July 11, 2012

Fuji X Pro 1 and Nikkor lenses

For those of you that have followed my reviews, you may be a bit surprise by this new acquisition of mine.  Funny enough a year ago so would I have been.

About a year ago one of my former students (one of the best) and now friend , told me he had not been shooting of late.  Of course I was a bit shocked by this announcement of his as it seemed like such a waste of his vast talent.  However he told me that he found his D700 too cumbersome to carry around and was leaving it at home most of the time.  He thought perhaps a Leica M9 would be a better choice.  Wouldn’t many of us?

But a D700 too big, was my first thought.  Having mostly used the big Nikon  pro F’s and D’s camera for the past thirty, the D700 seemed almost small to me.

Well a year goes by and this past February after dropping my daughter off at her school, I decided to go and grab my camera.  In the woods near my house was a wonderful scene of the winter sun penetrating some early morning mist.  Now equipped with my D700 and an old AIS 50mm lens I tried to find some nice shots before the mist burned off.  Didn’t really get anything that I liked, so figured I might as well pack it in. While getting back on my bike it dawned on me what my friend had meant.  The camera had just suddenly became too much.

Now do not mistake this as a life changing decision on my part.  Or that I wanted to rid my self of my D700 or D3’s, only that I decided it was time to find something less cumbersome, more discreet.

Thus began my intensive research into just what this new camera would be.  Like many of you, I had been dissatisfied with the image quality of most of the small sensor sized cameras available.  However Sony had come out with the APS-C sized NEX series, Fuji the X100 and maybe some others that I did know about.

The Sony NEX7 looked promising and became the “most likely”.  Then Fuji announced the X Pro 1.  Many of the early comparisons (and still do) favored the Sony.  Then the Fuji files started to appear on the internet, along with the shooting experiences.  Those early comparisons (at least form my stand point) began to pale.  A cursory look and hand holding of the Sony at a local store convinced me that the NEX7 was not for me.  Don’t get me wrong it has a very nice feel, but it just doesn’t seem like a camera to me.  To put that in the proper perspective, bear in mind, that I am very “old school” .

Other then files that I was seeing and the look of the Fuji, the idea of using that sensor with some of my Nikon glass was the deciding factor.  In truth be told I ordered a Kipon adapter before I had actually made up my mind or had I already?

It has been over a month now since the Fuji has been in my hands.  Still learning and my confidence with it has not yet been realized.  It will take some time.  It is not a replacement to my Nikon DSLR’s just a different tool.  Thus far I am very pleased with the Fuji and I seem so more as the time goes by.

As I said earlier my intentions were to use the camera in combination with my nikkors.  So as I was getting ready to order the camera (believe me this took some time) there was the “should I or should I not” get one of the Fuji lenses.  And if yes which one?  In the end I did get one the 35mm f/1.4.  Despite my earlier intentions, the 35mm has made it difficult to examine my nikkors.  It is that good.

For the next weeks or months, I will endeavor to use each of my Nikkors with the Fuji and report my feelings and findings in their use together.  For this purpose I will for the most part be posting these reports on a newly developed blog site.   “http://gambofoto.blogspot.nl/” .  Later I will also give my general impressions of the Fuji X Pro 1 itself .

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March 2, 2012

Eddie Bauer North Slope All-Purpose Down Jacket

Relief from the Cold

For those of you that read this blog, it may seem strange to see me writing about a jacket.  However certain photographic situations do require specialized equipment i.e. clothing.  After doing some research into a warm jacket / parka and then receiving this one, I thought it would be helpful to share my findings.

First let me explain what I have used in the past and why I felt a new jacket was warranted.  For a number of years I used a Barbour Arctic Endurance Parka, made from Ventile cloth.  It has a nice style to it and the ventile exterior and interior material is fabulous.  But and this is big but, the parka was very expensive and the construction has many flaws.  Every button and I mean everyone has come off at least once.  The tack stitching at all of the exterior pockets has come undone, also at least once.  The hand warmer pockets are shallow and very high up, making them useless.  The cargo pockets (which are bellowed) are big and hold a lot, but have buttoned closures and nasty little metal grommets on the inside that get stuck on your finger nails.  With the buttons and stitching always coming undone, well you get the picture.  To be really warm in the Barbour, I always wore a very heavy Norwegian fisherman’s sweater underneath.  Going from the cold outside into a warm environment meant shedding both and then putting both back on to go out again, a bit inconvenient to say the least.  The Barbour has sat in the closet all winter awaiting yet another visit to a tailor for repairs (the Barbour cost over $600.00 12 years ago).

For this winter I wore a combination of a light down jacket and wind parka, both from R.E.I. and wearing their brand.  Originally I had bought them for hiking, climbing and landscape photography which required one of the former.  And though they do not appear as durable as the Barbour did, they show no visible signs of wear.  The problem once again is the putting on and off of multiple layers.  But the pockets are great and the fit is also.  Both together cost way less then the Barbour.

So I decided after a particularly cold spell to remedy the problem once and for all.  Thus my search began.  Going online I visited the sites of Marmot, Mountain Hardware, North Face, Patagonia and even Canada Goose.  All were either very expensive and or were not really what I was looking for.  Though there were a few I did like.  The criteria for this search was that I wanted a jacket/parka with a durable outer shell and without the “Michelin Man” look.  Also something a little different, something a little unique from what is out there.

After going to the above mentioned sites, I remembered Eddie Bauer.  My father always swore by them and I remember his old down hunting jackets having a great look and very tough.  At that time (1950’s) it wasn’t a widely known brand, as it was mostly devoted to professional outdoors people like hunting, fishing and mountaineering guides.  Also I remember that during the 70’s and 80’s the Eddie Bauer Kara Koram parka was almost de rigueur  for all of the camera operators on film sets.

The reason why I did not go to them in the first place was, that at some point (I believe in the mid 80’s) the company was bought by the people who produced the “Spiegel Catalog”.  They had gone about changing  the brand from one exclusively for professional outdoor people to more of a broader fashion brand, which had made me a little (actually a lot) disgruntled at the time.  In 2009 the brand was taken over again by new owners who have sought to return to the roots of the Eddie Bauer brand.

