RRS Pocket Pod Review

The Mini Tripod – Pocket Pod

I had a RRS BH-25 mini ball head shown on top, and came across this Really Right Stuff Pocket Pod. It’s small about six inches high without the ball head, light and very well made. As with most of RSS products, the parts of various ball heads and clamps all inter change.

The leg positions can be adjusted independently, if the surface isn’t flat. It has a fully open, fully closed and two intermediate  leg positions. The Pod has a load rating of 15 lbs, more than the BH-25, which I believe is rated at 8 lbs. That still is pretty strong and lets you attach a normal DLSR camera body and a small to medium size lens.

The ball head (not included) has one dedicated vertical slot and can be adjusted for virtually any angle. So for table top work or self portraits, it does allow you to manipulate the camera / lens safely. I know that I often don’t carry a tripod, unless I know I am going to use one, as in I am shooting video or have something specific in mind.

The pocket Pod let’s you hedge your bets, because it takes no room in your bag, so your more likely to have it with you. Specifically for those times when you didn’t plan to use a tripod, but suddenly find yourself thinking, I wish I had a tripod!
Really Right Stuff
Specs:

Material: 6061-T6 black anodized aluminum
Load Capacity: 15 lbs
Leg Positions: Vertical, plus 2 positions and also fully open
Thread: 1/4-20 with 3/8-16 adapter
Folded Lenght: 5.9″ (with stud)
Height Fully Spread: 1.5″ (without ball head)
Weight: 4.8 oz

Nikon 300F4E PF Review

Nikon 300mm F4E

My review is a brief summary of what works and what does not work for me related to VR. Nasim Mansurov from Photography Life has an extensive review, with excellent comparisons to other lenses completed in 2015 at the link below:

https://photographylife.com/reviews/nikon-300mm-f4e-pf-ed-vr/

Unfortunately the VR issues reported two years ago in different reviews have not improved, no new firmware or design changes.  Nikon officially acknowledged the problem with only the D800 series bodies, and indicated that lenses with serial numbers below 205101 were affected (Nikon did issued a firmware fix for those lenses, but it was only slightly effective in reducing the problem).

It seems like Nikon really doesn’t want to face the reality that many other bodies are also impacted in that same shutter speed range. Hello – Nikon, it’s now 2017 and my recently purchased lens has a serial number that starts with 226XXX. I don’t own a D800 series body, so why would my D7200 and to a lesser extent on my older D700 body have the exact same VR issues with my new lens?

My bodies are only affected in a limited shutter speed range of 1/100 sec to about 1/160 of a sec. However down at 1/80 of a sec, VR works well, yielding sharp images. Also, images taken over 1/200 of a sec with VR on are very good. Note: Images with VR off at 1/160 sec are better than with VR turned on.

I happen to be shooting some test shots of a rabbit in my back yard one morning and my shutter speed fell to 1/160 of a second.  So a pretty normal use case in my opinion, not trying to find or doing anything unusual. Viewing shots in the camera at 100%, I could easily see the VR blur. Once I pushed the ISO to 3200, to get the shutter speed high enough (1/320 sec) to overcome the VR limitation, the images look nice (see the bunny below).

1.4TC, f5.6 @ 1/320 sec, ISO 3200

As an update I did a little more testing the next morning (after the bunny shots) and found a couple of interesting things at lower shutter speeds. Specifically with my system of the D7200 and 300 f4E, it seems that with VR on 1/160 of a second is the worst possible shutter speed for IQ. Going up slightly to 1/200 sec or faster solves the issue. Also, reducing shutter speed below 1/100 sec helps a good deal.

Again, a 300mm lens advertised with 4 stops of VR should do fine at 1/160 sec. In fact, VR actually works well at 1/60 – 1/80 sec, indicating the lens can provide 3 stops of stabilization from one over the 300mm focal length. In my case, I just need to avoid 1/100 sec to 1/160 of a second at all cost if VR is turned on. In the bad range it’s better to simply leaving VR turned off and the hand held images improve. So counter intuitively, if I cannot go to a higher ISO,  I should lower the shutter speed to obtain better images with good IQ at around 1/80 sec with VR on.

Outside of the VR limitation, it’s a nice lens, close in sharpness to the 300 f2.8G. It focuses fast with 1.4TC, and is generally fun to shoot with. On the D7200 with a 1.4TC, you get a very good effective crop focal length of a 600mm lens at f5.6 that you can easily carry with one hand. Just learn the VR specific limitations with your bodies.

Tamron 10-24mm VC HLD Review

Tamron 10-24mm F/3.5-4.5 VC HLD Review

 

 

 

 

 

 

   I have been shooting more with my DX camera, and was missing an ultra-wide lens, in my kit. In the past I had used a wide angle FX setup, but it’s not always convenient to take two bodies and multiple lenses with me. During a quick search online, I discovered the new Tamron 10-24 VC HDL lens had just came out and while not widely reviewed seems to be very nice.

Tamron list the optics as: “The optical design includes 16 elements in 11 groups. A new large aperture aspherical lens and LD (Low Dispersion).”

But does it work? – Well, after using it a couple of days the short answer is yes. I am impressed with this lens. I have owned the older Nikon 10-24mm f3.5-4.5G AFS and the 12-14mm f4G AFS lenses in the past. In looking at test shots from those lenses, I have two general comments. The new Tamron is sharper than the Nikon 12-24 f4G at f4, and has less distortion than the 10-24 f3.5-4.5.

Its body style is very close to the new Sigma “C” Contemporary series lenses. I also own the Sigma 17-70mm Dc f2.8-4, and it would be hard to tell them apart from the side. They both use 77mm filters, and have the same texture and sleek black poly carbon body. It does come with a lens hood, but no pouch. If anyone is interested, a Tamrac Goblin 1.4 lens pouch fits this lens with the hood attached.

The lens is impressively sharp at 10mm and very good at 24mm wide open. I do not have the TAP-IN console at this time, so I did a little AF fine tune on my D7200, and use +2, which seems to work pretty well across the zoom range, but probably not ideal at 24mm. The TAP-In would allow you to set different fine tune setting at different focal lengths, something that Nikon has yet to offer.

Note: “The optional TAP-in Console™ provides a USB connection to your personal computer, enabling you to easily update your lens’s firmware as well as customize features including fine tune adjustments to the AF.”

10-24 @ 15mm f5.6, 1/200 sec, ISO 200

10-24 @ 10mm f5.6, 1/200 sec, ISO 200

The AF motor is very fast and very quiet, basically silent, no complaints at all. Also the AF motor is equipped with a Full-time Manual Focus override mechanism that enables the user to freely select the focus point. One could ask does having VC on an UWA lenses makes sense?  If you’re trying to grab a quick shot in low light, I think it definitely helps. I was able to get an acceptable hand held shots at 24mm @ ¼ sec even though it was underexposed by one stop.

10-24 VC at 24mm F8 ¼ sec, ISO 100

The above low light photo was edited for exposure only in LR, no sharpening. I was in manual mode to force the shutter speed lower, and wasn’t paying attention to the exposure. One additional comment related to VC, is that above 1/100 sec it is simply is not needed, and by 1/125 sec, VC actually degrades the image slightly if left on. So if you’re shooting at faster shutter speeds, I would recommend leaving the VC off, until you need it at 1/30 sec or slower, where it does a good job.

In conclusion the lens seems like a very good value at $500 (USD). I plan on keeping my copy and using it on my D7200 along with my Sigma 17-70 Contemporary lens. The two make a great , very sharp and inexpensive travel kit that you can take anywhere, with minimal weight. I may eventually get the optional USB TAP-IN to try, but I am happy with the results I have seen so far.

