December 21, 2014, 10:58:00 PM

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Topics - mackguyver

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Technical Support / Repair or Return?
« on: December 16, 2014, 11:21:11 PM »
I got a pretty good deal on a refurb 8-15 fisheye during Canon's recent sale, but the stupid lens has some sort of washer/spacer right over one of the lens elements (see attached photo).  I can either return it for a refund (no exchange is possible as it's out of stock) or use the 1-year warranty and send it in for repair.  I'm sad as I have had about 6 great refurb experiences in a row

I'm really torn on what to do as I think it should have not have been this way when I received it, but then again, I can deal with the repair too as it was a refurb anyways.

What would you do?

Business of Photography/Videography / Update on SmugMug
« on: November 18, 2014, 02:17:31 PM »
After my long period of frustration with SmugMug, I gave it another shot over the weekend and I'm happy to report that the kinks all seem to be worked out.  I have finally built a "new SmugMug" website and customizing it has been pretty straightforward.  I'm still working on the site, but I can now go from stay away from them to actually recommending them again.  If there's anyone out there who has been thinking of trying them, it's worth giving the free trial a shot.

Software & Accessories / 1D X + EC-S Focusing Screen - Save Your Money
« on: November 17, 2014, 10:22:34 AM »
I have been very busy with my non-photography life lately, but I finally got around to trying out the EC-S focusing screen in the 1D X - first for an event with terrible lighting and then for a wildlife shoot.  Overall, I think it's a waste of money unless the body is dedicated to fast lenses, and even then, the gain is minimal.

1. Easy fit / install
2. Works well with f/1.2-2 lenses, ever-so-slightly sharper & brighter than stock screen
3. Better bokeh visualization with lenses faster than f/2.8
4. No Custom Function setting, but little noticeable effect on exposure with most lenses

1. AF area etching doesn't match 1D X (very minor annoyance)
2. Darker view with f/2.8 lenses (I think), dim view with f/4, almost impossible to use with f/5.6 lens or lens/extender combo in anything but bright sunlight, didn't try f/8
3. Clearness/sharpness improvement is very small over stock screen

I have used the super precision matte screens in the 60D and 5D II and was expecting great results.  With those screens, I used them with great success, even in low light, even at f/11 (400 f/5.6 + 2x II extender) and while dim, it wasn't unusable. 

On the other hand, the EC-S screen actually seems dimmer with f/2.8 lenses than the stock screen (didn't compare directly) and is terrible at f/4 and practically unusable at f/5.6 in low to decent light.  Even using AF was difficult because it was so hard to see the subject!

I guess the stock screen is much better than I thought unless you plan on dedicating this body to fast  lenses (only) or MF lenses (a waste of a fine AF body IMHO), I would pass on the EC-S screen.

Third Party Manufacturers / Kodak EktaSensor Press Release
« on: September 25, 2014, 04:04:16 PM »
I found this on Kodak's website:

KODAK Announces New EktaSensor and Partnerships with Major Camera Manufacturers

ROCHESTER, N.Y., September 25 -- Kodak is announcing the release of the EktaSensor, a revolutionary new digital photography sensor, and partnerships with major camera manufacturers.  Kodak, the inventor of the digital camera, has created a new 400 megapixel (MP) sensor for digital cameras that will produce the most stunning photographs ever created by any photographic device.  The film emulsion scientists at Kodak took their many years of experience and worked with the top digital sensor experts in the industry to create the new sensor.  In addition to the massive number of pixels, the sensor is able to record a vast amount of dynamic range, which is the number of shades between pure black and and pure white. The sensor is able to record a remarkable 40 stops of dynamic range, nearly triple the number of stops in Kodak's top professional film emulsion, Vision3.  This breakthrough is due in part to a new 48-bit (16-per R-G-B channel) architecture that also allows for billions of colors to be recorded.  In terms of ISO, the sensor is capable of capturing the entire dynamic range from ISO 50 to an amazing ISO 1,638,400.  The sensor is in the 35mm format (24x36mm) and an even higher resolution medium format sensor is in development.  The EktaSensor records all 400 MPs, but can easily scale the image to more manage sizes in the camera.