Finding out that Eddie Bauer was back closer to it’s origins was exciting news.  The next pleasant surprise was almost everything was on sale, yahoo!  Going over the different jackets/ parkas in their line, I narrowed down to three.  Not wanting all three I eventfully chose the subject of this review, the Eddie Bauer North Slope All-Purpose Down Jacket.  This selection process took awhile for a couple of reasons.  First there was only one product photo of the jacket, as opposed to several product and modeled photos of the others.  Also some of the reviews were conflicting about sizing and warmth.  Then of course judging them all to fully realize my needs.

Construction:  From first sight this jacket comes across as a quality item.  The outer shell seems really durable, reminiscent of my father’s old down hunting jackets (from the 1950’s).  In fact looks a lot like the Ventile cloth. The zippers and metal snaps also look rugged and I suspect this jacket should last.  Not having one of the pre Spiegel era jackets to compare it to, I can only go by my memory.  Though it does seem very similar in construction.  The inner lining is of a different material.  Lightweight ripstop polyester, more like what is found on most down jackets these days.  It is very smooth and makes the jacket slip on and off very easily, though does pose the question as to durability).  Some very nice little details were added on, which gives it some extra style and better functionality.  600 down fill from Northern European Goose down is used throughout the jacket, including sleeves and hood.  One thing I really like and that I think is a shame most manufactures omit, is rib knit inner cuffs.  This to me is essential to any jacket, coat, parka that claims to be for cold weather.  There is also a rib knit collar and bottom hem, though the latter seems a little strangely placed and exposed (see photo).  Seems like it could become wet.  Actually in the lineup at Eddie Bauer’s are enough jackets and parkas to satisfy most everyone and their needs, including some cool looking retro models.  The North Slope jacket however turned out to be the one I was looking for.  Of course the only way to really determine how well constructed the jacket is, is for time to tell.

Pockets:  A few reviewers mentioned the smallish size of the pockets.  I have fairly large hands (always need XL size gloves) and I do not find the pockets too small.  In fact even with my insulated gloves on or stuffed into the hand warmer pockets there is still room.  The upper “stuffs” pockets are well placed for extra things and are out of the way when my hands are in the hand warmer pockets.  The pockets are big and deep enough to place some smaller prime lenses in.  There are two snaps to keep the flap secured on the “stuffs” pockets and zippers on the hand warmer pockets.  The lining in the hand warmers are micro fleece and a satin like polyester in the “stuffs”.  The inside security pocket has a snap and is also of good proportions.  Though I normally prefer more of the open breast pocket (like those found on a sports coat).

Hood:  Here a number of people have complained about the hood being too big.  It fact it is quite large, although it has two different ways of adjusting it, which I find makes it fit fairly well (which hoods do fit well?).  Besides most times I wear a knit watch cap.  Personally I prefer an attached hood over the detachable ones.  The hood as I already mentioned is fully insulated with down.

Style and Color:  Besides looking for something durable during my search, I also wanted something a little different from the “norm” style wise.  The North Slope Jacket for me full filled that requirement.  It is kind of a cross between an army field jacket, a rancher’s jacket and an mountaineering parka.  In other words unique.  The color is a little greener then how it appears online, but sometimes takes on brownish highlights.  Actually very much like the color of “capers” as it is called.  It would have been nice to have a selection of a few colors, but again the “Capers” color is different from what is out there.  In my accompanying photos, I have tried to adjust color to as close as possible.

Warmth:  Since the jacket arrived the weather warmed up.  So I can’t say in honesty how warm it will be in really cold weather.  However I have gone out in 38-40 F with only a cotton t-shirt on and not zipped up and was more then comfortable.  Normally I would have had a wool scarf, wool hat and gloves on, in addition to two or three layers (I live in the Netherlands where it feels colder then what the thermometer says, because of the wind and dampness, or as the Dutch say “water koud”).  So far so good.  It was one of the criterias of my search as I wanted that one layer simplicity.  Water beads up very nicely and I suspect and believe the claim that it is “waterproof” not just “water resistant”.

Sizing:  As I wrote earlier I found the other reviews of this jacket somewhat confusing when referring to the sizing.  My vitals are 6’2”, 190 pounds, 35” waist, 35” sleeve, 16 1/2” neck and 16” biceps. From most sizing charts I am at the upper end of Large.  However in sports coats I get a 44L and in sweaters, jackets, parkas, etc. I normally get XL, as I like my cloths loose fitting.  Sometimes the XL’s come way too big or not big enough.  So I was a little worried about that.  In the end I ordered an XL Tall.  It fits loose with only a t-shirt underneath, but I am far from swimming in it.  It can accommodate a medium sweater or fleece without restricting movement.  So in size it gives me at least some versatility for that.  The Tall adds about 2 inches in length to the hem line, thus giving it more of a parka feel.  However the Tall also has longer sleeve lengths, which in my case are too long (better too long then too short I suppose).  Most likely had I ordered the Large model it would have given me more of a “fitted” look.  And in Regular shorter sleeves and more like a jacket.  From the photos you should be able to get an idea about the sleeve length and overall size fit.  Sizing of course is up to personal tastes, but I feel Eddie Bauer in this jacket have sized it accurately for most body types.

Changes?:  Mmmm, there are a few.  First change would be the rib knit bottom hem, it would be better to have it recessed, less vulnerable.  Possibly a different interior material, what though (cotton I feel would be best)?  Maybe double the exterior fabric at the elbows and yokes, but of course that would make it heavier and besides another jacket of theirs has it.  Change the zippers to brass from whatever metal is used, for anti corrosion and ease of use.

The jacket is made in China (what isn’t), of course most of the other brands also have their things made there.  However the other manufactures never seem to reflect the lower wages of the Chinese workers in their pricing.  My North Slope jacket was on sale when I bought it.  But regularly it is I believe$229.00 for Regular and $249.00 for the Tall, which to me given the competition and quality is a bargain to begin with.  Just after purchasing mine, the jacket moved from “Sale” status to “Clearance” status, oh well can’t win them all.