Presets and Links:

While you can create your own presets in Lightroom, sometimes it’s nice to use plug-ins.

Lesson Plan

What a Lesson Plan might look like:

If you are wondering what a private lesson could look like, here is an example of how I might build a lesson plan for a new student:

After responding to the initial email, I would follow-up with a phone call, and discuss the type of things you’re looking to cover in a session. Once I understand your goals, I will put together a draft plan, and have you review it to make sure I am on track. Please keep in mind that it’s important not to be rushed, and not to attempt too many new things, then leave feeling over whelmed.

Once we have an agreed upon plan, we find a time that is mutually convenient to schedule the lesson. I am able to travel to venues within Ventura County. So we could meet at the beach if its camera related, your office, home, Starbucks or a local restaurant. If we are reviewing software or work flow it would be helpful if you brought your own laptop, storage, SD cards, card reader etc. That way we are working with tools that you will be using in your digital work flow.

I can bring a laptop, if you do not currently have one available and would like private lesson on Lightroom. But, I want you to be comfortable working with your own tools. If we are reviewing importing, there is no need to start with 1000 photos, we just want to pick a few test shots and go through the process from start to finish. Beginning with a SD card containing some images and finishing with editing, then exporting your work to either the cloud or an external USB 3 drive.

The actual learning process would typically start with me reviewing you current level of comfort with the subject, and then a short demonstration of the topic. For example I could show you how to import, review files and tag them. Next, I would have you perform the same steps that I just demonstrated, while answering any questions that you may have. Lastly, I would have you describe back to me what we just covered and how the process worked. If all went well, we move on to the next item with the same process.

Say you have never used Lightroom, and want to learn the basics. That would probably take multiple lessons, and we would break down the pieces into manageable parts, based on your comfort with technology and each of the components. I would start with a summary of the tool itself and what it does well, followed by the first steps of using Lightroom. Certainly importing, viewing, editing and exporting can be covered in different sections of the lesson plan.

I hope that provides an over view of what a lesson could look like, please email me if you have any questions, and I would be happy to answer them.

Using LR and Windows

Here is a couple of things that I learned about LR, Laptops and Windows 10.

While Microsoft has made photo codecs for every version of Windows from XP on, they apparently no longer make photo Raw codec’s for Windows 10. In their defense Microsoft does have some photo App’s as shown below, which work to open NEF images, they are available to download from it’s online “store”, but the latest RAW photo codec will not work on Windows 10.

If your trying to edit in LR or Photoshop, a laptop touch pad seems really hard to use. I typically use a workstation at home and in my office, so it could be I am just more familiar with mice. But I much rather use an old fashion mouse any day of the week. It’s much easier for me to be precise with the pointer and right click when needed with a mouse.

Ran into an issue with LR creative cloud running on a laptop, would not recognize CR2 Raw images and import them. The only time I have seen this is with an older software version trying to import images from a newly released camera body. Not the case here since it was creative cloud licensed, and similar images from the same camera had been imported a week earlier.

Two possibilities come to mind, one is the Raw module in LR became corrupt or LR is ok; but the Raw files on the SD card became corrupt. A new SD card with different “good” Raw images would help to determine if it was the Raw images on the first card (possibly the SD card itself). If not something with the first card, I would to try and apply any new updates again or reinstall the LR software.

Helpful Lightroom tips:

http://lessons.esp-sportsphotos.com/lessons/lightroom/

Additional Windows computer tips can be found here:

http://lessons.esp-sportsphotos.com/lessons/computer-options/

 

Travel Setup

So you want to take a bunch of exciting travel photos with your new DSRL camera.

Say you are going to be gone for a while and will need to bring a laptop anyway. Can you edit those images in your travel down time before you return?

Why yes you can!  Adobe allows you to install Lightroom (LR) on two devices, with one user license, as long as the same person is using them both. So if you have a copy for your workstation, you can also install the same software and license on your travel laptop.