Following development of the new sensor, Kodak reached out to their longtime partners, Canon and Nikon, to offer them the opportunity to use the sensor in their camera bodies.  Both manufacturers jumped at the opporunity and agreed to Kodak's requirements that there would be no exclusivity of the sensor.  Kodak's desire is to return the film days when the 'sensor' was the Kodak film emulsion within the camera.  Canon has also established partnerships with Sony and Panasonic, and all major camera manufacturers other than Fuji.

“The changing marketplace has required significant adjustment from Kodak,” said George Eastman, III, great grandson of Kodak's founder and Director, Emerging Products, Eastman Kodak Company. “After many years of languishing in the camera industry, Kodak realized they had significant intellectual property and committed those resources to this new product.”

"The new KODAK EktaSensor is the most significant development since the invention of the digital camera,” said Canon's CEO, Fujio Mitarai, "And we simply couldn't ignore this opportunity to put the very best in our cameras."  The new EktaSensor will be available in all of Canon's full frame cameras, starting with the next upgrade cycle.  Mr. Mitarai also said, "When we are able to put this sensor in a body like the EOS 7D Mark II, no one will be able to compete with us."

The President of Nikon, Kazuo Ushida, added, "While we viewed ourselves and our supplier, Sony, as leaders in the so-called sensor war, Kodak has made even our most advance products irrelevant."  Nikon also announced that the EktaSensor will be available in all of their upcoming full frame sensors, except for the Nikon Df replacement.

"After reading one too many forum post about dynamic range and megapixels, I decided that Kodak had to do something," said Dr. Ones D. Range, lead scientist on the EktaSensor team.  He added, "I fondly remember the days of film when cameras competed on the merits of features like autofocus and exposure metering, and I'm happy to announce a return to those times."  "I expect consumers to be the big winners now that we have created the ultimate sensor that will be shared by all but one of the major camera manufacturers."

EktaSensor is currently available to all electronics and photography manufacturers and will be available in consumer products starting in Q1, 2015.


About Kodak
Kodak is a technology company focused on imaging for business. We provide innovative hardware, software, consumables and services to customers in graphic communications, packaging and functional printing. We also serve entertainment and commercial films markets. With our world-class R&D organization and extensive product portfolio, Kodak is helping customers around the globe to grow their own businesses in a sustainable way. For additional information on Kodak, visit us at, follow us on Twitter @Kodak, or like us on Facebook at KodakNow.

(Kodak, Vision3, and EktaSensor are trademarks of Eastman Kodak Company.)

Software & Accessories / UniqBall
« on: September 24, 2014, 04:27:42 PM »
After seeing an intriguing photo on the Luminous Landscape's Photokina page, I did some research and ended up ordering a UniqBall from Amazon today (B&H sells them in the US as well).  It's a cool new ballhead with built in leveling base and two-way head.  The idea is that you level the head and after locking it down, the head only pivots up & down or rotates.  Because it doesn't tilt, all of your shots stay level.  You can also lock the two way head and then use the leveling base as a normal ballhead, too.

It's the best parts of a gimbal without the size & weight, and the best parts of a ballhead without the tilt.  The drawbacks are that it is expensive ($350 for the smaller head [15kg/33lb capacity], $540 for the big one [40kg/90lb capacity]), only oriented for collared lenses (but it comes with an A/S adapter for 90 degree rotation to mount cameras), and doesn't offer the precise balance or adjustment of a gimbal.  You'll need an L-plate to simplify portrait orientation shots as well if you're not using a collared lens.  It comes with a A/S clamp but I don't think it's quick release.

All the same, it allows you to set up quickly and have level horizons for landscape/architecture shots, and track wildlife similar to a gimbal.  It seems to be a perfect fit for all of the stuff I shoot, so I thought I'd give it a try.  I've read a fair amount about it on the web and it seems pretty cool.

I really like, have never loved my RRS BH-55 100% so I'm going to give this a try.  It will be here on Friday, so I'll let you know how it works out.  I worry that I'll miss the quick release clamp a whole lot, but we'll see.  Anyone looking for a decent price on a RRS BH-55 LR might want to pay attention, too ;)

Here's the info on it:
USA Site
Euro Site
Novoflex Site - I think they might be manufacturing or distributing it?
Andy Rouse's Review - NOTE that he is selling these and his review may or may not be objective
Naturescapes Thread on this - some good photographers share their thoughts

There's plenty more out there, too - and I'll let you know what I think of it after I get out and shoot with it this weekend - it's coming on Friday.

Third Party Manufacturers / iPhone 6 Plus Camera Review
« on: September 19, 2014, 04:47:27 PM »
I'm not an Apple guy or a fan of phone photography but I thought this was a good review and certainly shows what can be done with a modest tool in the right hands (and in an amazing location...):

I see people posting those crappy Matt Granger shots everywhere and even though I've posted this link, no one seems to have noticed, so I'm creating a post dedicated to it:

Official 7D Mark II Sample Images & Movies from Canon Japan

Personally, I think the squirrel shot at ISO 3200 looks at least a stop or two better than the 7D but the ISO 6400 night shot of the city doesn't look so hot.

Photography Technique / Why Geotagging is Cool for Landscape Photographers
« on: September 15, 2014, 04:20:11 PM »
In this month's issue of Outdoor Photographer, I read an article (online version) about Art Wolfe's upcoming book.  In the article, he talks about spending the last two years traveling the globe to recreate many of his old shots.

This is one of the secrets of landscape photographers - going back to the same place over and over to get new and hopefully better versions of your existing shots.  I've done this for years but over the past 3 weeks, I've done it twice and in both cases, having the GPS coordinates made life so much easier.  I was able to find both locations without any trouble at all, even though they are both somewhat hidden.  I now have the GP-E1 module for the 1D X which makes it even easier to geotag, but a handheld GPS or your phone with a .GPX tracking app and LR or other software work equally well.

Here are the two recreations.  They still aren't what I have in my head, but they're getting closer and I'll keep shooting them until I get the shot I really want:

OLD - 8/5/2012

NEW - 9/13/2014

OLD - 9/4/2011

NEW - 8/30/2014

Lenses / What New Lens are You Most Excited About?
« on: September 12, 2014, 12:35:12 PM »
Personally the Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II intrigues me. Why? How good will it be?  How much will it cost?

However, the lens I'm most interested in is the Samyang 12mm f/2.8 Full Frame Fish Eye.  I'd like a fisheye but the Canon 8-15 seems way too expensive for a lens I won't use a whole lot.  If the Samyang is cheap (~$200-350 US) and decently sharp, I'll pick one up for sure.

The other lenses don't excite me at all.

Photography Technique / Finding your Specialty
« on: September 08, 2014, 02:45:22 PM »
I have far too much gear and far too little time to shoot, so I would like to specialize.  How have those of you who specialize in one area found that specialty?

Technical Support / 1D X Dual Back Button Focus
« on: September 08, 2014, 11:45:36 AM »
I've been fooling around with the ability to assign AI Servo to the back button focus and One Shot to the AE lock button that is enabled by the new 1D X firmware.  That part is easy, but it seems that I'm limited to using the same set of AF points for both. 

In a perfect world, I would like:

AF-ON: AI Servo with 65-pt (manual/initial point selected)
AE LOCK: One Shot with single point Spot AF

Instead I get:

AF-ON: AI Servo with 65-pt (manual/initial point selected)
AE LOCK: One Shot with 65-pt auto-selection (WHICH I DESPISE)

Am I missing something in the configuration or has Canon set it up so only one set of AF point(s) can be set for both modes?

EOS Bodies / The Perfect Sensor
« on: August 29, 2014, 01:00:49 PM »
So, let's fast forward 10+ years to where we have achieved the perfect sensor.  It can do the following:

-Record nearly infinite numbers of photons and scale to whatever pixels you want
-Expose and record every detail in any light over 0.01 LUX
-Record in 256-bits with DR surpassing anything our own eyes can even see
-Correct any and all optical defects in any and all lenses

So...if I had this sensor, you know what I would be?

Why?  Because photos would look just like real life and be limited only by our own eyes. 

Photos are an interpretation of reality, not reality.  Light and shadows give photos depth and meaning, which is why so many HDR photos are just dull and flat.  The limitations of film are why so many film photos are better than most digital photos in all regards other than sharpness. 

The unconstrained mind is not creative.

-Jack Handy
(these are my Deep Thoughts for the week)

Canon General / Gear Realities
« on: August 14, 2014, 01:54:33 PM »
As someone who has had the great fortune to make good money and acquire a fairly extensive set of pro cameras & lenses, I thought I'd offer my personal insight into the age old question/fear of whether gear matters and if so, how much.   I have used and upgraded lots of gear over the last 6 years or so since getting back into (D)SLR photography, so here are my thoughts.

The following discussion assumes good or maybe even great technique.  This is a critically-important assumption as technique matters far more than equipment.  The best gear in poor hands will always yield poor results, but that's a matter for another post, so we'll just go with the assumption for now.  What follows is my personal opinion from where gear is least helpful to most helpful.

General Photography
Generally, a Rebel body with a kit lens will deliver excellent photos of most general subjects.  Even in low light, the IS & STM work quite well unless the subject is moving. In good light, even sports and other difficult subjects can be captured with lenses like the 55-250 if the photographer has good instincts in terms of when to press the shutter.

The first step up in terms of gear helping is probably portraiture.  The kit lenses are slow in terms of aperture making it harder to get that great shallow DOF style.  Here, camera bodies matter very little other than to direct your lens choice, generally 50-85mm for crop, 85-135 for full frame.  An aperture of f/1.2 to 2.8 is best and will give you a big step up from the kit lens.  Standard EF primes work very well, though you don't need a fast lens if you shoot in a studio as you'll typically be at f/8-f/11 for most shots.  What you save on cameras & lenses can easily be spent on lighting gear, but that's another topic.  Just know that reflectors and diffusers used outdoors can acheive excellent results for very little money.  The model/subject and your connection with them and their poses is the most important factor in getting great shots.

The next step up is landscape photography.  There are now a number of excellent wide and ultra-wide angle lenses for crop bodies, so the advantage of full frame in that regard is fading.  Better bodies and equipment give you two real-world advantages - better durability and weather sealing for outdoor use, and better shadows in low light.  If you don't hike to far away or rugged places or shoot before or after sunset in windy conditions where you need ISO 1600 to hold up in big prints, a Rebel body and one of the newer Canon or Sigma ultrawide zooms will serve you well.  If you don't believe me, take a look at some of the winning landscape photos from major contests in the last few years.  Most have been shot with crop sensors.  One other thing worth mentioning are Tilt-shift lenses.  While they are by no means necessary and won't revolutionize your work, they can give you unique shots and better control over DOF.  They aren't easy to use, aren't weather sealed, and are all expensive manual focus primes, so these are best used once you've mastered landscape photography.

From there, I suppose macro photography is the next place where lenses and cameras make a difference. Macro shots are a bit misleading, though, as many of the zooms with short minimum focus distances work very well for close-up shots.  What I'm talking about here is 0.5x (1:2) to 1x (1:1) and beyond.  A true macro lens will make a huge difference here as you can get much closer, but focus tubes can work quite well with many lenses at a much lower cost.  The 25mm tube and the old 24-70L took excellent photos and I used it a lot before I got a macro lens.  One you start macro, you'll also realize that you're likely to need a lot of light.  That means getting a macro flash, or a body that does well above ISO 1600, or both.  I took lots of great photos without them, but trying to shoot a small flower in light wind at ISO800 is a serious exercise in patience.  If you shoot still subjects indoors, there's no need to worry about, but for moving subjects or low light, it's important.  Finally, focus rails and software like Helicon Focus can allow you to "focus stack" shots giving you much greater creative freedom, but again, it's not necessary.

This is another specialty area where normal equipment can be used, but specialized equipment can make a big difference in your work.  Full frame bodies aren't need for low light, but they allow you to use fisheye lenses and wide angles with complete freedom, but lenses like the Sigma 8-16 and third-party fisheyes can work with crop cameras.  The exception are tilt shift lenses, which will give your work a professional edge.  The TS-E 17 & 24 are able to straighten lines, give you better DOF and overcome issues that leveling the camera & cropping the photo simply can't overcome.  If you can't afford this stuff, don't give up, though.  A crop camera and a ultra-wide zoom + standard kit zoom will get you started and can generate excellent results in most situations if you take the time to learn how to use them and how to shoot architecture.

Event Photography
If you shoot weddings or other events, you will need to invest in better equipment.  Fast lenses, especially f/2.8 zooms and flashes are very helpful to have.  You will also need to have a back up camera, lens, and flash in case your main gear fails and to use for quick moments when you can't change lenses.  More durable bodies and lenses are good to have as your gear will take a knocking.  For some events, having a high end body with a fast frame rate and high ISO capabilities is also necessary if your subjects move quickly or the lighting is poor.

Sports & Wildlife Photography
As I said in the beginning, in good light, with good reflexes (and pre-focus) even the lowliest gear can capture great sports photos in the right hands.  Think about the great sports photos before autofocus and digital...