The new owners of the Eddie Bauer brand name should be commended for trying to bring back the quality and spirit of the original brand.  And of course for their fair pricing.

If like me you are looking for a good, warm jacket, which is durable and does not restrict movement, then try this one.  It gets my full recommendation.  It is obvious that a lot of thought went into it’s style, functionality and construction.

Side view, showing fit.


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Nice detail here with inner rib knit cuff


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Lining, hood and rib knit collar

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Detail of exterior pockets

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The rib knit hem, the part I don’t understand.

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Discreet Logo, another nice touch.

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January 15, 2012

so, Adobe, thank you for listening? Part 2

This addendum to yesterday’s entry (or diatribe) should in no way be construed as a retraction.  It is after some reflection that I feel there were some omissions that I mean to correct in this installment.

First off let me reiterate that my comments were not meant to deride or demean in any way Thom Hogan or his expression of gratitude to Adobe.  I read Mr. Hogan’s blog several times a week and have much appreciation and respect for his comments and opinions.  Mostly my comments were about the “climate of the times” that make us feel we need to express our gratitude for some company (like Adobe) throwing us a bone.

Next I want to also say that my comments were not directed to the research and development team at Adobe, whom have been responsible for creating Photoshop.  In 1993-94 when I first started using Photoshop, I had only been on a computer for two years.  It would not be far form the truth to say I was “computer illiterate”.  That someone like myself was able to get through the program was solely due to the fact of the creative genius of the developers.  My admiration and gratitude for them knew no bounds.  For that matter I still have much respect for them.  It is the marketing or licensing or whatever department which has decided to implement the “one-version upgrade” and limited usage policies, that my comments were directed to.

Of course the argument from Adobe is that they feel they must make these drastic measures in order to counter the ever growing piracy to be found on the internet.  However to “punish” the paying customers for the actions of the pirates seems ludicrous.  And would in my opinion only go to create more pirating.

To close this entry I would like to add my “thanks” to all of the researchers and developers past and present whom have created Photoshop.  Photoshop is a wonderful tool that I have used with enjoyment and success.  It has helped many of us in the photographic and design communities during the transition between analog and digital.  But sadly somewhere along the way, strange thinking by other departments has created something not very pleasant.  For those of us that have become dependent on Photoshop, I suppose it is just something to grin and bear.  However my plan is to explore other options.  For the rest of you my best wishes.

January 14, 2012

So, Adobe, thank you for listening?

As a regular blog reader of a few selected sites, this recently caught my eye.  It came from Thom Hogan’s blog entry of 13 January.  To refresh, back in November Adobe announced a new policy, wherein all future updates would be “one-version update”.  Meaning in order to get an update you must have the latest version.  The alternative was to pay the full price (again) if you decided to skip one update to the next.

Thom Hogan and many others wrote articles in objection to this.  One of the best was Scott Kelby, famous for his Photoshop tutorials.  If I recall correctly Adobe had proposed an intermediate update, probably called CS 5.5.  Photoshop users were going to be required to buy this intermediate update so as to qualify for the full update less then a year later.  Basically one would have to had purchase two updates in one year to keep current and then be able in the future to obtain the next update (CS7?) for “only” the update price.  Sort of a “forced subscription” to be imposed on Adobe Photoshop users.

It would be fair to say that many people skip each generation output in favor of every other output, so as to benefit from more technological advancements and of course less cost or a better use of our money.  This would entail software and hardware products.  Even Thom Hogan wrote once about skipping one generation camera for the next.

Here is the direct quote from Thom Hogan’s blog entry of 13 January.It appears that Adobe heard their customers. The one-version update policy will be rescinded for CS6. When CS6 comes out in the first half of this year, anyone owning CS3, CS4, or CS5 versions will be able to get upgrades until the end of the year. In short, Adobe accepted one of the proposed compromises: a longer transition period before a one-version update policy takes effect (which, if I’m reading Adobe’s statements correctly, will begin in 2013).

So, Adobe, thank you for listening.”

Now I do not want to come across as demeaning Thom Hogan or anyone else, but ppppleaseeeee!  “Thank you Adobe for listening”?  Thank you Adobe for only being a 900 pound Gorilla instead of a 1200 pound one.  What Adobe is doing is still predatory.  It is nothing short of forcing a “must subscription” on us users.

My first purchase of Photoshop was 5.0.  Shortly after I was given the opportunity to upgrade to 5.5, which I did.  Then I skipped the next 2 updates (6.0 and 6.5) finding the new features not worth enough to fork out the cash.  When Photoshop 7.0 came out, I made the update purchase and have from then on.  Purchasing updates for CS1, CS2, CS3 and CS4.  So if I wanted to skip one update and wait for the next, that would make me a “bad customer?  One so bad that if I wanted to get a later update I would be punished for my “bad behavior” by having to pay the full price for Photoshop again.  But hey they are willing to give me and others a reprieve to the end of the year.  Man if that ain’t a boat load of generosity.

Have we as users become so afraid of “Big Companies” like Adobe, that we feel we need to thank them for something like this?  Give us horrible outsourcing customer service, charge us more for the products, limit our use of the products, lessen the content of the updates, make us continue to use your products by predatory tactics, etc . . . Did Adobe and others like them, come to this by emulating tobacco and oil companies?

One good thing as I recall reading back in November, was the speculation that other companies would be given the impetus to create products to compete with Photoshop.  Glory hallelujah!  And yep some have and that is where I am headed.

“So, Adobe, thank you for listening”?  I don’t think so, more like Adobe, kiss my . . . . . !

October 20, 2011

Sync Relief

If anyone has gone onto Apple’s website recently, you will have noticed that the page is taken up with an image of the late Steve Jobs.  For my part I hope that image remains for as long as possible.  Sadly as of this writing , it has been changed.

Apple computers from the start has been a company devoted to not only profit, but to the betterment of life in today’s hectic world.  They have provided us with new ways to accomplish our tasks.  Also they made it easier to do this.