How should you merge edits done on the road with those you already have at home?  Well there are a couple of ways, one being just use an external USB 3 drive for both your laptop and workstation. Share the same image storage and catalog. I personally like USB 3 drives to augment laptop storage and for use in multiple backups.

But, I don’t like the idea of using a USB 3 drive full time as the primary storage for your images. So while that could be done, it’s not the process that I would recommend. A better approach would be to use a different “travel” catalog on the laptop. When you return home, plug the USB 3 drive in and copy your images to the PC’s hard drive.

Hopefully, you have an additional internal drive for storing images.

If you have done some editing on the road, you can import the edits from the travel catalog to your main home catalog. In LR under “File” at the top, simply select – import from another catalog. Then update the folder location in LR if the path changes between drives. That way you don’t lose edits done on the road, and your home catalog will be a complete set.

Tip: If you have cloud storage, using it while on the road makes a lot of sense. That way you have an extra copy of those images, no matter what happens to your luggage, or say the USB 3 drive was stolen during the journey. While images can be re-edited, if the source photos are lost, you’re in trouble right, so protect them multiple ways!

 

Sports / Action

Sports and Action Photography Tips

 

 

 

 

 

What’s different about sports shots, well they happen fast and most of the time there isn’t a do over. So careful planning, anticipation and the right gear help a lot. What can you do with the equipment that you have, well here are a few tips and settings that may guide you in the right direction:

Let’s start with what we can control – camera settings, position relative to the action, lenses. When possible, its a good idea to have two bodies, each with different lenses attached. Mono pods are pretty useful if you shooting with larger telephotos. Fast apertures lenses let you shoot in dimmer ambient light conditions, they also allows you to control depth of field and isolate the subject a little better.

The shot above was at f4, and I was fairly close to the runner, so the background is still busy, and the subject isn’t as isolated as I would of liked, but that can be corrected a bit in post processing. In this edited version, I have used Photoshop to blur the background some more. The degree of blur can easily be adjusted.

 

Some bodies are more oriented to large burst rates like a D500, and some are not. If yours isn’t one them, then you have to be more selective on how long you hold that shutter down. Possibly shoot more jpegs if the lighting allows, and you don’t need max dynamic range that shooting RAW provides.

Below are some sports specific settings that I took from one of my older bodies:

AF Sport Settings:

  • A1 AF-C Release + Focus
  • A3 Dynamic Area – 9 or 21 points
  • A4 Focus tracking short -1 or 2
  • A8 Number of focus points – Normally set to max
  • Active D-Lighting – Off (when lighting allows)
  • NEF (RAW) bit depth 12-bit compressed

Other Tips:

  • Back button focus can come in handy if you find yourself switching back and forth between AFC and AFC on Nikon bodies.
  • Use AF fine tune for telephoto lenses, to make sure your images are as sharp.
  • Don’t be afraid to use higher ISO’s to help maintain reasonable shutter speeds, typically that is at least 1/500 of second, but may need to be higher if the subject is very fast and you want to stop the action.
  • Panning can help portray a sense of speed and naturally blur the background.

 

Photoshop

Photoshop User Tips
Photoshop is a powerful tool, it lets you manipulate images in creative ways, not possible in the past. Good photos, can be touched up to look great or morphed into something totally new.

 

This is a simple blended image with an overlay and a mask, but can be used to make a statement about the environment. The opacity of the industrial plant is turned down to about 60%, to give its foggy appearance that it sits somewhere in the back ground. In reality the back ground is the ocean, and the plant is on the beach behind the child.

The work flow of Photoshop needs a little more thought to protect images compared to Lightroom (LR).  In LR the meta data is being manipulated, leaving the original image intact. Not so in Photoshop, so you should always make a copy of the image(s) before editing. Once in Photoshop you can make a copy of the background and work with layers to protect the content.

Fortunately, Photoshop does include tools for batch processing images (Batch Image Processor) and changing file types. Once you have your duplicate edit folder copied and selected. Open ACL, you can do small general changes there if needed, sync them and then open the images you want to edit further in PS.

Starting with the first image, you should always make a duplicate background layer (the layer tab – Duplicate Layer). Next, utilize layer masks for none destructive editing. If you want to insert an object into the main image, open it as a smart object, you have more flexibility in scaling it that way.

Photoshop’s content aware touch ups are more sophisticated compared to LR, but LR has come a long way in the last couple of releases with the clone and healing tool. Content aware is a great way to clean up small imperfections in a photograph or remove something distracting in the original image.

Another feature is the Windows tab Action panel. It allows you to record a series of edits and then easily apply those same edits later to other images. Its a great way to save time and avoid having to perform the same edit over and over again. Once your done, its easy to export the image to different formats. Always save the edits in a tiff or psd format, so that you don’t lose edit layers.

 

Lightroom

Lightroom User Tips

I think one of the best general purpose digital post processing tools that a photographer can use is Adobe LR. I receive nothing free from Adobe, but I do like the tool. It is much easier to learn than Photoshop.

Here are a couple of pointers that may be useful to new LR users to check out:

Presets: Adobe gives you some, but if you find your self doing similar types of edits on photos you can create your own presets. Go to the Develop Preset panel (on the left side) and click the Create New Preset icon (top & right of the word “Presets”). This brings up the Preset window, choose select none, and then check only the specific items you want to save. Once save you can easily apply these to any new images, or a group of photos.

Adjustment Brush: This lets you apply specific changes to only a small portion of the image. Think of it as a Photoshop mask, without having to use a lot of layers. Layers are a good think in Photoshop, because you can turn on and off many changes with out affecting the base image. LR doesn’t break out the changes as layers, but you have the ability to make many small changes to different areas.

Clone / Heal: This tool will allow you to replace imperfections one of two ways. The clone option blends in pixels from the surrounding are, to hide some small unwanted blemish or object in the image. Clone basically replaces pixels with those from another area, but either one can remove something unwanted or a distraction from the image.

Lens / Camera Calibration: This is an area where you have a lot more options when shooting RAW images. LR has many automatic correction for most Nikon and Canon lenses, and well as camera profiles that can be applied to make the image look more natural by correcting wide angle distortion, or have the colors look more like the standard Nikon D2X.

Copyright Metadata Preset: If some of the meta data like copy right information is missing, you can use this to add it and apply it to multiple images.

Tips:

  • Shift + Tab is an easy way to toggle between seeing the image your editing as large as possible or a smaller image with all the editing tools. This works in Library and Develop modules, but not during imports. This can be handy on a laptop with a smaller screen. You can arrow through to the next image without having to leave Develop and create a slide show.
  • In Library or Develop mode, the film strip at the bottom will list the folder name. If you are unsure of where this folder is located, from the Library module, go to folders on the left side. Simply right click with your mouse on the folder name. A menu will show up and one of the choices is “Show in Explorer”. If selected, a File Explore window will open and show you where on your PC’s hard drive those images are actually located.
  • At the top in Tools, the “View” selection has the option to show or hide the tool bar. This isn’t the top tool bar, it’s a bar below the photo that gives you the ability to zoom in and out. Also if you are using the adjustment brush, it gives you the option to “Show Selected Mask Overlay”, which at times is nice to be able to turn off.
  • If you’re interested in a work flow that has you only importing the keeper’s into LR, so your Catalog size stays reasonable. One way to do that is with Bridge if you happen to have it installed along with Photoshop. Bridge is a great viewer, but it also lets you set ratings.
  • You can create a collection right in Bridge, with all the photos that you set as three stars for example. Then you can export those three star photos from your Bridge collection by dragging or saving them into a preset “Edit” folder. Next simply open LR, import all the photos from your Bridge Edit folder, and the rating you applied follows each image with the metadata.