bite the bullet and suffer quietly? But here is the kicker question, how do YOUR travel pics look to everyone else? hmmmmm? Thought so.. so here are some tips on creating memorable travel shots that wont put your audience to sleep OR cost you and arm and a leg in glass.

Bones of a BE2c

My first tip is a bit odd and not so much a tip as something to think about. Travel is all about seeing the sights and experiencing new things, people and places. Unless you are getting PAID for the trip, it’s NOT about dragging two bodies, half dozen lenses and assorted equipment along. So my first piece of advice is to consider, strongly consider getting a really good point and shoot camera.

In my case, I got a Canon G11 because I truly believe that Nikon’s point and shoots are best left home. None of them equal the G11 in features or flexibility. I also feel that Nikon is making serious mistake with that line of marketing. But anyways, there is the G11, there is the slightly cheaper but in some ways, better S90, the Panasonic LX3 and there are the newer four thirds which are a a marginal point and shoot with swappable lenses. I tend not to include the four thirds in this talk because of their size. The Canon G11 is almost too big but still qualifies as a “point and shoot” due to it’s fixed lens and smallish size.

I suggest a good point and shoot because when traveling with one like the G11, you have virtually all the control that you have with the DLSR. You do NOT have swappable lenses but then the zooms on the P/S camera are pretty amazing at the ranging they can work. I just spent a week in the UK and never pulled my D300 out of my ThinkTank bag. I shot everything with the G11. This leads to another tip.

Leave 90% of the “must have” accessories at home. I did a week in the UK and never used my remotes, my SB800 flash, graphics tablet, D300, 17-55 F2.8 lens, 50mm 1.4 lens, spare batteries etc. I DID use my Epson P5000 to archive my images from the Sd card, I DID use my Macbook Pro for email and fast edits for posting to Flickr so friends and family could see a few shots as I went and I DID use my USB hard drive for my Time Machine backups while in the room. So when thinking about the trip and really think about what you plan to do, be ruthless! Most museums will NOT let you use the fancy flash and/or camera without hassling you about it. Nobody gave a damn about my G11. I lived in my Luma Loop strap and it was great at the checkpoints where I could just unsnap the camera, hand it to security and then snap it back on. No mess and no fuss trying to lift straps over my head and jacket. I like it much better on my G11 than I do on my D300. For my D300, I prefer the Rapid Strap but since we are talking about lightweight point and shoots, really take a look at the Luma.

I consolidated quite a few of my chargers down to three and one I didnt need. The AA charger was not needed since I never used the SB800 flash I brought. The old Razor charger works on my Crackberry and is lighter and smaller than the OEM for the Blackberry. I had the Canon charger and a USB cable for the iPhone since it can charge while connected to the laptop. I had two more USB cables, both the same type so I could plug in both my flash card reader and the external HD at the same time. I did bring a spare power pack for the iPhone for while I was on the airplane since it was 11 hours of flying time and time at the airport. I also have a small two piece plastic stand that holds the iPhone horizontal and at a 50 degree angle for watching movies or podcasts. I brought spare earbuds since I have them fail before.

So what can you do with a point and shoot you ask? Am I going to “give up” anything? Yeah, weight and size. A good point and shoot can perform almost as well as the DLSR. Note I said Almost.. not As well. There is some give and take but we are talking TRAVEL pictures people, not the cover of Vanity Fair or Country Life. You want nice shots that wont bore people to death when you show them. And that my friend is more of YOU than the camera. So learn how to use the point and shoot CORRECTLY. It’s not the same as your DSLR and it will require a different technique to some degree. And it will require more post processing to get the most out of the image. There is distortion in the wide angles, noise even at relatively low ISOs like 400 and on my G11, a distinctly narrower tonal range between shadow details and totalling blown highlights. The G11 also fringes blue like mad on blown or close to blown highlights. So experiment before you leave and make sure you understand the limits and how best work around them.