To quote Mike Johnston of “The Online Photography” At times I’ve reflected that I am that guy who he intended to enable with his innovations. I was the creative type who was uninterested in computers and had little aptitude for them. . . . Steve Jobs didn’t create the computer age, but he enabled people like me to share in it. This statement reflects my opinion perfectly, as I am sure many many others.

This may seem a funny way for a review of another product to begin.  But the point here is that not only was Apple a company making good products and servicing the public, there are others.  The subject of this review is of a product of one such company.  The company is PocketWizard and the product is the “Flex TT5-Nikon and AC3 ZoneController.

Having been lucky enough to have made my living in photography for thirty-five years now, certain developments have come along that in some ways mirrored the innovations set forth by Jobs and Apple.  The use of strobe lighting has always been a boom to still photography.  With strobes photographers were allowed to emulate lighting as used in the motion pictures, but without the huge size of the movie lights.  Then the technology began to trickle down to the very small hotshoe strobe / flashes.  Now true portability was a reality.  Go anywhere, no need for a power source, just some plain batteries and you were good to go.

One thing has plagued the use of all strobes though.  Getting the damn things to fire.  The old connection of using a PC cord (a 3.5mm, (1/8 inch connector, from Prontor/Compur) connecting the camera’s shutter mechanism to the strobe/flash or small electrical contacts  in the hotshoe of the camera.  The latter rarely gave problems, the former almost always gave problems.  So if using a “hotshoe” type flash directly mounted to the camera, all was good.  However trying to mount a “studio” type strobe head directly to the camera was an impossibility.  Or taking the “hotshoe flash” off of the camera for more directional lighting, a PC cord was needed and became the weakest link in the system.  Needless to say the use of the PC cord was at best frustrating.  Purchasing them was usually in the plural form.

Time and technology has been marching forward.  The hotshoe flashes got better and better.  Coupled with the digital camera’s ability to shoot at higher ISO’s then before, made the hotshoe flash more of a viable tool for the professional.  Though something needed to be done about the PC cord.

Along came the infrared triggering devices.  Much like the auto focusing systems on the cameras, the infrared trigger sends out an infrared beam, which is received by a sensor on the flash and presto the strobe/flash fires remotely, yahoo!  No damn PC cord tangling between the camera and strobes and needing to be replaced all of the time.  Great huh?  But wait this system also has a lot of problems and is far from fool proof.

For one the distance must be fairly close from the infrared device to the strobe/flash.  Second the ambient light cannot be too bright or else it obstructs the infrared connection.  Thirdly there needs to be an “in-line” sight of infrared trigger device to the strobe/flash units.  Okay so what we have  here is, no hiding of the flash behind something, there cannot be too much ambient light and the two respective units must be fairly close to each other.  In other words the situations are somewhat limiting.

Now comes more new innovations.  The radio strobe triggers.  What can they do?  Well for one they extend the distance from trigger device to strobe unit (s), the ambient light has no effect on them and last no line of sight is required.  Yep that’s right they see through walls and such.  Any problems?  Kind of.  We have to walk over and adjust each strobe/flash unit in their power outputs.  Yeah okay I know my father had to walk five miles in knee high snow to get to school.  So what is a few meters of walking compared to that?  For one, sometimes it is a lot more then a few meters and as the old saying goes “time is money” and we all need some of that.

Finally now to the review.   After years and years of frustrations dealing with PC cords, Nikon’s CLS infrared systems and others, PocketWizard came up with a real solution.  The FlexTT5, MiniTT1 and the AC3 ZoneController.

Having gone from commercial photography to photographing wedding, I found the problem even more frustrating then before (no time for making repairs for one).  So a few months ago I took the plunge and bought four FlexTT5 units and an AC3 ZoneController.  The first thing on my agenda was to make my new PocketWizards units not work.  What?  Yep I wanted to see what would make them not work, so that when I am in the field . . . .

So in my second floor office I set up my camera with a FlexTT5 unit in place and took an SB900 Nikon flash and place it in our garden shed, inside of a box hidden form the window.  The distance is about twenty meters or sixty feet.  I tripped the trigger and nothing, oh no not again.  Check to make sure everything is on and . . . whoops forgot to turn the unit on the camera on.  Try again, it works, then again yep and again and again all working.  The tried all kinds of other arrangements, with all working.  That is when I remembered to turn everything on.  So now it was time to the AC3 ZoneController (the part where I do not have to walk to each unit to make power adjustments).  Set-up and shoot okay all three of my SB900’s are firing (all hidden form in-line sight).  Now make some adjustments to each unit using the simplified A B C channel program.  Just make sure each flash and FlexTT5 is set to a particular channel and then make your adjustments with the AC3 (which is mounted on top of the FlexTT5 which in turn is mounted atop the camera).  Tried a few different combinations, but saw no real difference in the shots.  Did I manage to make them fail?  No!  I forgot to set the SB900’s to the TTL (regardless if you are using manual or TTL for flash control, the flash heads must be set to the “TTL” mode).  Changed it and all work perfectly.  Then what you get is the ability to control and program each of your remote flash heads in three different groupings.  Whether you choose to use the Manual or TTL mode.  For me just miraculous!

Bottom line in my experiments is this.  Making sure everything is turned on, first the flash head, then the Flex unit attached, set the flash to TTL mode, turn Flex unit and camera.  After two months use the PocketWizards have proved to be if not idiot proof at least fool proof.

During a recent wedding shoot an SB900 and FlexTT5 were mounted high up on a stand, when bringing it down, both units came off the umbrella adapter and fell to the ground.  Neither the flash or PocketWizard sustained any damage whatsoever.  Truly impressive given the height and hardness of the ground.

