Archive for the ‘Gear Review’ Category

Dynamic Range and the New Canon 5D Mark IV

Monday, September 26th, 2016

I have to admit, I have had a bit of sensor envy for the past few years.  I have watched many people sell off all of their Canon gear and switch over to the Nikon D800, D810, and Sony AR7 and AR7II, many times never looking back.  I have thought about it myself, but just didn’t want to go through the lengthy process of selling all of my cameras and lenses and then learn a whole new system.  I just like my Canon gear, it is what I have always used, and it just feels right.  Plus, the Canon 11-24mm F/4 is a really great lens and not something available from the other systems.  But, I have to be honest, I would have loved to have some extra dynamic range from time to time, and my Canon 5D Mark II, and then Mark III, have definitely fallen short of the competitors in this category.  Pulled shadows from both of these cameras just don’t look good.  There is a clear loss of detail, exaggeration of noise, and some really ugly banding when going to extremes.  I had been holding out with hope that Canon would come out with a new camera that could compete in the dynamic range category with the big guys.  So, imagine my curiosity when I saw this posted online by DxOMark here:

Dynamic Range Comparison

From the graph, it appears that the 5D Mark IV, with its new sensor technology, can actually compete.  The Nikon is the winner at the very lowest ISO’s, but the three cameras are almost exactly equal at a little above ISO 100 until about ISO 250.  This is the range that I most often shoot in so this is good news!  Even at more extreme ISO’s, the Canon and the Sony are very close, giving the Sony a slight edge. The Nikon falls behind both shortly after ISO 200, but not by much.

The next test that I came across by DPReview can be seen here,  This tool allows you to choose between various different cameras and compare dynamic range while choosing ISO and how much the exposure has been pushed.

ISO 100 +6 StopsIn this example, each shot has been pushed 6 stops at ISO 100.  Pretty extreme but fun to compare.  It looks to me like the Nikon and Sony have a noticeable edge here over the 5D Mark IV, but the 5D Mark III looks pretty terrible.

 

ISO 200 +5 stopsIn this next example, each shot has been pushed 5 stops at ISO 200.  Once again, very extreme.  In this one, the Mark IV, Sony, and Nikon all appear pretty similar, with the 5D Mark III looking pretty terrible once again.

I have had my hands on a 5D Mark IV now for a week or two.  Along with much improved dynamic range, the 5D Mark IV is showing improvements in high ISO over the Mark III, and the extra resolution is very nice for some added detail.  I haven’t done any extensive shooting with it in the field yet, but so far so good.  One more thing worth mentioning about this camera is the added Dual Pixel Raw technology.  Here is an interesting writeup on what Dual Pixel Raw is and isn’t.  Basically, Canon says that this technology “enables pixel-level adjustment and refinement for still photographs and includes Image Micro-adjustment to help maximize sharpness in detail areas, Bokeh Shift for more pleasing soft focus areas and Ghosting Reduction to help reduce aberrations and flare.“  None of this really sounds that useful to me as a landscape photographer, but digging around one day I came upon this article over on Rawdigger.com, and this article over on Imaging-Resource.com .  Basically what they are saying is that there exists an extra stop of dynamic range in the highlights within images captured in Dual Pixel Raw mode.  Now, at this time Lightroom doesn’t support Dual Pixel Raw, but they have said they are working on support and it will become available in the near future.  It would be pretty cool if they also figured out a way to access that extra stop of dynamic range in the highlights!

Chip Phillips Photography

 

 

F-stop Gear – Kenti Backpack Review By Adrian Klein

Monday, October 27th, 2014

When I am getting ready to head out for a hike or take my camera gear I normally don’t travel very light, except of course when I am backpacking. One of F-stop Gear’s smaller packs forces me to travel lighter than I normally would and this pack is the Kenti, the smallest in their Mountain series and the one that has the built-in ICU. I really like what it has to offer, some of what differs from other packs I have used whether F-stop or other brands.