When I use my G11, 90% of the time I am shooting full manual mode. I tend to shoot ambient light and the G11’s smarts do not do so well with backlit scenes. There is a feature on the G11 that I absolutely love. I can be in full manual, focus on the subject and dial up or down F stop and/or shutter in real time and see the changes on the screen. No guessing, I just focus and dial in what I want it to look like or as close as I can get. This is such a cool thing is nasty lighting like a dim church or museum. I dont have to take the camera away from my eye and look at the screen to see the shot. I just hold it up, focus and watch the screen in real time. The G11 also has a rotating screen which I LOVE!! My old Nikon 950 has one and that is the one feature I miss the most on my D300/D90.

Another tip is to shoot RAW if you can. The JPEGs on the Canon just plain out and out suck. In RAW, I can recover alot of those “blown” highlights and pull back the fringing if I want. I also can run my normal workflow of Noiseware and a highpass filter which gives me clean and sharp images. Much better than the in-camera JPEG processing could ever hope to be.

Use the built in flash but use it wisely. In other words, dont turn it on and leave “on”.. learn to set it just like you do aperture or shutter speed. The built in flash works very well as fill for getting rid of those nasty shadows under someone’s eyes in bright light. It works very well to bring up the shadows in a dim museum assuming you are allowed to use the flash.

Amanda Oxford Portrait

Play with different techniques and post work flow. Dont be afraid of blur or Black and White. I learned a trick from Jack Davis (How to WOW) about using slow shutters while shooting out the window of a moving bus or car for an impressionistic look. With a bit of luck, it looks very cool. Also, take interesting shots of family, they are the models traveling with you and since they tend to ignore you anyways, play into that.

Rider
Blue Skies

Black and white is easily accomplished with today’s tools and remember, it’s BLACK and WHITE, not middle grey which is what you get with default settings of greyscale. It’s all about tones and texture in B/W, not color so strong subjects, close ups and something with a large tonal range can work very well in B/W.

WWII in B/W

Stairs of Light

Dont forgot to use interesting composition!! Dont take the same damn shot everyone else takes. Well, take it first and get it out of the way then start experimenting. You have digital film for pete’s sake, damn near unlimited assuming you either have a large flash card or you brought spares. You DID bring spares yet?

Hyde Park in London

Museum of Natural History Oxford

And FOOD!!! Remember, this is traveling and you are not eating at the same old places (you had better not be!) So sometimes, the food can be quite interesting to shoot and share with friends later.

Pizza

Every one of these pictures were taken with my point and shoot Canon G11 under a varity of conditions. All are not your typical crappy image out of a point and shoot. The equipment helps but in the end, the photographer working the camera makes the biggest difference. The point and shoot allows you to travel very light on equipment and in many ways, frees you to be more creative by doing more with less. Try it and I think you might yourself addicted to using the point and shoot alot more than you think you will.

Happy trails!!

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London Calling

So I’m over in jolly old England for a bit wandering around the countryside with a new toy, a Canon G11. The choice of Canon over my normal Nikon is in large part to Nikon’s refusal to offer a real camera in a point and shot format like Canon does. It’s a bit bulky and the controls are hell to use when shooting vertical but it can do some amazing things. Like sync to my Nikon SB800s using my Cybersyncs and shoot at 1/2000 shutter. Up to now, the only camera I have that could do that is my old D70s. And to be honest, the quality of the two are very close.

Which leads to my biggest complaints about the Canon. The noise even at ISO 200 stinks. At ISO 800, I *MUST* use noise reduction software to get a clean image. And it’s soft, even manually focused and shooting JPEG, the image is noticeably soft. It cleans up with a high pass filter but that is just another step to do and for it to be very effective, I have to shoot RAW which in itself is not a big deal.

The wide angle has distortion to beat the band, it’s very bad compared to my D300 with a 12-24 F4 piece of glass. (go figure!) But the Macro ROCKS!! You can get the camera to where the lens is almost touching the object of interest and focus on it.

