When a Photo Becomes So Much More

I received a card in the mail the other day which reminded me that the images we create can have a powerful impact on the lives of both the subject and their loved ones.

This photo was taken just a few days before Bobs death. Hugging his daughter, the sense of peace his face portrayed showed a man who was at peace with life and all of its stages.

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These words touched my heart in a profound way.

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Fujifilm X30 / All Megapixels are Not Created Equal

With the purchase of my new (used) Fujifilm X30, I learned very quickly that the total number of pixels cannot be the determining factor to the final image quality produced by a digital camera, be it a DSLR or Mirrorless.

Some background: I have been using Nikon cameras since graduating from Art school in 1981, when I purchased my first Nikon, and F3 with an 80-200 zoom lens. My first DSLR was a Nikon D200 which I purchased in 2006. I used this camera for about 8 years, and, after discovering the Fujifilm X series of cameras, liquidated my Nikon gear in its entirety. The Fujifilm XE-2 along with a few quality lenses was my new kit, and I am extremely happy with both the image quality and handling the Fujifilm products provide.

Looking for a smaller “pocket” sized point and shoot, I started looking at the Fujifilm X70, X100T and the X30.

The X70 uses the same sensor as my XE-2, so the image quality is a known factor, but being newly released, it is still selling for a premium price of $699. And although people are raving about this camera, it’s lack of a viewfinder is a small, but not deal breaking negative for me. Add to that the non -zoom lens, and I am forced to continue my comparison search.

The X100T is highly praised for its form factor, image quality and overall handling. But, at a heft price of $1299, heck, that’s more than I spent on my “real” camera, the XE-2. No articulating LCD screen and a fixed focal length lens seem to be conspicuously missing at this price point. But it’s a good looking camera, no mistake about that.

Enter the X30. This somewhat older (2014) camera has an articulating LCD screen, a fast, 4X optical zoom lens, a great retro look, with a much more affordable price point (especially when purchased used) and a CMOS Xtrans sensor, (albeit only 12 megapixel) seemed like the way to go. Let’s not forget, this is a camera meant to be a “point & shoot”, grab and go camera.

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I began my search on Ebay, and quickly realized that an X30, in EXCELLENT condition could be had for between $350 and $425. Certainly a budget friendly decision! My biggest concern remained the sensor size.

I looked over to a print I have hanging on my wall, 12X18″, printed out on my Epson 3880. The image was produced with my old Nikon D200, with a file size is 3872 X 2592. The print quality is “very good” to “excellent”, and the RAW file, when scrutinized in Lightroom at 100% is really quite fine, allowing for a great amount of manipulation without excessive noise cropping up.
So, being the logical thinker that I am, I determined that a file from the Fujifilm X30, being 3000X4000 would be of equal quality if not a little bit better. After all, the file size is bigger, so the bigger the better, right?

Now, being the man of action that I am, I was off on the search of my X30. Zoom lens, articulating LCD screen, great Fujifilm build quality, and a price point, well, you know, it’s CHEAP! How can you go wrong!

Ebay. Fujifilm X30 in like new condition with all original accessories and packaging for $325 and free shipping. Buy It Now. Bought it.

It arrived via FedEx 3 days later and upon close inspection, this camera was pristine! Perfect. Everything that was promised buy the seller and more!

The Fujifilm X30 was thought to be a “back up” camera, a better alternative to my phone, it definitely has it’s limitations. In well lit situations, this camera can produce very good files capable of producing fine prints on my Epson 3880 up to 13X19 inches. Where the camera falls short, in my opinion and experience, is in low light scenes, where the results have been really “hit or miss”. The real problem is, at ISO settings higher than 800, the resulting files exhibit more noise than I like to see in an image.