Another beauty of the FLexTT5 is that it is a “transceiver” meaning that it will send out the radio signal and also receive them.  On the bottom of each Flex unit is a hotshoe attachment and also on the top of the unit, so no PC cords involved at all.  FlexTT5 attaches to camera, flash attaches to Flex or AC3 to Flex and it all works as if the flash or zone controller is directly attached to the hotshoe of the camera.  If you remember earlier I said rarely was there a problem when a flash is directly mounted to the camera’s hotshoe and there isn’t.  The FlexTT5 uses two AA batteries (one of the most common types) a big plus.  The MiniTT1 in order to keep to it’s diminutive size, it uses a smaller and harder to find battery and is the reason I opted to go with only the FlexTT5 units.

Another truly admirable aspect is that the FlexTT5 and MiniTT1 is not only built in a non compromising manner construction wise, but also in regards to it becoming obsolete in a technological manner.  The people at PocketWizard have enabled their units to keep up advances in technology, by providing firmware updates.  also all of their units work with the older models.

But wait there is more.  If the beginning of this review was a little strange to you, there was a reason for the comparison.  A little over a month ago, I sold one of my photos to a person in the U.S., as part of that sales, I received another PocketWizard unit.  This time however it was a Power ST4, which enables remote control of my Elinchrom RX strobe.  What I did not know at the time was that units from North America and units form Europe work off of different radio frequencies.  After contacting the purchaser of my photo, he sent me a copy of his invoice from where he got the Power ST4 in the U.S..  The 30 day limit was already up.  So just on a chance I sent an email to PocketWizard.  In a few days I was contacted by a representative.  Whom was very sympathetic to my problem.  After another round of emails, he instructed me to send my N. American frequency unit back to PocketWizard and he had their Dutch distributor send me a European frequency unit.  This all took place in just a few days.

In this day and age, that a company would go through the trouble that PocketWizard did for me is just astonishing.  Here you have a product that really works.  Is built with the intention and disregard to “planned obsolescence” and the company provides this type of customer service, that for the most part is just a memory today.  As I see it, very similar to the late Mr. Jobs and the philosophy he instilled at Apple Computers.

So thank you PocketWizard for restoring my faith and keeping a honorable tradition alive!

Taken from my office with a 85mm lens, a distance of about 20 meters to the garden shed.  AC3 set to “0”. Then +3 and -3.  Raining of course.


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March 12, 2011

Nikon AF DC-Nikkor 135mm f/2D

A Portraitist Lens

Possibly this is the lens that I have been waiting for.  That is a pretty big statement, I am sure you are thinking.  So it better be good, right?  Well as the first word states ”possibly” .

The lens in question is as the title suggests, another older model Nikkor lens.  An AF-D model 135mm f/2 DC.  As to why it may be the lens that I have really been waiting for should become clear as we plow through this review.

Once again this is another lens that falls into the “brain recovery” program.  In case you have not read any of the other reviews that I have posted, here is a quick explanation.  In the end of 2003 I sold off a number of prime AI-S lenses.  In did not take long before I discovered the enormity of my mistake.  Thus I started the above mentioned program to capture back what I had so foolishly “given” away.  It is I must say something one should not do, in fact it could even be an axiom.

BUILD

This one is hard to beat.  Really a “hand crafted” feeling lens.  Very solid, in that 90’s crinkle finish metal / plastic exterior.  With no ten year recycle logo to be found anywhere on the lens.  In my opinion not quite as luxurious in look and feel as the older AI-S lenses, but it has that “will last for a long time” essence to it.  All letters and numbers are merely painted on and in white.  Which to me is a little distracting from the overall quality.  It has a very wide rubber focusing grip and feels to me very much like a MF lens when in the manual mode.  Also this lens comes with a built-in lens hood, which locks into place.  Some may say this hood is too short, but I find it adequate and really appreciate that it is there.  Again if you haven’t read any of the other reviews of mine, I shall repeat myself by saying I do not like the new hoods made from “whatever” as I have broken quite a few and or the bayonet mount wears out too fast.  Compared to it’s two cousins that I own (the 85mm f/1.4 AF-D and the 180mm f/2.8 AF-D) the 135 has more metal and feels much more solid as a result.

It is a little disconcerting to me that today some of the new primes being made by Nikon (which maybe are superior in their optical quality) should be made from some polycarbonate material and carry that ten year recycle logo on them.  With prices over $1500-, can’t we as end users get both good optics and beautiful build quality?  This last part may seem a bit off the subject of this review, but I feel it is relevant.

PERFORMANCE

First let’s talk about this DC part of the name.  It stands for Defocus Control.  Okay what the hell does that mean?  It is nothing like a tilt-shift lens or like a  “LensBaby” adapter.  It is indented for controlling the amount of DOF beyond the normal aperture, subject magnification range.  The way it works   is that you can set the aperture to say f/5.6 and then move the DC ring so that either the front or rear out-of-focus areas mimic a wider aperture’s DOF.  In my brief time with this lens I found this feature to be much more subtle then I had imagined it to have been.  However if you perform the reverse, that is have a wider aperture setting then the DC control setting, then what you end up with is a very soft focus look.  Very much as if you were to use a “soft tar” filter and it is anything but subtle.  Of course I will perform a lot more experimentation with this device in the future.  If anything comes up worth reporting I shall do so.

Using the lens just as an f/2, 135mm lens is what I shall concentrate on.  Since it is designated as an AF lens, it is the best place to start.  Because it is the older style auto focusing system, it has the “clumsy” M/A switch on the barrel.  Also because it is the old the “screw drive” it relies on the camera to do the actual focusing.  On the pro bodies this is not a problem, though on the lower end consumer models it will be a problem.  With that said I doubt very much someone would buy this particular lens and couple it with a lower end body.  It is after all something of a specialty lens.  On my D3 and D700 it is quite fast if a little noisy.  In fact from all of the AF-D lenses that I have shot with it is the fastest and only the 50mm f/1.4 AF-D lens comes close.  The big difference between those two is that the 50mm hunts a lot more in low light/contrast situations.

