Tag Archives: G11

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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How to wirelessly remotely trigger your camera on the cheap

I have an upcoming project where I want to shoot a moving (slowly) car with a slow shutter to get a blurred background/wheels etc but the car to be sharp. This is normally done by putting the DSLR on some kind of rig which holds the camera away from the car/truck while you drive/push the car around. Hence the name of a”rig shot” and the website of the same name giving some cool “how to” articles.

There are many ways to do this but there are fewer ways to do it safely for both you, your equipment and the vehicle’s sake. In my case, I plan to have the camera sitting on a boom extending out from the car. So I have picked up some suction cups, super clamps, round stock and now, a new remote trigger.

I want to review the trigger in particular since I was pleasantly surprised when I got it in the mail the other day and discovered how well it worked plus the over all build quality. The trigger is made nominally by Vivitar but that brand was bought by Sakar so it’s not the Vivitar that we know and love from years ago. With that said, the Wireless Remote Shutter Release For Nikon D300 and D700 SLR Digital Cameras works very well and is a decent build quality. Vivitar also produces a version for Canon Cameras.

The transmitter is a sealed unit with a 12V 23A battery good up to 3 years. The receiver has a replaceable 3V CR2 battery. The stated range is 100 feet unobstructed and that is pretty accurate in my testing. So far, the D300 has fired every time I hit the button out to about 80 feet so far. The interesting part is that it works at 315Mhz which excludes it from interference from wireless phones, wifi and other more common electronic toys. It is however, the band that TPMS (tire pressure monitoring systems) work on plus things like remote keyless entry, some garage doors, Automated meter reading and some alarm systems. But most of these devices are set to some security combination so that lessens the chances of misfires. So far I have not had any issues.

Vivitar Remote Trigger Kit

Vivitar Remote Trigger Kit

The receiver mounts to the hot shoe on the camera and my wish is that it had a pass-through for the flash sync cord but you can always use gaffers tape or a ball-bungie to tie it to the side of the camera. it’s just not as elegant as it could be. The connector to the camera itself is well made and the cable is long enough to have some flexibility on just where to put the unit. As I said, it does have a hot shoe mount which works well.

Vivitar Trigger Top D300 Nikon

Vivitar Trigger Top D300 Nikon


D300 Vivitar remote trigger connection

D300 Vivitar remote trigger connection

These images were taken with a Canon G11 using a piece of foam core under the camera and a white mattress that I had handy as the background 🙂 White is white and when you blow it out, nobody knows any differently. There was some post work to bring up the shadows since I was shooting with ambient light and the built in flash on the G11. Not exactly a prime set up for product shoots but it got the job done.

Back to the conversation about remote triggers. Now with this trigger, I do not have to run a wire to the camera and be in the car or buy a very expensive set of pocket wizards just to trigger the camera. I could fake it with my Cybersyncs but it’s a hack and I can not push half way to set focus. Nikon does have a remote corded trigger but it cost 132.00 USD and it has a cord which is the deal breaker for this application.

There are cheaper clones but again, they are corded. There are several IR triggers but I find the IR trigger to be ineffective in daylight with very limited range.

When using this trigger, I can have it set to fire one frame, multiple frames or a 2 second delayed firing of the shutter. I can also hold the button half way and the camera will set it’s focus just like using the button on the camera. (or you can have it set to manual focus and tape it down, much better when shooting a moving car on a rig). I can also use it for “bulb” mode where the shutter opens and stays open till I hit the trigger again. Not at all bad for something under 50 USD. I would say that the manual sucks.. it’s short and terse but really tiny print so it’s hard to read. I would rather Vivitar forget the coated paper stock and give me a folded 8×11 plain laser printed page of large text.

So in closing, if you need to fire your camera remotely and wirelessly, I would recommend that you take a look at the Vivitar wireless trigger. It’s cheap, it works and what more needs to be said than that?

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Canon G11 Lousy Button Placement Ergonomics

After my bad mouthing the Canon G11 ergonomics, I was asked to show why I’m so bitter about such a lousy design. So here we go. A few close up shots of where my right hand thumb ends up while trying to shoot the G11.

The first picture below is a full back shot of the G11 showing the backside of the video screen and the right hand button controls.

Canon G11 Back

Here is a close up of the offending buttons. As it turns out, my thumb lays right across the control wheel plus the selector button. So I’m always changing settings without knowing it unless I’m very careful in placement and pressure.

Canon G11 controls on back upper right

Now you can see what happens when I hold the camera in my right hand ready to shoot. My thumb which is not excessively large, manages to hit most of the buttons just by virtue of being there holding the camera.

G11 Right Thumb Placement

Here is a side view of my thumb pressing into the buttons.

Sideways G11 Thumb Placement

So hopefully you can see why I’m constantly cursing the design of the camera controls. I dont think the Canon engineers ever had actually USE the camera for any length of time. And trying to hold the camera in the vertical position is even worse. Now you thumb really does have to press down to steady and hold the camera. Did the engineers not even TRY to use the controls?

These shots were NOT taken with a G11, I shot these with my Nikon D90 and a 1.4 50mm lens almost wide open.

The first shot was taken with the G11 siting on the hood of my Explorer and in the shade. I blew out the background and popped the internal flash but dialed down 1.5 stops. I used LR and CS4 for post. I dialed down the saturation to get nice blacks on the body and I touched up the reflection to darken it a bit more.

The lanyard is for the quick release of the LumaLabs camera strap. Works great on the G11, not so good on my D300 with a 70-200 F2.8 lens hanging on it.

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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 🙂 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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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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