I’m going to cut to the chase. The sensor is too SMALL!. The test images are sharp. The camera is a joy to handle and looks and feels great in my hands. But oh the noise! But how? Why? The file size is BIGGER than that of my ancient Nikon D200? Wait a minute…the D200 had an APS-C sensor with a 10mb file size. The X30 has a 2/3″ size sensor producing a 12mb file. Although the file size is larger than that of the D200, the sensor size produces an image that reveals noise in the shadows even while using ISO 640 in daylight conditions. And the situation gets even worse when you take a file into Lightroom and open up those shadows.

To be fair, I do still like the camera. It’s fun to use and has some great features that sometimes feel more like gimmicks than something you would find on a “serious” camera, for example the filters. “Black and White with Select Color”. Who could take this seriously, right? Well, I found myself using that very filter just the other day, and was extremely happy with the outcome. Here is an example of just just a filter:

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Yes, it’s fun to use and adds a playful, more casual feeling to taking pictures, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

So what I’ve learned is, megapixel count is important, but only in conjunction with the physical size of the sensor.

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Yongnuo YN-560TX and YN-560IV Earning Their Keep in the Studio

With the help of a couple of Super Clamps, my new Yongnuo YN-560 IV’s have found their new home rigged to my background rack. They are especially helpful in providing a bit of back lighting or hair lighting when shooting portraits, or, with a snoot, they provide just the right amount of power to add some visual interest to a background. Note the nice hair-light on the model pictured here. (The key light provided by an Elinchrom Beauty Dish with a gold deflector.)

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Discreetly lurking from the rafters 🙂

 

Fully controllable through the YN-560TX sender sitting atop of my Fujifilm XE-2, these little powerhouse speed-lights are discreet, powerful, and take up no floor space normally occupied by a light stand.

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Since my last Blog post, I purchased 2-Yongnuo RF603C II transceivers. They ran about $30 for the pair. I’m just amazed by the quality you get for relatively little cash.IMG_20160313_140525082
These are designed to work with either Canon or Nikon cameras, but do just as well with Fuji. I chose the “Canon” option due to the many recommendations to do so by bloggers and YouTubers out there.

In addition to their function of controlling studio strobes, (not with as many functionalities as the somewhat more expensive YN-TX560 and they work GREAT with my Elinchrom mono-lights), they come with a connector cable with 2- 2.5mm mini-plugs, one of which can plug into the unit, while the other can plug into the XE-2’s port found just above the HDMI port. This then functions as a wireless cable release.

Just another little perk associated with the Yongnuo speed-lights.  Inexpensive, Feature Rich and frankly, FUN TO USE!

 

 

Posted in Beauty Dish, Elinchrom, Photo Gear, Photo Studio Gear, Photography, Speed Lights, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When is a Hat Box NOT a Hat Box? When it’s a Beauty Dish Case!

If you are looking for a case for your beauty dish between 17″ and 20″ in diameter, I can wholeheartedly recommend this “collapsible hat box”.

Made of the same rugged material as a good camera bag, it has dual zippers, a great lining and the ability to secure it in a lower profile to maximize protection and minimize size. IMG_20160310_121554 IMG_20160310_121641

In addition, it will handle a few honeycomb grids and the deflector parts included with your beauty dish. I searched high and low for an affordable alternative to the cases offered by lighting manufacturers, and when I discovered this item, I could only hope it would do the trick. It Does! Every once in a while I get lucky with one of my DIY attempts, and this is one of my very BEST finds! It actually looks like it was made for my Elinchrom 17″ beauty dish, and looks every bit the “camera gear”.

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On Amazon, it’s $37.99 + a whopping $18.95 shipping. This is what kept me from ordering it sooner. But I discovered that on the Amazon Sellers website, e4hats.com, it was the same price with FREE SHIPPING. I later discovered that free shipping is available on Amazon using the coupon code “usfree35”.

Link: http://amzn.com/B00XZI18QE

I hope this solves a few problems out there as to how to travel with a beauty dish without damaging it.

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Yongnuo YN-560TX and YN-560IV combine for a powerful and portable flash kit.

