Playing with Nikon’s Big Guns.

Playing with Nikon’s Big Guns.

Not so long ago, I did a post about Canon’s new “Big Guns”, the 600mm f/4 II and the 1Dx. We’re now waiting for Nikon’s newest super-tele, the 800mm f/5.6, to ship, but I thought I’d take the newest flagship camera from Nikon out for a spin with the venerable 600mm f/4 that they’ve had out for a while.   Initial impressions Shooting with the Nikon D4, with regards to ergonomics and handling, was a substantial change from the D3s. It’s not as angular as that body, something I think Nikon’s been changing lately. The buttons have more feedback to them, and don’t feel soft. The body itself is more bulbous and contoured (dare I say, more Canon-like?), and feels way better in my hands than the D3s. The shutter button is angled down a bit, allowing my finger to lie on it in a more natural fashion. One annoyance is that the AE-L button has been replaced with a little joystick, and I miss that. There’s also a live-view button inset into a rocker switch that lets you move it between photo and video modes, as well as the 8-way d-pad that’s carried over from the D3s. All in all, I liked the changes to body. It’s a more pleasant camera to shoot. In the field My experience didn’t start off well – which was my own dang fault. I’d set the Nikon’s CH (Continuous High) mode to 11 frames per second. Why this wasn’t set to the max by default puzzled me, but I shrugged it off and went out to the Coyote Hills Regional Park in nearby...
Small Flash, Big Box: Using the LumoPro Flash Bracket

Small Flash, Big Box: Using the LumoPro Flash Bracket

There’s no shortage of lighting modifiers for small flashes like the Nikon SB–910 on the market today. From the Apollo softboxes we rent, to grid kits, snoots, umbrellas, and beauty dishes, small flash has really come into its own, especially for photographers working on location. Now there’s a new accessory for Strobist-style shooters that will let you use a much wider variety of softboxes with your existing small flashes, including the high-end modifiers from companies like Profoto. I used it with two Profoto softboxes a couple of weeks ago for a portrait, with excellent results. The acecssory is called the Lumopro Speedring Bracket, and it’s basically a softbox speedring modified to let you use one or two flashes in a standard softbox. If you’re not familiar with speedrings and softboxes, take a look at the article “Understanding Softboxes” on our blog. It describes what speedrings are, and how they are used with various modifiers. The Lumopro bracket is essentially a speedring with two adjustable arms protruding from it. A standard stud allows you to to mount the speedring onto a swivel adapter so you can tilt your setup to angle it. I was doing a shoot for costume designer Katherine Nowacki, who needed a bright, airy headshot for her website. I placed her on a balcony with setting sun directly behind her to act as a rim light. My initial idea was to use a reflector to get some fill light into her face, but then decided I wanted something more powerful to balance out the ambient. I went with two Profoto softboxes, a 3’ Octabox and a 1×4’...
Shooting On the Go With the Olympus OM-D

Shooting On the Go With the Olympus OM-D

Not too long ago, I switched to the Nikon D800E with a series of prime lenses for all of my primary photography. I love the Nikon, and it’s proved to be a fantastic system, capably handling just about everything I’ve thrown at it. The downside is that it is, truly, a system. A big, heavy system. I quickly found myself looking for a smaller, carry-around camera for some of my more photojournalistic endeavors, and immediately turned to the family of mirrorless cameras out there for an answer. Of these, there is no shortage. You have the awesome Sony NEX-6, which I’ve raved about in the past. There’s also the Sony RX-1, the Panasonic GF3C, the Fuji X-Pro1, and the subject of this article, the Olympus OM-D E-M5. I’ve had the Olympus OM-D E-M5 for the past few weeks now, and have been using it as my primary “take everywhere” camera. It’s small size, lens selection, and great image quality combine to provide a system that’s flat-out my favorite in this category. In this article, I’ll present my experience shooting with this little thing, rather than a full-on technical review. The Build This thing is solid and extremely well-built. I’ve got chubby little sausages for fingers, but I can still get a pretty decent grip on it, thanks to the tab on the back and the indent in the front that give your thumb and middle fingers a secure place to grasp onto. The buttons, though tiny, are pretty responsive, so it’s not hard to use many of them just by feel The back of the OM-D, shown above, is...
Understanding Softboxes