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Many attachments and clips on the straps and belt including two metal d-rings on the straps.

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Side view showing several compartments, the top and side can lead to the same spot depending on your configuration internally.

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Looking into the top with the main compartment closed off for storage on top.

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Looking into the top with the main compartment open, seeing the same areas you can also access on the side compartment zippers.

Basic Specs – 25 liters, 3.4 lbs (1.54 kgs), 17” tall, 11” wide and 8.5” deep. Exterior is DWR-treated, 330D Double Ripstop Nylon with 1500mm Polyurethane coating. Can carry your DSLR, a few lenses, accessories and some others small items like a snack and light jacket.

Feel – When I first put it on I felt like I was ready to hit the trail for a run, not a hike. Because of it’s size the Kenti sits high which I was not used to but really like as it feels more out of the way around my lower back. When I have this loaded with little room to spare I am pleasantly surprised how well the bag holds with little to no sagging feel.

The roll-down top allows for more storage as needed. External large zippered pocket leads to several other smaller pockets for storing your smaller items.

The roll-down top allows for more storage as needed. External large zippered pocket leads to several other smaller pockets for storing your smaller items.

Zippered hydration bladder pocket with outlet for bladder hose. Soft comfortable padding between bladder and your back.

Zippered hydration bladder pocket with outlet for bladder hose. Soft comfortable padding between bladder and your back.

Build – Every generation of F-stop bags honestly gets better and better, this one is no exception. My first one from them I still have from years ago and I love it because it’s bright red and in great shape but you can see the difference in materials and overall build compared to their newer packs. I see no reason this won’t last through heavy use from the mountain trails to the urban back alley.

Hydration – Something I have asked for and I see is integrated in this pack is a place to put a hydration bladder that is outside of the pack with drain at bottom should it leak. A bladder inside the pack and thousands of dollars in gear is not a good combo. I had no issues putting a couple liters of water in my Camelbak bladder and getting it to fit in the hydration slot.

There are few things to note about hydration for this pack. 1) Although I got the bladder to fit fine I could not make use of the H2O hose outlet as seen in the photos. It’s simply too tight of a squeeze for the front of my hose. That said I had no issues letting it sit between the zippers, they stayed firmly in place. 2) Although my backpacking pack I use is similar in that the hydration bladder sits behind my back it has more of an arch to keep it from my pack. That said even though this area is directly touching your back when wearing the pack it felt fine without feeling the shape of the bladder with water. 3) Unless you want to keep your water bottle in your pack with gear this pack lacks an outside water bottle option.

iPhone shot with Canon DSLR and 24-70L lens in side compartment. Plenty of room for a telephoto if that is your preference. Each side opening has an internal zipper pocket as well.

iPhone shot with Canon DSLR and 24-70L lens in side compartment. Plenty of room for a telephoto if that is your preference. Each side opening has an internal zipper pocket as well.

I know this part of the chest strap is for helping attach items and accessories yet I find poking out a tad more than I would like. Nice features like Velcro strap for bladder hose. iPhone shot.

I know this part of the chest strap is for helping attach items and accessories yet I find poking out a tad more than I would like. Nice features like Velcro strap for bladder hose. iPhone shot.

 

External Straps – You can carry the tripod on the side which I did a few times yet I would suggest getting the Gatekeeper Straps as this allows for carrying it on the back center area. This would also allow you to carry other items here such as snowboard or crampons if desired. I have a feeling I will be using this pack for that purpose this winter.

Main Body Access – Admittedly I am not used to side access compartments for my camera backpacks. That said once you get used to using it nice to swing it onto one should or the other to get access to your gear without putting your bag down. Top access is roll-down for expandability as needed which is pretty cool (reminds me of my Ortlieb panniers that I use for biking). For side access I notice I don’t always remember which side I have my camera and which has my extra lenses. A trick to remember is referencing your hip belt and knowing which gear is in the side with the hip belt pocket and what gear is in the side without. If you have a mirror-less camera system or something similar in size you could put most of your gear on one side and leave the other for clothes or other items.

The Kenti and I wait out rain showers to get the photo I am after. iPhone shot.

The Kenti and I wait out rain showers to get the photo I am after. iPhone shot.

Pockets – There is plenty! I still remember a trip many years ago to Europe traveling on the bus talking to some climbers from England. They commented on my pack (and American’s in general) how we have so many pockets and compartments in most of our packs. I can’t deny that is me 100% whether it’s a photo bag or not. You will find plenty of places to put small and medium sized items like filters, batteries and cards.

Weather Resistance – One thing I need is something that is built to hold up to the elements and has a rain cover that you can get as an add on. It’s wet in the Northwest so I need this. Although I use the rain cover when it’s raining I have gone without it for short distances in light rain and the DWR-treated exterior repels water quite well. Don’t forget if you use the rain cover and end up tucking it in the bottom compartment to remove it later so it can fully dry out. I have come close a couple times to leaving a damp cover in there which wouldn’t smell nice weeks later!

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There are several colors to choose from yet I like blue, makes for good contrast for man & nature stock images.

Overall I really like this pack and for now will be my go to when I want to travel light with less gear. What is your pack of choice for travel light with your photo gear?

Disclosure Note: I am on the F-stop Gear pro team.

A Look At My Lightweight Backpacking Kit by Sean Bagshaw

Monday, September 29th, 2014

I grew up backpacking in the California Sierra and Oregon Cascades with my family and have continued to explore the back country and high mountain wilderness ever since. In my twenties and thirties I spent most of my time in the wilderness climbing, carrying ridiculously heavy packs and taking the most direct path to whatever summit was close by. These days I prefer to take more leisurely trips into the wilderness to photograph mountains instead of climbing them. My most rewarding outdoor experiences come from spending a few days with the camera, far away from more crowded roadside landscapes. When I first began going into the wilderness to photograph I simply traded out my climbing gear for camera gear, convinced that a heavy pack was the hallmark of a burly woodsman. Now that I have both hiking boots planted firmly in middle age I find that carrying too much weight has become painful, demoralizing and potentially injury inducing.

Flame of Asgard

In the past few years I have made it a priority to lighten my backpack so I can get up in the hills with a minimum of suffering and maximum of comfort and mobility. It is a work in progress, but I now have a set-up that seems to be working well for me. I figured some people would be interested to know what my back country kit is composed of and that was the motivation for this article. Fellow PhotoCascadian, David Cobb, also an avid back country photographer, previously wrote an article detailing his lightweight backpacking set up. Most of my gear choices are based on suggestions from friends and some basic Internet research and comparison. I don’t have any personal or financial stake in the companies or gear on my list. I genuinely like and endorse all the gear I’m using. However, there are many other options out there which would work equally well or even better.

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My main goal is to keep my total fixed pack weight (not including clothes, food and water, which varies day by day and season by season) under 15-18 pounds.

Pack –  I use an Osprey pack that is closest to the current Xenith 75 Model: 5.4 lbs. This is the one place where I am willing to go a little heavier for better comfort and load distribution. I find that a good pack can make a heavy load feel lighter than it would with a less able but lighter pack.
TentBig Agnes Copper Spur UL1 : 2.5 lbs. Super roomy single person for the weight and very weather proof for a three season tent. I love the big side entry door and high ceiling.
Sleeping bag -Three season – Mountain Hardwear Phantom 45: 1.2 lbs. Good for me down to about 35 degrees F. Cold weather – Marmot Helium: 2.4 lbs. Good for temps down into the low teens or even colder if I wear layers. Both of these down bags are super comfy and light.
PadBig Agnes Q-Core SL: 1.1 lbs. I’m getting older and stiffer so the 3.5 inches of air cushion really helps me get a good night’s rest. It also keeps me warm down into the low teens.
StoveMSR Pocket Rocket: 0.2 lbs. Super light, super small, super fast, super reliable.
Kitchen KitMSR Quick Solo Pot: .5 lbs. It’s a pot.
Water treatmentKatadyn Hiker: 0.75 lbs. Basic and reliable, although not the lightest out there.

This puts my basic kit at 11.65 or 12.85 lbs depending on which sleeping bag I take. I have another couple of pounds of odds and ends like first aid kit, head lamp, 10 essentials kit, fuel, mug, etc. That brings me up to about 15 pounds total. This leaves about 20 pounds for extra clothing layers, food and camera gear to stay under my 35 pound limit. For camera gear I choose from the following options.

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Camera – Canon EOS 5D mark III or Sony NEX-7
Lenses – 24-105mm or similar. 16-35mm and/or 70-200mm if essential.
TripodMeFoto Road Trip or Gitzo Mountaineer.
Camera clipPeak Design Capture Pro Camera Clip. I hike with my camera outside my pack so I’m ready to shoot at any time without needing to take off the pack and unload it. I find the Peak Design clip an excellent way to carry the camera outside the pack in easy reach.

Depending on how light I want to go will determine which camera, tripod and lenses I take. For the most lightweight rig I’ll take the Sony NEX-7, single 16-55mm lens (roughly 24-82mm equivalent) and the MeFoto Road Trip tripod.

 

A New Gadget by David M. Cobb

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

A New Gadget

By David M. Cobb

 

I’ve spent far too many hours looking for lost lens caps over the years, and many times I replace them with lost lens caps I’ve found in the field. There is a new gadget designed by Darren Siegel who began Hufa to stop those lens caps from disappearing. It’s a pretty simple clip that hooks on to your camera strap, and when you take your lens cap off, you just clip it to your strap – pretty easy. Not that they designed it for this function, but I find they work pretty well with filters too when I’m out in the field. I’ve added a video below so you can see how the clip functions.

Something Different, Something Fun: 3 AutoPainter Apps for the Smartphone by David M. Cobb

Monday, July 28th, 2014

Something Different, Something Fun: 3 AutoPainter Apps for the Smartphone

By David M. Cobb

Meerkerk Garden Monet style.

Meerkerk Garden Monet style.

I recently downloaded the AutoPainter apps by Mediachance for my iPhone, and immediately began to play. The apps use your photos to imitate the styles of famous painters like Van Gogh, Monet, Cezanne, etc. You can download AutoPainter 1, 2, and 3 to turn your iPhone images into painterly shots. (Of course not all images work–a crappy image will be a crappy painterly image.) I’ve found the apps work particularly well with flowers or greenery, so think like an impressionist and you’ll get the idea of what works and what doesn’t work.

To create a painterly image open one of the AutoPainter apps, choose an artist, go to your camera roll to choose a photo, and click begin–the app does the rest. Each AutoPainter offers four different artists to choose from, so there are 12 artists combined on the three apps. I’ve included two samples in the styles of Monet and Van Gogh as examples of converted images that I liked.

Gorge Wildflowers Van Gogh style.

Columbia Gorge Wildflowers Van Gogh style.

Three Small Photography Gear Tips

Monday, May 12th, 2014

I am sure all of us that are into photography have little tips we each find useful as well as many that are worthwhile enough to share with others. I got to thinking of several that I have mentioned for a number of years at workshops that folks found useful so I figured I would post them here.

Grad Bumper
I don’t use my graduated filters as much as I used to. That said I still use them on occasion and when I do I rarely use a grad holder. I normally will hand hold the grad. Obviously doing this and having it close enough to the lens (basically banging up against the lens) would ultimately lead to scratches quicker than I would like.

Not sure where I heard this tip yet I have done it for a number of years now, what I call the “produce trick”. You take one of those wide thick rubber bands from a bushel of fresh produce you just bought to eat healthy, and put it in your camera bag. This now becomes your bumper to keep from scratching up your grad as easy or any filter you might be hand holding for that matter. You stretch it out over the edge of the lens with just enough of it going over the lip of the lens to cover it but not enough to start showing up in your images. It takes a minute to do this yet it can be done and will stay on pretty snug without moving around especially on 77mm to 82mm lenses.