After years of lugging around studio strobes to location shoots, I finally decided it was time to modify my location lighting kit. Currently I have Elinchrom Mono-lights, which provide excellent power but are a bit on the cumbersome side, not to mention they are dependent on a source of electricity. I’ve been looking at alternative sources for the past few months, ranging from the Elinchrom Ranger to the Profoto D1 battery powered mono-light. Although I was VERY impressed by both of the above mentioned units, the price point was just too steep. So the next item on the list was the Godox or Cheetah or Flashpoint flash units with a separate battery power source. I was intrigued by the power and portability, and I can see the usefulness for location and wedding photographers. But once again, after assembling the necessary number of flash units and battery packs, the bottom line was just more than I was willing to invest at this point in time. After all, I wanted to “test the waters” and see how much “real world” use this outfit will get, and what kind of ROI I could expect. If it turns out that this is the way of my future, then I can always upgrade, but for now, I needed to put together a kit that would allow me enough power to properly experiment all while not breaking the bank.

What I ended up buying was a pair of Yongnuo YN-560 IV’s and a YN-560TX radio controlled trigger, which has the ability to control the power and zoom of multiple flash units directly from the transmitter sitting on top of the camera.

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For a total investment of $182.95 including free shipping, I am able to take my new strobe kit on location, comfortably packed in a small shoulder bag, with plenty of room to spare. Because I use Fujifilm X cameras, I needed to choose between the Canon and Nikon version of the flash units. A couple of mouse clicks later, I was armed with the knowledge I needed to make the proper purchase. I bought the Canon version (which somehow went “against the grain” for me as a, until recently, life-long Nikon user) and it functions seamlessly with my XE-2. NOTE: Thes flash units are Manual….no TTL or e-TTL available. But before you give up on this idea, just think of each flash as a studio mono-light. Last time I checked, mono-lights don’t have TTL either. Thinking about it this way, I was able to easily wrap my head around the process of using several manual flash units as a mini studio set up. Watching a dozen or so YouTube videos on the process was a big help too! In fact, I was able to get the entire system up and running, fully synced, without even cracking open an owners manual.

Next Up: TEST SHOTS

 

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The Speed of SSD’s is Addictve!

Shooting digital images in RAW file format, then processing them in a variety of programs such as Lightroom, Photoshop and Aurora HDR can provide amazing results. But those results come at a price. File size. How quickly a hard disk can become packed with images, causing a bottle neck in speed, especially if that dish drive happens to be one of the spindle variety.

Let’s face it, no matter how fast a traditional HDD proclaims to be, it’s just not fast enough to handle the transfer of large file sizes. I can’t even imagine how frustrating this must be for those who shoot 4k video! The problem becomes really apparent when you have an internal SSD on which your applications are stored and images you are working on, stored an external HDD drive. The delays are excruciatingly slow. They remind me of the days when I was working on my Apple Quadra 650, processing images in Photoshop 2.5, and wasting what seemed like hours of my day watching the progress bar inch it’s way from left to right across my 20″ CRT screen.

Today I received a portable SSD from SanDisk in the mail. 240GB for about $100 including shipping from Amazon. The plan is to leave my current projects on my internal 256GB SSD (which when bench marked using BlackMagic software shows blazing fast speeds) and to store the remainder of my images on the new SanDisk Extreme 500 ssd. But first I needed to bench mark this drive to see if it will bring the speeds it claims to have. Again using BlackMagic software, I performed a 3GB stress test.

Although not as fast as my internal SSD, the results were very satisfying. To put this into perspective, another one of my external HHD’s, with a speed of 7200rpm, and a USB 3.0 connection can’t crack 100 MB/s on Write of Read. So this will be a real boost in my production speed.

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So now the only question remains, what to do with my now antiquated hard drives. They are surely destined to be relegated for long term back up use, tucked away somewhere in the back corner of my safe. Now that I’ve tasted the sweetness of an external SSD, combined with the data capacity of USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt pipeline, (still waiting on a USB 3.1) I’m spoiled.