Unfortunately, if you're serious about shooting fast-moving subjects (athletes, birds, animals, etc.) a camera with a 6+ FPS frame rate is going to be very useful.  If you're getting paid, I would say it's mandatory unless you have incredible reflexes and anticipation skills.  That doesn't mean you'll be holding down the shutter the whole game/time, but in quick bursts to catch the peak moment and using AI Servo mode to track the subject(s).

If you want to shoot those same subjects in low light or very low light, plan on getting a high end pro body (5DIII or 1D X).  The same goes for lens choices.  Athletes and wildlife are very sensitive about having cameras in their face, so telephoto lenses are needed for most shots, and lenses with a f/2 to f/4 aperture will help stop motion and allow good AF in low light.

Finally, I won't cover astrophotography or many other genres where specialized gear is essential.  I think that's obvious :)

So in summary, the answer is - it depends.  A good photographer can take good photos with any gear (see the DigitalRev series for proof), but gear does help some or a lot depending on what you shoot.

Photography Technique / Questions about Shooting the Supermoon
« on: August 08, 2014, 01:13:09 PM »
The biggest perigee moon of the year is happening this weekend and I'm planning to shoot it.  I've taken some simple shots of the moon in the past, but this time I'd like to do it right.  My plan is to incorporate the silhouetted  branches of a longleaf pine (the subject of an ongoing project of mine) in front of the moon.  I realize I need to be way back from the moon to get them even remotely close to the same focal plane (within the lens, not the universe!), but I have some questions:

1. Roughly how far from the tree do I need to be, assuming I'm shooting at 300 (for a wider shoot) or 600mm (300 f/2..8 IS II + 2xIII)?

2. Forgive my extreme ignorance on the subject, but I assume the so-called moon illusion that makes it appear larger near the horizon is just a psychological phenomenon, not something visible in-camera, right?

3. How much does humidity degrade this type of shot? It looks like it will be somewhere between 65-85% , which is actually a bit low for this time of year. 

Any advice you might have is appreciated :)

Post Processing / My Basic & Practical Back-Up Strategy
« on: August 07, 2014, 03:51:23 PM »
Here's an overview of my rather basic back up strategy that I recently discussed with another member over PM.  I used to manage datacenter projects for a major financial company so I'm well aware of more sophisticated storage/backup tools & technologies, but after trying a number of other methods like DVDs (too small), Blu-rays (too expensive for Dual-layer), and online back up services (not practical given my 1.5MBps upload speeds), I have come up with my own strategy that's pretty simple and quite practical

The key to my strategy is a focus on my preserving best work (as rated during import/edit) and accepting that I could lose some of the other files that are really just outtakes from each shoot.

1. Import & Edit: When I import my photos, I rate them and then process them.  I also delete the blurry and obviously bad photos to save drive space.

2. Output: The final photos are output in TIFF and 100% quality JPEGs, and sometimes as PSD files for composites or sophisticated edits. 

3. Upload: I upload the JPEGs to my website where they are stored as 100% JPEGs in the Amazon Cloud

4. Local Backup: I copy the CR2, TIFF, and JPEG files to a portable hard drive that goes into a fire safe. 

5. Offsite Backup: Every so often, I copy it to another drive that I take to a safety deposit box.  Every year or so, I buy a new hard drive, usually doubling my capacity. 

6. Local Storage: When I get the new hard drive, I copy all of the photos to it, and then store the old drive in the bank.  This allows me to have some protection for all of my photos, and really good protection for my best work.

By only saving the RAW files, and final edits of my best work, I can get away with using small portable drives (WD Passports) for years, while keeping all of my work at my fingertips on the local drives that are backed up less frequently.

I have considered NAS and other tools, but I don't like the idea of storing everything locally on my network and have heard negative stories of people who thought their RAID would save them, but didn't when two or more drives failed at once.  It doesn't seem like home Network Attached Storage (NAS) systems have reached the level of commercial Storage Array Network (SAN) devices, at least without spending a lot of money.  That said, I have 3 hard drives in my machine at the moment, two of which are just for photos.  Also, I don't do video.

It's not bulletproof, but it's worked well for me a number of years and I have found that Western Digital drives (and the former HGST drives, now owned by WD) are the most reliable.

I welcome the onslaught of inevitable techno-debates over this post ;D

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