These will wear out and break after not too many uses yet when you feel like eating healthy again go back to get that bunch of broccoli in the bulk product section and you will get this accessory included for free.

iPhone shot of produce rubber band on my Canon 16-35L while holding my grad

 

Reusable Kneepad
This is obviously a personal preference yet I see people out in the field using these big bulky knee pads. Certainly that is an option yet it’s not something I prefer to drag around and have to take on and off. That said a number of years back I got a large bubble envelope package in the mail and I hated the thought of throwing it away (yes you can recycle these but only when facilities are accepting them which isn’t all the time).

It dawned on me a good way to reuse it was as a knee pad. It cost me exactly $0 (except the order you paid for which hopefully is not simply to get a bubble envelope), is very light and easier to use in my opinion than the full on knee pads. When it wears out you can simply recycle it and by then I am sure a new one will have arrived at your door. This one in the photo has lasted me a while now although I don’t use it every time I get on my knees to photograph. I only worry about it if the ground is hard.

iPhone shot of my current reusable knee pad in action

iPhone shot of my current reusable knee pad in action

Remote Release Longevity
It might only be me (very possible) yet one piece of electronic camera gear that seems to have the shortest life span is the Canon Remote RS-80N3. I have tried everything from buying the Canon brand to cheap knockoffs sold for only dollars to some more expensive than the Canon option. No matter what they never last long, maybe months but rarely a year. And it personally drives me nuts how much Canon charges for something that is essentially a single button, some plastic parts and a few wires. Stepping off soapbox.

Anyway the majority of failures occur when the cord near the trigger end starts coming loose from the remote switch. In most cases I can get some more use out of it using some black electrical tape to keep the life going. What I have started doing is putting on a pretty tight wrap of electrical tape from day one. Maybe it’s more of the placebo effect with my remote but it does seem to go longer without getting pulled out from the trigger.

iPhone shot of my current remote trigger wrapped with electrical tape

iPhone shot of my current remote trigger wrapped with electrical tape

These are just a few tips I have used with my photography and photo equipment. I am sure you have some to share and if so what are they?

Sony A7r – First Impressions

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

By Zack Schnepf

You can read my preliminary article about the A7r here. 

There has been a lot of buzz about this little camera.  It’s full frame, mirrorless, lightweight, weather sealed, 36 megapixels and relatively inexpensive.  You can read an in depth review on Dpreview: http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/sony-alpha-a7r/18.  I agree with their assessment for the most part, but I’ll be focusing on my own experience and how it applies to my style of shooting.  Here are my first impressions and how I think it stacks up against current DSLRs.

I intended to really torture test the A7r in tough conditions, to get a feel for how it would compare to the rugged DSLRs that I’m used to, but seven weeks ago I ended up tearing my meniscus in my left knee while snowboarding.  This left me injured for the better part of my testing time.  I finally had surgery just last week.  I had to cancel a few of the more adventurous photo shoots I had planned up in the cascades.  I was still able do several photo shoots, including in pouring rain, below freezing temperatures and in the dark.  Here are my impressions so far.

Image Quality:  The image quality produced by this camera is superb.  The 36 megapixel sensor combined with the Sony FE 24-70 lens produce sharp, clear, beautiful images as long as your technique is good in the field.  I was very impressed with image quality using the Sony FE 24-70 lens, as well as with my existing canon L lenses using the Metabones adapter.  The image quality while shooting night scenes and using high ISO was excellent as well, once I figured out ways to compose in the dark; I’ll elaborate on this in the LCD/EVF section.  The high ISO noise reduction performance of this camera is very good, on par with the D800 and the 5D mark III.  One thing to keep in mind when you are moving up in resolution with a new camera, the higher the resolution of your camera, the less forgiving it is.  Wind vibration, camera shake, as well as choosing the wrong settings are all amplified with more resolution. Your technique in the field has to be that much better to take advantage of higher resolution.