The manual settings are pretty easy to use but the selector button and wheel cause no end of grief when shooting vertical. My thumb goes right onto the stupid button and more than a few times I have changed my selection from ISO to F stop by mistake. Stupid design.

But, it’s a dream to carry around vs. the big camera since nobody views you as a “pro” with a point and shoot so very little hassles take place in areas like museums. The IS makes up for the lack of a tripod and does a pretty good job of it.

I’m not sure if I’m going to keep the camera, at 450 USD, I was expecting better performance in sharpness and noise but we will see.

Here are some samples from the camera. Yes, they have been processed but not really much more than any other image I shoot.
Amanda Oxford Portrait
This was a natural light portrait taken in an alley in Oxford.

Stairs of Light

This B/W was taken by shooting two images at slightly different times to paint out the vistors and then flipped to B/W and dressed up with curves and transforms.

Amanda at Oxford

This was taken with hard light from the late afternoon and the built in flash dialed down two stops.

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FundySOS shooting, lighting and biz seminar

The crew at Left Turn Studio (FundySOS and TouchFlow) put on a two day seminar ¬†called “Two guys that shoot” which covered alot of information. They hit on the business of running a studio and make money at it, how to market, what to market, how to shoot portraits of various types and do it cheaply. Kevin as probably forgotten more about lighting than many photographers will ever know. He shots have been on many bridal magazines, shot fashion for years and quite a bit more over 20 some odd years. Fundy is not much behind Kevin in world class experience as a photographer, teacher, studio manager etc. Together, they are a quite the pair in the studio and very successful at what they do.

The seminar was a mix of informal “class” teaching and real shooting with models, lights, flashes, beauty dishes, sunlight, shade etc. The information was very clear and concise and they took us through the entire process of shooting a modeling session to downloading, workflow, basic retouching in Lightroom then into Photoshop to use their own software to build out albums for the sale.

Some sample shots I did while in the class follows. Mine are typical of the results achieved by everyone there. And both Fundy and Kevin took the time to make sure everyone achieved good results and knew WHY they achieved them.
Jo - Jazz's Mum

This model was great to work with and we were stunned to find out she had just had her fifth child several months ago. In this shot, we used daylight from the storefront windows and a dual fluorescent bulb fixture from home depot with a silver reflector by her head to add just a touch of fill.

Jazz - railway

This was a former senior client who came back to model for us as a “senior” and was super to work with outside in the cool day. We used natural light and off camera flash for these shots. The off camera flash shots were taken with the flash in TTL but the camera set to full manual. All the reasons and settings were fully explained to us even if we already knew most of it. It was nice to hear it again and pick up all kinds of information on shooting seniors and what makes a successful modeling shoot for a senior album.

Jazz

This shot was taken in the classic LTS style of using flat light. This is one of the key concepts that the two guys that shoot (TGTS) really push during the two days. Flat light is your best friend for a flattering picture. It fills shadows, smoothes out the ski, helps keep the bags away from the eyes and more. Men can get away with more directional light but overall flat is where it’s at for a clean portrait. We saw this outside and inside the studio shooting with strobes.

Jo - B/W conversion

This was another shot using flat light from the front and set high shooting down. We also used white V cards and white seamless paper for the background. The conversion was done in LR and then tweaked in Photoshop with a couple of techniques plus Touchflow B/W Punch action. I used surface blur with a mask to smooth out the skin and pulled up the black point to get cleaner blacks.

Posted in Album Software, Business Aids, commercial photography, editing, editing software, photography Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , |

Christmas Neighborhood Remembered by Pictures

Its soon time to end shooting the Christmas lights for the season. So get out for the next week and grab a few shots of your favorite lights to enjoy over the next year. I know my kids love to see slide shows we make with Smilebox and send out to friends and family. If you have not played with Smilebox, you should try it at least once. It is one of the better slideshow services for free. Not perfect by far but certainly usable.

A few tips for getting the nice shots are to shoot:

1: Unless you have a full frame rig, embrace the grain and shoot at a high ISO. These images were shot at ISO 2000 or higher and I used Noiseware afterwards in post to clean them up.

2: Shoot on a custom white balance. My D300 shot nicely at 3000K and while this worked for the normal light bulbs, the LEDs were all over the map as are some of the small lights. So be prepared in post to work it out.

3: Gel your flash. I used a 1/4 cut CTO but I should have used 1/2 cut CTO. This will keep you or at least help you from getting pretty lights in the background with pasty white faces.

4: Shoot with a stablized lens or use a Pentex with a stablized body ūüôā I shoot Nikon so it’s VR lenses for my.

5: Drag the shutter a bit when using the flash to get the pretty background lighting.

6: Dont forget to shoot wide and get some details. Some folks really put in the effort on their lights and it shows in the details.

7: Be ready for the unexpected shot. I had “Santa” come cruising by on his motorcycle as part of the visiting crowd.

8: Shooting manual is where it’s at to get the best shots. Nothing about shooting Christmas lights at night is considered a “normal” shot so most camera settings are wrong. Most of the time I was shooting at ISO 2000, 1/40 second and 5.6 aperture. The flash power would vary from 1/128 to 1/32.

9: Shoot the faces. The expressions on the kids faces are priceless and are the money shots from something like this.

10: I dont have to contend with snow but snow works like a giant reflector. You will need to really pay attention to your settings when popping off the flash to avoid blowing out the image.

I have some shots here from around my own neighborhood. Enjoy the holiday and Merry Christmas from us to you.

We dont need no stink'n snow

Adoration

Window Lights

Impromtu Carolers

Blue Lights

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Save a buck

Lets be honest, most photographers are equipment junkies. We view lenses and camera widgets like a crack addict views crack, cant get enough and no matter how much we do get, we want more. To aid you in this endeavor, I want to offer up some tips I have used over the years to at the least, lower the acquisition cost of new toys.

One of the biggest expenses is good, fast and heavy glass.. primes or zooms, they cost a mint to buy new. For example, I wanted a Nikon 17-55m F2.8 for shooting weddings and events. It’s heavy, temperamental focusing but when it’s on, it is VERY good. The damn thing also costs 1,600 bucks new even at a discount. So what is a poor boy to do? Can you say “Ebay”? But, you say, the lenses on ebay are abused, no warranty, grey market, stolen etc. All true to be sure but with some careful shopping and planning, you can pull the deal of the year. Here is how I got mine at less than half the new price.

The economy tanking has driven down the prices somewhat on good glass but it really has brought alot more on the market. Some of the glass are what I call “trophy” pieces, bought when times were good and the person had too much money in their pocket. Now times are tough and cash is needed so the trophies go on the auction block. These are what to look for and careful reading of the ads can help as can a bit of luck. Even a high milage wedding lens IF at a GOOD price will work for this tip. Even a damaged lens so long as the glass is good. I found my lens from a seller with good marks (200 plus postives), good price as a “buy now or best offer” AND I had an Ebay coupon that was 10% off the price. So the 800 price came with free shipping (20 bucks), 80 bucks off with the coupon and another 25 bucks off due to my best offer. Total saved was 125 so the lens cost me 675 delivered.

But, it is still a used lens and when I got it, I noticed the zoom was stiff in the middle. Here is where the second part of my plan came into being. I specifically found a lens with good glass and no apparent damage but I had already planned on sending the lens to Nikon’s repair shop for a “tune up and alignment”. So opened the box, looked at the lens, closed it back up and shipped it to Nikon. Three weeks later I got my lens back completely rebuilt and repaired from an apparent drop onto something hard. Cost was 190 dollars but after the savings adjustment of the purchase, my out of pocket expense was 65 dollars for basically a new lens. I also pursued the seller for not telling the truth about the lens and got some wedding album templates for my troubles. He really should have known better but hard times caused him to make a poor judgement. His karma, not mine.