I’ve discovered my new “drug of choice” and it’s name is DataSpeed, or “SSD” for short.

Posted in Computers, Digital Design, Digital Printing, iMac, Photography, Post Processing, SSD, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Filters….The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

It was 1991 when I began using a computer to enhance my photographic images. Photoshop 2.5 was the industry standard, and, although there were other software programs available (some I liked MUCH better, such as Live Picture) it was Photoshop that was used by all of the agencies, and therefor, used by our studio as well.

Anyone who looks back on those early days, surely can remember the fascination associated with all of the filter options in Photoshop. With a click or two of a mouse, an ordinary image would be transformed into something only our imagination could conceive, but was next to impossible to realize. Until now (then). But, as with all new things, the novelty did wear off. In fact, filters were often scorned by the “true” Photoshop Gurus as being nothing more than a crutch or a gimmick.

Fast forward 25 years. Photoshop CC (2015) is now the latest version, and, along with it’s quite capable cousin, Lightroom CC, the way images are processed is easier, and more powerful than ever before.
I’ve been using Lightroom as my primary post processing software for about 6 years now, only on rare occasions requiring the more powerful Photoshop to achieve the results I sought. Lightroom is, in my opinion, the perfect combination of retouching and archival software. Gone are the days when I would create a complicated photo composing, comprised of dozens of elements, each carefully silhouetted from its background and mounted into a new composition conceived in my sometimes very twisted imagination.

Here is such an example:
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These days, I use my software to enhance my images in a more subtle way, or, perhaps better said, in a less obvious way, for at times, the manipulations can indeed go to the extreme. This leads me to the point of this blog post, finally. MacPhun.

The other day I was browsing the Apple App Store, and ran across an app called “Tonality”, by a company called MacPhun. It is designed to aid in the manipulation of black and white images. Heck, right in my wheelhouse. They offer a free trial period with full functionality (just not the ability to save) so I decided to download it and give it a whirl. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this app, comprised primarily of presets (just like the filters found in those early versions of Photoshop) was pretty cool! Cool enough to spend the $17.95 for the fully functional, licensed version.
So off I clicked, finding my way to the MacPhun Website where I was offered (by a very shrewd marketing department) the opportunity of a lifetime. The Complete Creative Kit, comprised of 6 killer apps guaranteed to take my photography to new heights never before imaginable for the introductory price of $79.99. This price is good only until the 15th of October, which is the launch date for this new “Creative Kit” by MacPhun.

While I am somewhat embarrassed to tell you how quickly I made this purchase, I am equally excited to tell you that, with the exception of only one app (Snap Heal Pro) these programs, which function also as plug ins for both Photoshop CC and Lightroom CC ( As well as Aperture and Elements) are EXCELLENT! Easy and intuitive, these programs offer eye opening alternatives to what can become, standard and uninspired post processing procedures (say that 3 times fast). Sometimes they just point you in a new direction as far as what an image can become, either through the use of their filters, or by going back into Lightroom to re-create the newly discovered “look” or a combination of the two, MacPhun has re-ignited a creative side of me that has been for all too long lying dormant. I’d pay $80 bucks for that ALL DAY LONG.

A brief mention to another app in this Creative Kit. It’s called Noiseless Pro. If you shoot at night, or in low light, and push the limits of your ISO spectrum, you are familiar with the most often, undesirable effects of “noise”. Sure, Lightroom and Photoshop both let you improve the image through use of their slider controls. But MacPhun Noiseless Pro kicks butt! Export from Lightroom into “Noiseless Pro”, and the image will be analyzed and corrected with the results being, for the most part, just right, without any further tweaking required. Really quite impressive.

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So to be clear, I am NOT being paid for this endorsement, though I wish I were. I just think that when a product or service provides such great results at a reasonable price, it’s worth my time and trouble to spread the word. This is just such a case.

Posted in Digital Design, Digital Printing, Photography, Post Processing, Scanning Black and White Negatives | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment