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Focus on Better Focus. Lens Align Pro Review & Tips:

The Crew. Missing in photo, Larry, Steve and Jon

Focus on Focus. A look at micro focus adjustments and the Lens Align Pro calibration system.

by Barry Howell:  Have you ever found a menu option on your camera that made you wonder, “What’s this”? I found such an option on my Nikon D300 called “AF Fine Tune.” My old-school curiosity sent me on a quest to discover its purpose, and how it could improve image quality. With a few quick Google searches, I found multiple forums and discussions about the importance of calibrating lenses to your DSLR camera bodies.

A recurring theme on the ProPhotoShow.com podcasts, and in other various articles, is how to make your images have more impact. There is no bigger buzz kill for photographers than capturing an image we think will be great, only to find that it’s a little soft. There are many variables we can control to ensure optimal sharpness: shutter speed, depth of field, steadying the camera, etc., and I always assumed that if I focused on the right spot, my images would be tack sharp. Guess what? That isn’t always the case, and I was determined to overcome the problem.

Before contacting Michael Tapes at RawWorkflow, I performed a very un-scientific, but effective test of my AF Fine tune option. I was photographing the MN State Boys Hockey Tournament at the Excel Energy Center, a venue that is well lit for television broadcasts. I very carefully focused my Tamron 300 2.8 lens on some helmets lined up on the boards. The scene had great contrast, I was using a monopod, and I figured could get this image dead on. I zoomed in at 100x on the LCD and it looked pretty good. I then went into the menu and made a +5 adjustment, took another shot, and upon inspection realized I had made it worse. Then, I made a -5 adjustment and the image improved noticeably. I knew then and there that I had to calibrate my optics.

Within a week I’d found such a tool; I obtained a Lens Align Pro Focus Calibration System. I invited several photographer friends for a focus calibration party at my studio and we embarked on a journey to make our gear perform better. In our group were five Nikon shooters and one Canon shooter. Between us, we probably had over $50,000 worth of bodies and glass waiting for a checkup. The results were at times sobering, but every lens, once calibrated, focused better than ever before. The calibration method involves the following steps; it took a little trial and error, but they were pretty easy to do reliably.

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Canon 70-200 2.8L IS II Review. V1 vs V2 Comparison:

by Gavin Seim: Canon just released version II of the 70-200 2.8 IS, which may be their most legendary lens ever. My friends Ben & Molly from Nickles photography just got the new 70-200 2.8 IS II in their hands, so I went over for some tests (thanks for the help Ben). Being that the V1 is such a great lens, many (including myself) have been wondering how much it could be improved. And with a price tag of nearly $2500, it better offer something new. According to Canon the V2 “increases the speed, performance and optical quality of the 70-200, while maintaining all of the characteristics that have made it a legend“.

Well the images are in and so is this lens. I think Canon nailed it. Now granted their can be differences between one lens and another of the same model and my V1 lens is a few years old. It’s still in excellent working order however so I feel the comparison is pretty fair. These examples were all shot in RAW on the 5D MK2 under the same conditions and settings for each sequence. Images were processed in Lightroom 2, but no adjustments were added except that Camera Calibration in was set to Camera Standard.

Aside from the image quality I found a couple of interesting things. The V2 seems to shoot nearly 1/3 stop brighter and with a tad wider view than the V1. I checked this using a tripod for the detail tests to make sure the camera position would be the same. The V2 does indeed seem to be a few mm wider. I don’t know what that would be, I’m just showing what I found. I don’t see this as a big problem however. In fact the V2 letting in more light seems a good thing.

So far I’m impressed. See for yourself below. I’m posting full frames alongside tight details crops of each image. You can click any for a larger view,. You can also download the package of full res JPEG files at the bottom of the post if you want to take a close look. You can find this lens here on B&H or here on Adorama or here on Amazon. OK lets get started.

Image Stabilization Tests.
For each test I hand held 2oomm at 1/20th, supporting the lens barrel with my left and pressing the body firmly against my face. I took 5 consecutive shots for each comparison so I could account for variations in my own steadiness (or lack thereof). The results shown are the sharpest image from each sequence of five images, as well as crop zoomed in view of the same. While the V1 was good, the V2 of the lens was clearly better, producing consistently better IS performance.

It can't be said that IS is not useful. Even on the V1 it makes a huge difference. But on V2... Well read on.

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Pro Photo Podcast #64, Christmas & Marketing

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Give us a Christmas gift. Review in iTunes, Vote on Podcast Alley

Pro Photo Show Christmas 09

The Panel... Gavin SeimKevin SwanDennis ZerwasMatt Bamberg
This week we talk about the latest, cool gadgets and great booking jobs.

Merry Christmas. It’s time to take a look at some cool gadgets and get optimistic and practical about profit in 2010. Don’t miss the last half of the show when we get down to serious business.

Podcast #64 forum discussion:

Gavins Lightroom Power LIVE online workshop. Registration is open.