Understanding Softboxes

Off-camera strobes and other forms of lighting have become remarkably approachable over the past few years. The knowledge and information that were once the sole province of pros working with tens of thousands of dollars of equipment in studios or on location is now all over the internet for the taking. We carry a fair amount of lighting gear, and given that we cater to the novice as well as the pros, we also answer a number of questions about one particular piece of lighting gear: the softbox. Over the phone, via email, and through our social networking outlets, we respond to queries ranging from the number of stops a box’s diffusion fabric will eat, to “What’s a speedring?” This article is designed to help you understand the various pieces of a softbox and how it is used with a studio light like the Einstein E640 or the Profoto D4 heads we rent. Let’s start with what a softbox is. Basically, it’s a light modifier. Its purpose is to diffuse the lighting coming out of a studio head (or a small flash, but we’ll cover that in a later article) so that you can achieve the soft shadows and gentler light quality you see in so many professionally-taken photographs. Now let’s break down a complete light setup, with softbox. In the image above, you can see the three basic components of a studio light with a softbox. We have the softbox itself, a speedring (which is only barely visible right now), and a studio light. You’ll probably have noticed that the softbox is made by Profoto, while the studio...
Tilt/Shift: Working With Perspective-Control Lenses, Part 2

Tilt/Shift: Working With Perspective-Control Lenses, Part 2

This is Part 2 of a series on using Tilt-Shift or Perspective-Control lenses. In this part, we look at the “Tilt” functionality of these unique lenses. Part 1, which covered “shift” functionality, can be found here. At some point in time, we’ve all seen photos where the subjects – usually views from high-up of cars, buildings, people, etc. – appear to be miniaturized versions of reality. This is perhaps the most the most often-seen result from using tilt-capable lenses like the Nikon 85mm PC-E. In this part of our series, we’ll explain how this effect is achieved with tilt-shift lenses. The image below was shot by Jim Goldstein, our Marketing VP. Taken in Geneva with a tilt-shift lens, the camera was pointing downwards at the railroad tracks, with the tilt element swung upwards. The reason these tracks look like miniatures is because the plane of focus is so narrow, that both the foreground AND the background are out of focus.  That’s not something the human eye is used to seeing, and we interpret images like this differently. Wikipedia adds to that  explanation as follows: Diorama effect or “diorama illusion” is a process in which a photograph of a life-size location or object is made to look like a photograph of a miniature scale model. Blurring parts of the photo simulates the shallow depth of field normally encountered in close-up photography, making the scene seem much smaller than it actually is… Now, in order to achieve that effect, you have to swing the front part of your tilt-shift lens in so that it is either as perpendicular as possible to...
Get the Missing Manual for Light

Get the Missing Manual for Light

 With autumn upon us, daylight hours are fewer and further between. I don’t stop shooting (later sunrises mean I can actually drag myself out of bed at a better hour), but I do take more time to catch up on my reading. Accordingly, I spend some time to put together a list of the best photography books that I want to go through each year and will bring you reviews of the ones I liked the most. My (virtual) bookshelf is full of titles I’ve read or plan to read for reviewing or for personal edification. Some, like Brian Smith’s book on portraiture, which I reviewed earlier this week, are for personal edification and review. Some, like Light, Science, and Magic, are on there because the subject matter is of interest. And some are on there because I’ll read even an obituary by one of these authors. Authors like Joe McNally, for example, whose books like Sketching Light and The Moment it Clicks make for fantastic and entertaining reading. Others write books so chock full of information that they become indispensable reference material that I find myself going to pretty often. My friend Syl Arena is an author and teacher who falls into the latter category, and his latest book, Lighting for Digital Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots is something that I think should be more appropriately titled “Light: The Missing Manual”. This is Syl’s second book; the first, The Speedliter’s Handbook, is now considered to be a sort of bible for Canon Speedlites. It is easily THE definitive book on Canon’s small flashes, and Syl has carved out...
The Switch – Moving from Canon to Nikon, Part V

The Switch – Moving from Canon to Nikon, Part V

This is the conclusion of a 5-part series on an experimental switch from Canon to Nikon. Previously, in the Switch series: Part 1: I talk our marketing VP into letting me go Nikon for a while. Part 1.5: which was mislabeled Part 0.5, in which I gawk at a violin. Part II: The Nikon gets abusive. Part III: CLS starts to look pretty good. Part IV: In which I return to Canon for a spell I guess the big question on everyone’s mind is, “Did you switch or not?” Well, read on, gentle reader. I’ve been a Canon user for the majority of my life. Starting at age 8 with a tiny Canon film point-and-shoot, then to an AE-1 Program, then an A2 film body, followed by a G3 P&S, a Rebel XTi, a 7D and then a 5D Mark II, I’ve owned Canon gear all my life. The Glass I love Canon gear. The glass is varied and plentiful, from a crazy 1:5 Macro  (the MP-E 65mm) to a swift, fast, yet affordable 400mm f/5.6 lens for wildlife, to a fantastic 135mm f/2 portrait lens, Canon has glass for practically every occasion. Nikon, on the other hand, kind of falls behind in terms of having glass that I really do need/use from time to time. The lack of a solid 400mm-range lightweight telephoto is a real bummer, as is the lack of an ultra-wide-angle (17mm) tilt-shift lens. Speaking of the tilt-shift lenses, Nikon really does need to update their PC-E lenses to match Canon’s 17mm and 24mm lenses. The current 24mm PC-E lens from Nikon doesn’t do independent rotation...
Lock it down

Lock it down

This is how the life of a photographer goes sometimes. You’re driving home on Highway 13, right around dusk. You glance off to your left and note that the moon, at an 8% crescent is going to set shortly, and it’s probably going to do so right behind the San Francisco skyline. So what do you do? Well, if you’re me, you step on it and race for Grizzly Peak Road, a scenic, meandering two-lane stretch of tarmac that winds through the hills above Oakland and Berkeley while offering some spectacular views of the Bay Area, including the Bay Bridge, the San Francisco skyline, Oakland, Berkeley, and sometimes, the Golden Gate Bridge, too. You get there, and you hastily pop your trunk, yanking out your lightweight carbon-fiber tripod and the 5D Mark III you’re shooting with. It’s cold, windy, and the moon is taking a nosedive, taking on a blood-orange color. The tripod’s legs fly open, and the 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II you’re using (the city is some distance away and using a telephoto lens to compress the distance will make the moon look nice and big, too) already has an Arca-Swiss-compatible plate on it that locks into your ballhead with a couple of twists. You flip on live view and adjust zoom and focus. Fortunately, the 5D Mark III has a top-notch focusing system and you lock focus on the Bay Bridge instantly. You set the camera’s timer to a 2-second delay, make sure everything is locked down, manual focus, and you press the shutter button, then step away. The mirror is already up because live view is...
The Switch – Moving from Canon to Nikon, Part III

The Switch – Moving from Canon to Nikon, Part III

This is Part III of a series on moving from an all-Canon setup to an all-Nikon setup for four weeks. Will I go back to Canon at the end of four weeks? I have no idea… Previously, in the Switch series: Part 1: I talk our marketing VP into letting me go Nikon for a while. Part 1.5: which was mislabeled Part 0.5, in which I gawk at a violin. Part II: The Nikon gets abusive. In this part, I’m going to focus on just one thing: Nikon’s external flash system. CLS, you’re pretty cool Nikon’s CLS, or Creative Lighting System, is pretty well-known for its simplicity and reliability. On the Canon side, I’m used to working in ratios to set exposure between groups. This is a tad… unwieldy, to say the least. For example, if I want three groups for my external speedlites, I have to jump through some… convolutions. First, I have to have my friend Syl Arena’s book, The Speedliter’s Handbook handy, because Canon’s manual doesn’t really do even a halfway decent job of explaining this.  I have to set the ratio for my first two groups (A and B), then go into the master speedlite’s menu to set FEC (Flash Exposure Compensation) for my third light. Uh… wha? For a better explanation, go to page 144 of Syl’s Speedliter’s Handbook. With Nikon, on the other hand, you get this: This is if you’re using the on-board camera to control your remote speedlights (which are in two other groups, A and B). But you can, of course, control external speedlights with a master on-camera. Here’s what that...