The sample that I have is a used model that I bought off ebay.  When I first got it, I found it front focused in close-up situations.  Going into the AF fine tune on both my bodies, I got excellent results with the lens after making an +15 adjustment.  It is however the only lens that I own where I had to do that.  A bit of a disappointment for sure, but since it rectified the problem and that it was a used sample, I cannot complain too much.  My recommendation would be to try out several if at all possible and pick the one that focuses best.  As noted above the manual focus works wonderfully, though I haven’t felt much need to use it.

At wide open the lens is great and I feel absolutely no hesitation in using it at that aperture.  At f/2.8 to f8 it really is as others have said “bitingly sharp” .  There are of course more things in a lens then how sharp it is.  The other is the quality of it’s out-of-focus areas and how they are rendered (bokeh).  This lens is really quite special in that regards.  Every bit as nice as the 85mm f/1.4 at f/2.  Also at wide open it exhibits some vignetting, not a problem for me as I like it and often add more in post.  At f/2.8 and definitely by f/4 it is gone.

One more word on the AF system.  Recently I experienced considerable trouble with my 85mm f/1.4 when shooting subjects in the 4 to 6 meter range (12 to 20 feet) at a wedding.  Later trying to duplicate the problem, I discovered a way to circumvent it from happening.  Don’t laugh, but I have to use a strange expression here.  What I found that worked best was to “double clutch” the AF system.  What I mean is that I pushed the shutter release twice in quick succession.  Double clutching is a term that comes from pre synchro gear box days in trucks.  One had to engage the clutch once to pull it out of a gear and then again putting it back into another gear.  This method I tried on the 135mm with the same good results.  I would be interested if anyone else has tried this technique and what they thought of it.

SUMMARY

When I first got my 85mm f/1.4, the camera I was using was the D2X, which with the APS sensor gave me a field of view of 127mm.  A focal length that I really got use to and liked.  So putting the 135 on a full frame sensor camera like the D3 works almost the same, maybe better.  In my portrait work I put the 85 on one camera body and the 135 on another and love the ability to switch back and forth.  Yes I know a pro zoom would do the same work on one camera.  Not really the same though.  Besides the 135 is actually quite discreet in comparison to the 85 not to mention the 80-200 or 70-200 big zooms or even the 24-70.  Probably the built in lens hood has a lot to do with it.  There is a lot to be said about the discreetness of one lens over the  other.  Those big zooms or any lens with a 77mm front element and detached hood can become very intimidating.

The acquisition of this lens did come with some troubles that I feel is worth mentioning here.  Through ebay I sold a number  of old lenses and an F100 camera body, to help pay for the lens.  This did not go smoothly.  Two of the buyer’s addresses were wrongly posted by ebay and caused considerable trouble in rectifying.  Then two of the transactions turned out to be scam jobs by the buyers. In the past I have had a lot of success buying items off ebay and can still recommend doing so.  However instead of the old adage “buyer beware”, one thinking of selling should be equally if not more on guard for things to go terribly wrong, thus “seller beware”!  In the end I only got taken for the F100.  Was the trouble worth it?  In my opinion yes, though there were moments when . . .

One of my former students also acquired one and I had hoped to include his feelings and some samples in this post.  As soon as those become available I shall make an addendum to this post.

Till next time!

4year old
1st photo madeFrostyice cavecheckersBluesmanthe bustCHelpingLollypopMYeah BabyThe wonder of it allsmokinpuppet
The MissBeata

January 11, 2011

The Big Show

As I started to write this blog entry, I was reminded of the film “Bull Durham”.  In the movie Kevin Costner, plays the part of an veteran minor league baseball player.  His dreams of making it to the major league or as it  is referred to in the film “the big show” are quickly coming to the realization that he is not going to make it.  In the storyline he is transferred to a very minor league team, where he is to help develop a rookie with a lot of untapped talent.

If you haven’t seen the film, you can guess what happens.  The rookie makes it to the “Big Show” with the help of Costner’s character.  And Costner ends up with yet another minor league team, where he is at the end of the season let go.  However the film does end on a high note, as there comes an opening for a manager the next season.  So once again those dreams of the big show may still come to pass.  If not as a player then as a manager.

It has now been almost five decades since I first picked up a camera and started my path along the lines of this my passion.  And it is now over thirty years that I have been making a living with a camera.  It’s been a good journey, filled with wonderful experiences.  Though I feel that I never made it to the “big show”.  It doesn’t feel like there is much time left to do so.

These days I divide my time between being a father, a wedding photographer and a teacher at the FotoGram in Amsterdam.  Though all three of these “jobs” are new for me, they still fill me with passion.  The subject of this entry is only about one, however they all seem related.

Teaching is for many of us the culmination of our careers.  It is in a manner the passing on of our knowledge or payback for our good fortunes.  When I started at the FotoGram, it was without any real expectations other then the gratification of teaching a subject so dear to me and hopefully inspiring newcomers to our craft.

In a previous blog entry, I wrote about the final projects turned in by the students of one of my classes.  In it I wrote how much pride I had felt over the accomplishments of the students in the classroom.  This time it is about the accomplishments of two of them outside the classroom.

Max as I wrote earlier has a n incredible insight into what evokes emotions in an image.  When I think of him as a photographer, I see a portraitist.  During our classes Max always exhibited a relaxed and experience repertoire with whomever he was photographing. Even though his first professional assignment after leaving the course was  to photograph office interiors, the portraitist still comes through.   See for yourself.  His use of lines, shape and light breaths life into these images, that otherwise would have ended up being just static spaces, in the hands of lesser talented photographers.

3 Shots
My favorites “The Talking Chairs”.
Talking chairs
The Assignment also called for an “iconic” shot of Berlin.  Again the talent shows.
Berlin Gates

The other student that came along in the same class is Beata Fortuna.  After our second class together she approached me and asked if she could show me some of her work.  Immediately I was struck by an intuitive instinct in her work.  So much emotional style and symbolism in the images.  What I was seeing was an emerging artist.  Later during a field trip, I observed the way she conversed with people and knew that she would make a great and badly needed assistant.  She accepted the offer with enthusiasm.  And I am so happy she did.  Here are some shots she made during the party that followed   a wedding ceremony and a couple of her own street images.

For 2 Horizontals2 Guitarsthe artist

2Greats

Once again I am proud of their accomplishments and for whatever help and inspiration that I may have passed on to them.  In the future I suspect that they will be both be successful.  When these two or other students of mine do become successful, I will feel that in the end the show didn’t pass me up after all.


October 26, 2010

Nikon Reflex-Nikkor 500mm f/8 N


The “Dished” lens

What does this guy mean now?  Simple this is a review about a lens that has been dished by so many reviewers, one could think that it is pure crap or something to hold food.   Maybe for some applications it is.  And for sure it is a very “quirky” lens.

First off it doesn’t really have a diaphragm to operate the aperture, as it is a fixed aperture at f/8.  So no one is going to accuse it of being fast.  It has terrible bokeh when highlights in the background are of high contrast and or backlit.  However for some applications this is a real sleeper.

Of course from the main title you already know which lens I am talking about.  Nikon’s 500mm f/8 Reflex lens.  Originally I got this lens to use when I was location scouting and for my backpacking trips.  What I was looking for was a lens that was small and light weight, but with a long reach.  In the past I had rented this lens, when I had been doing some free lance for a news paper in Santa Barbara.  At that time I was impressed with the optics and how sharp the images were coming out.  Tri-X was the film and sports was my main subject for those assignments.

Twenty-five years or so later and needing something quick I took a chance and ordered one form B&H.  This was the newest version “N”.  For the scouting jobs it worked great, mostly for car commercials or anytime I needed a long lens and didn’t want to drag around my 300mm with a 2X tele converter.  The big surprise came when I saw how close it would focus.  5 feet (1.5 meters) giving a reproduction ratio on a 35mm camera of 1:2.5.  My hiking shots were less impressive as I was using Fujichrome Velvia with an ISO of 50 and of course a light weight tripod.  It was always hard to get sharp images (camera movement blur).  Thus it sat on a self for sometime.

However later on with the use of digital cameras, I started to experiment with it’s close-up capabilities and was like the first time I used one, notably impressed.

BUILD

Old fashion mechanical beauty.  Really built like a tank, I know this term has become something of a cliche, but in this case it is an accurate description.  This lens is just “solid” as Link from “Mod Squad” would have said.  All of the marking are engraved and filled with paint.  The body is anodized aluminum with that great Nikon enameling.  Focusing though somewhat dark because of the small aperture is very smooth (I mean really smooth) and at nearly two full turns is very precise.

PERFORMANCE

Like I said it is not fast, so really unsuitable for a wide variety of photographic work.  One fixed aperture, so not much there for versatility.

And some really weird bokeh on many subjects (or rather the backgrounds).  However for certain things it is great, especially considering it’s size.  The lens weighs 29oz./796grams and is 4.7inches/116mm by 3.5 inches/89mm.   Getting sharp images can be a problem with either slow film or an unstable tripod.  The blessing of being small for such a long focal length is also it’s curse as the small size and weight makes it prone to vibrations.  But when one nails it they are rewarded with a very special look.  And like other quirky lenses it is something you either love or hate, nothing in between.

CONCLUSION

For bird watching or use as a short telescope it works perfectly.  For some wild looking close-ups it can be very rewarding.  Because of it’s size and weight great for backpacking.  For an all purpose super telephoto lens, forgetaboutit!  The build quality alone is something to appreciate.  It is as I have said “quirky” and not for everyone, but for those people that want something different/special this is a very interesting choice.  Also since it is no longer being made and probably never again, it will eventually become a collector’s item and deservedly so.

Here are some sample shots that I have done over the years, both digital (D2X & D3) and film -Velvia on a Nikon F100.

clockDelftFrogGold ClockRed skySeminary SATree and RoadTree Trunk and Bubblespencils

BotanicalThe SunsetThe Cow


September 19, 2010

Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AF-S “G” Lens

A Tale of Two Lenses

Yep once again we are talking, a 50mm lens.  This time however it is about two 50mm lenses.  So this will be a little bit of a review and a little bit of a comparison of the two lenses.  The title I suppose could have read, “this one is for fun and this one is for work”.

Recently I had an assignment to shoot some baby portraits (about two months old).  As this was to be somewhat informal, I brought along only my 50mm f/1.4 AF-D lens and a 105mm micro lens (maybe the topic of another blog entry).  After setting up my lighting, I began shooting and was once again put off by the “hunting” aspect of the old AF-D lens.  For sure you can get really good results from this lens, but the AF in some cases leaves a lot to be desired.

Having come to the decision (finally) to sell off my D2X and replace it with a D700, I thought why not also replace the 50mm AF-D lens with a new AF-S 50mm.  And that is exactly what I did.

The Review Part

So first the review part.  There were a few problems with the AF-D lens that is immediately apparent, have been addressed.  First the horrible plasticky exterior finish has now been replaced with a matte stipple finish with gold lettering.  Which adds a “professional” looking touch.  Next when in AF mode the barrel does not move like the AF-D version.  For those of you that have not experienced this, it may be hard to appreciate how annoying it could be.  Of course like in all AF-S lenses, you can instantly manually override the AF, by simply going to the rubberized focusing ring.  Which feels and works much better then the previous version of this venerable lens.  Using the focusing assist “dot” in MF mode, I have not experienced any problems in achieving accurate focus.

There has been a lot of talk on the internet about the “slowness” in AF of the new AF-S lens compared to the AF-D lens.  Unfortunately since I sold the AF-D just prior to acquiring the new lens, I cannot make a direct comparison.  However even if it is a bit slower it seems to actually acquire accurate focus quicker, at least to this reviewer.  Maybe it is just my wanting to justify the acquisition.

Where the new lens really shines is at wide open apertures.  It is far far superior wide open compared to the older model.  Seriously this is a huge improvement and for me well worth the added expense that I have had to come up with.  It makes me wonder, that if the difference is as great in the new 85mm f/1.4 AF-S G lens vs. the older AF-D model, then perhaps that might be worth a serious consideration.

The Comparison Part

By now you may have thought that the comparison suggested from the title was about the AF-S and the AF-D models.  Nope!  This is about two different animals altogether.  The comparison is between the 50mm f/1.2 AIS lens and the 50mm f/1.4 AF-S G lens.

The main difference is of course auto focus and manual focus.  Nothing to ignore.  There is of course build quality and the newer lens design.  Which helps in diminishing certain problems associated with wide aperture lenses, mainly spherical aberrations.  The f/1.2 lens wide open and stopped down to f/1.4 is loaded with spherical aberrations, where as the AF-S G lens exhibits much less.  When we talk about build quality, for me the AIS lens is “way” better, there is just no comparison here.

As noted earlier the new lens focusing very accurately in either AF or MF modes.  The older 50mm f/1.2 needs much more patient in focusing at wide apertures to overcome the spherical aberration problem (in fact it can be quite difficult).  If you have not read my review on the 50mm f/1.2 AIS lens, then here is a short explanation.  When focusing at f/1.2 or f/1.4 on that lens, I found that the green “dot” and right side arrow both must be flickering in order to achieve accurate focus (the closer the subject the more exact you need to be).  I found this to be the same in my D3, D2X and now the new D700 cameras.  When accurate focus is achieved you are rewarded in a very special way (however the spherical problems persist in the form of veiling or focus haze).  As I said in my review of the f/1.2 lens, it comes down to  personal taste.  On the other hand the AF-S lens performs right out the gate, with a much clearer and more contrasty images.

In the following examples, I have done side by side comparison shots using both lenses and giving the new D700 some exercise.  Which is better is totally up to the individual viewer.  All of the images were made at the maximum aperture for each lens.  The AF-S lens can focus 5 cm closer, though I did try to keep subject size the same in both examples.  All images were shot handheld as I feel this gives a more accurate gauge to what can be expected in field use.  However a tripod and using “live view” would be advisable.  All images were shot NEF and processed through Nikon NX2.

Book

clock

camera

Shirt

For 2 Horizontals

Doorway


Berries
fence post
2 examplesf-1.2
2Ex AF-S

Conclusions

As you can see there is definitely a “personality” difference between these two lenses.  At present I have no inclination to ridding myself of either one.  The new AF-S lens will be for my work.  Like I said before I just don’t have the confidence to manual focus on moving targets.  Also I feel the “cleaner” look of the new lens will be better received by the majority of my clients.  The f/1.2 AIS lens has a very special character to it, at least from my viewpoint and it will be my “fun” lens.  For me the AIS lens is really two in one (at wide open it has a very ethereal quality and stopped down produces exceptionally sharp images).  So this is the lens I will be shooting either for myself or for those clients that might appreciate the special qualities that this lens possesses.

In Nikon Rumors there was this blog posting: http://nikonrumors.com/2010/02/06/rumor-nikkor-af-s-50mm-f1-2.aspx .  Which of course has sparked considerable interest with the Nikon aficionados.  How would this lens compare to the two lenses discussed here is a mystery.  Would it have the best of both lenses?  Hard to say especially considering those differences.  Would it be more like the legendary 58mm f/1.2 asp. lens?  (Here is a review by Ken Rockwell on this lens: http://kenrockwell.com/nikon/50mm-f12-coma.htm ).  Maybe it is all speculation at this stage, but it would be very exciting if Nikon did decide to produce this new lens and I for one would be very interested in acquiring it.  Until that time I will content myself with these two very different and very exceptional lenses.  And thus I give my highest recommendation to either one, depending on one’s needs and applications.


August 14, 2010

Follow up Report Nikon 50mm f/ 1.2 AIS

Follow up on the discussion of focus error on the 50mm f/1.2 AIS

Since writing and posting my review of the aforementioned lens, I have had a few correspondences with Lloyd Chambers.  So first I would like to extend my gratitude to him for taking the time out of his busy schedule in helping me understand this problem better.  His generosity and patient were will appreciated by this author.

The problem I encountered trying to focus at f/1.2 (actually this can be at other aperture setting, stopped down to f/5.6) appears to be spherical aberration.  It would be redundant to of me to  repeat his articles, so I will just provide here the links. http://diglloyd.com/diglloyd/index.html &

http://diglloyd.com/articles/Focus/FocusShift.html

As to my findings and opinions, I can say this much.  To begin I must say I was wrong in calling the tests a ‘wank” for any reason.  It is something that needs to be understood, if one wants to shoot with a “fast” lens at the wide apertures and get if not optimal then at least good results.  Like Lloyd Chambers says, “sparkling-sharp eyes versus not-quite-there eyes”.

These fast lenses, like the 50mm f/1.2 AIS all have some spherical aberrations inherent in their optical design.  There are of course aspherical corrected lenses that can eliminate the worst of the problems associated with fast lenses.  These of course do not come cheap.  The thing is you either like the results of a lens like the 50mm f/1.2 AIS or not.  I for one do like the results, both wide open and stopped down.  It really is two different looks.  And from that perspective I do recommend the lens for people of similar tastes as mine.  However for most people there are some much better alternatives, with or without auto-focus and at varying price ranges.  For those that choose such a lens, then it is a must to “learn” the lens and it’s peculiarities.  It is work, but then the rewards can be worth it.

In my review I mentioned that I had set focus to a point where the focus confirmation “dot” and the right side arrow were both flickering, when exposing at f/ 1.2 (this is the inherent problem of a fast lens wanting to back focus).  This technique was my way of manually correcting the problem.  Under most other circumstances I found using a “solid green dot” at aperture settings of f/2 or smaller, worked just fine.  It was not until I enlarged the image to 400%, that I saw enough of a difference.  In my line of work I cannot afford to be so critical.  The emotions of the moment is my main concern.  However possessing this knowledge and how to correct or make the proper adjustments for it, is quite essential and not a “wank” as previously stated.

For this follow up I have included a few more examples all shot at f/1.2 and one or two comparison shots at f/2.0.  Many thanks again to Lloyd Chambers.MermaidTreesfence at f:1.2 and 2BasketTree trunk

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