In the end, the lens cost me 865 total and it’s new on the inside. A brand new lens is 1600 plus tax of 130 plus shipping of 20 for a total of 1750. So my price is just a touch less than 50% of new. Yes it cost me in time with a week or so for the seller to get me the lens and another three in repair but I think it was worth it.

My second lens was a 12-24mm F4 which cost me about 60% of new from eBay and cam to me looking and working like brand new.

So deals on ebay can be had with some patience and luck. Another way to save is look at refurbished bodies. My D300 was 400 less than new as a refurb and there was absolutely nothing on it or in how it worked to tell me it was a used camera. The warranty is a bit different than new but Square Trade or in some case, the seller like Adorama offer extra warranties if you feel the need. In my case, I have insurance through PPA that covers all my equipment from theft and damage.

Craiglist is another potential gold mine of cheaper equipment. I found a very nice Nikon D70s (electronic shutter so sync speeds are upwards of 1/4000 with flash) for a cheap price locally. I also picked up a fourth SB800 flash for about 2/3s of new, it was well used but still very serviceable.

Posted in commercial photography, equipment, Hardware, photography Also tagged , , , , , , , |

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‚Äôs 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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A Flash for you

People never cease to amaze me at times. They will spend a ton of money on their camera, lenses in all lengths, fancy bags, do-dads that are supposed to make you the hit of the wedding circuit and more. But, they will not spend any more than they absolutely need to on flash memory. Flash is the “film” of today’s digital world and comes in two flavors that interest the photographer. You can use either SD (secure digital) or CF (compact flash) cards. There is alot of debate to which format is “better” but the fact is that flash memory is flash memory.¬†

You see, I remember shooting film and when you needed film, you bought for the type of project. So if you wanted Black and White, you bought black and white film, Tri-X was one of the mainstays but I was always an Illford man myself. If you wanted color with  warm saturated colors, you would look at Kodachrome. If you wanted the cooler color, then maybe Fuji chrome. There was always IR film, Polaroid film, E6 film for high speed or pushed development and so on. The one thing you did not do was whine about the price of the film. It was what it was and if you could not afford it, then you did without that film and suffered for it. Film was typically around 8 bucks a roll for good color film and you could bulk load BW and save alot. Plus there was the development costs since most color films could not be developed at home. So something like a buck a shot was the rule. 

Nowdays, with digital film, you just shoot it. There is no longer any need to carry five types of film, worry about not shooting to the end of a roll or better, trying to rewind the film and then reload it later to keep shooting (been there done that). You dont worry about the temperature of the light, how little light there is and so on. It is all the same nowdays, Ones and Zeros on a memory chip. The software now handles all the processing that used to take place in the film chemistry and in the tanks. 

So we have this wonderful product for our camera that is reusable (indefinitely for most people) and saves us so much money over film. Why do people cheap out? Why do they buy crappy underperforming cards and then complain because the card cant keep up with the camera’s data rate, or picture get “lost” or the damn thing just stops working? And¬†especially¬†since the price delta between bad cards and good cards is measured by just a few bucks? You spend 50 dollars to buy a high quality brand name card and it’s paid for itself by the time you ¬†have run around 180 pictures (5 rolls of 36 film) through it. Everything after that is a gimme. When you have spent 200 bucks on a cheap point and shoot and you are shooting the once in a lifetime graduation or wedding pics, why risk it all on a bargain basement flash card when a good card you can trust is maybe, 10 bucks more? And thats not counting the pros I know who brag about the cheapass cards they use on a paying customer’s shoot. You lose those pics and it will be a bad day.¬†

The moral is to buy good equipment and buy good cards. The internet provides a wealth of information on how well different brands work across time and even then, if you just stick with some of the big names like Sandisk, Panasonic, Kingston or Lexar just to name a few, you would be hard pressed to go wrong.

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