Notable Time Indexes:
00:00 Introductions news and errata.
28:23 Christmas gifts and gadgets.
1:00:10 Business & Profit in 2010

Kevin throws the MK4. Also How to camera toss article.

Canon 1D MK4 Nikon D3s.

High end point and shoot talk.

Olympus Pen E-P1
Panasonic GF1.
Canon G11

All the fun  gadgets.

Honhl Light modifiers are pretty cool.

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Pro Photo Podcast #61. Shootsacs Sensors & Space:

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Review in iTunes, or Vote on Podcast Alley
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Today’s host... Gavin Seim

Spokane Senior Portrait 7 625x456 Senior Portraits For Heather, Near Spokane:

This week Gavin reviews the R-Strap and the Shootsac, plus further photo news. Then we delve into sensor cleaning tips and using space in your compositions.

Notable Time Indexes:

  • 13:12 – R-Strap Review
  • 15:04 – Shootsac Review
  • 26:50 – Sensor cleaning tips.
  • 37:16 – SPACE

Podcast #61 forum discussion.

Pro Photo Show deals page.

Check out the Pro Photo Minute podcast.

5D MK2 lens falling off article is right here.

Continue reading ‘Pro Photo Podcast #61. Shootsacs Sensors & Space:’

Review: Pocket Wizards Flex TT5, TT1 vs Radio Poppers PX, UPDATED

by Gavin Seim Updated 04/2010: Triggering flashes wirelessly is becoming a popular creative lighting tool. Popular flashes from Canon and Nikon often have built in wireless, but its basically working with old infrared technology making it essentially a line of sight tool with limited reliability.

To resolve this, various third part products have come to the market using RF (radio signal). Pocket Wizards have been a popular choice and their early units, though larger and only providing manual control, seem to have a good reputation. More recently we’ve seen products that offer not only manual, but full auto control. We’ll look at a few today.

pocket-wizzard-review radio-popper-review

UPDATE: 04/2010: Nearly a year has passed since this review first posted. I’ve been using Radio Poppers since then and they have worked amazingly well (note that I have no vested interest in either company). Pocket Wizards have released further firmware updates to their Flex series as well as other workarounds. While I have not purchased another set (and have no intention of doing so), I have seen little evidence that the Flex has been fixed other than tacky workarounds, like wrapping the flash in an RF shield to prevent interference, or holding the unit off camera tethered to a cord to make it work properly.

When a manufacturer has to resort to these sort of things, I consider the product a fail. If you look at even more recent comments you’ll see people are still having the same poor results. I found that Amazon reviews were mixed. There were various users getting the poor results that I experienced and it seems the positive reviews were mostly users satisfied with a short usable range, rather than what PW advertises. You can read them for yourself via the link.

Bottom Line: If you’re just going to use the Flex units very close in a studio, they “might” satisfy you. But if you plan on using them in the way their advertised and getting long range versatile wireless flash, don’t expect much. They did not perform. Nikon units of the Flex are supposed to be coming soon as of this writing, but I can’t say how well those will function. I have little confidence.

In contrast, Radio Popper PX units are great. RP’s work a bit differently. A base transmitter sits on top of your main flash (no they can’t work solo shoe mounted like the PW’s). A receiver unit is mounted to the front of your remote flash (the new bracket that came out last summer makes this much easier). The remote unit picks up the RF signal from the main unit, converts it back to an IR signal which it shot into the flash onto which it’s attached. All the built in wireless flash functions work like normal (even High Speed Sync) and can be controlled form the flash, because all that’s happening RP’s are forwarding the IR signals into a reliable RF signal and then back again on the other end.

While it may sound a bit more janky and clunky the main thing is they do what their advertised to and do it well. That’s what really matters to me. I have used Radio Poppers latest PX units outdoors at over 500ft apart with full functionality. That’s the kind of reliability I need. Radio Poppers also has both Canon and Nikon units available.

I consider the Flex series to be an Epic fail. While I know many Pocket Wizard products are known to be good (mainly their manual units) I have to say that I have little confidence in them as a company after releasing a product this poor. You can take a look thru the review below that I posted last year for some additional thoughts and information… Gavin

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Pro Photography Podcast #59. Thinking Marketing & Profit.

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Today’s host... Gavin Seim

This week I review Backblaze, the Lensbaby Composer and other cool stuff. Then we delve into marketing, slidshows and word of mouth.

Podcast #59 forum discussion:

Notable Time Indexes:

  • 11:40 Backblaze review. Their online backup is working great for offsite photo storage.
  • 20:13 Lensbaby Composer review. It’s cool.
  • 33:00 Marketing and word of mouth talk.
    – Word of mouth is best.
    – Careful who you advertise with.
    – Quality is the real advertising.
    – Projection to sell.
    – Consultations are key.

Pro Photo Show deals page.

OnOne SLR remote for iPhone Also here’s a video about it.

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