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This is a good example of the dynamic range you can capture in one exposure with the Sony A7r. It would have been an impossible single exposure with my 5D II.

One big advantage the A7r has is the dynamic range the sensor is capable of capturing.  It’s a noticeable improvement coming from the 5D II.  This allows me to get away with a single exposure in some cases where I would have had to bracket with the 5D II.  This is one of my favorite features of the A7r.  The overall image quality is truly excellent.

Auto Focus:  This was a big concern of mine after reading initial reviews of this camera.  Even though I don’t use auto focus while shooting landscapes, I do when taking family photos or while taking travel photos.  Luckily, I found the auto focus to be very good while using the native Sony FE 24-70 lens.  However, this is not the case when using the Metabones adapter with my canon lenses.  The auto focus is so bad when using the adapter, I keep all my Canon lenses on manual focus when using them with the Sony A7r.  This won’t be a big deal once I’m able to have a full compliment of Sony FE native lenses.  It did struggle a little in low light situations compared with my Canon 5D II, but pretty acceptable in my opinion.

LCD and the EVF:  The LCD is also very high quality, and a good thing too.  This is your main tool for composing images.  The EVF, or electronic viewfinder works well, but does not sport the same image quality as the LCD.  When shooting in bright scenes it works well enough though.   In general I really like composing with the LCD and the EVF, but there are situations where an optical viewfinder is a huge advantage, especially when shooting in really low light and at night.  Using the LCD or EVF to compose images while shooting night sky images is nearly impossible.  There are ways to work around this, but this is an area where traditional DSLRs have a big advantage.  Bright sunny conditions are also challenging when relying on the LCD and EVF, but this was pretty manageable.

McKenzie River

Size and weight:  I love how this camera feels in my hands, it’s light, but very sturdy.  I could hand hold the A7r with the Sony FE 24-70 for long periods of time and it never felt heavy.  I was also able to use a smaller backpack , the F-Stop Kenti and a lighter tripod.  My overall kit was much more manageable than my standard DSLR kit.  It will become lighter still once I have a full set of native FE lenses.  Unfortunately, many of those lenses have not been released yet, so I’m forced to use some of my heavier Canon lenses.

Control layout:  I found the control layout to be well thought out and easy to use for the most part.  I liked that I was able to switch the function of the shutter wheel and aperture wheel so that it was the same layout as my Canon.  As mentioned in other reviews, the ISO/function wheel on the back of the camera is a little too easy to bump by accident, something that can be annoying if you don’t notice right away.  I like having all the primary controls at my fingertips and I really enjoyed shooting with this camera in the field.  Once I was used to the controls, I was able to change settings quickly and efficiently while chasing the light.

Workflow quality:  So far the image files are holding up very well to my usual processing workflow.  The noise levels are acceptably low.  The raw files are nice and sharp out of the camera as well.  I’m not sure whether it’s the lack of an anti aliasing filter in front of the sensor, or the added resolution, but images are tack sharp out of the camera.  With normal amounts of output sharpening in either Lightroom, or Photoshop images look very clean, and sharp.  The added dynamic range of the A7r sensor means you can get the most out of your single raw files as well.

Crooked River, Smith Rock State Park

Issues: I did run into several issues while testing this camera.  Here is a list:

-The firmware updater failed while running the recent firmware upgrade on my new Mac Pro running the Mavericks OS.  This bricked my camera, rendering it inoperable.  Luckily, with a little research I found others were having this same issue and there was a fix.  Even though my computer could no longer recognize the camera, the updater could.  I was able to run it again and complete the update.  It did freak me out for about an hour though.

-The cable release recommended to me does not work well with the RRS L bracket I have attached to the camera.  When plugged in, the remote blocks the camera from being attached vertically.  I’ve ordered a wireless remote to compensate for this.

-While photographing the McKenzie River, I was caught in a torrential downpour.  The weather sealing on the camera seemed to hold up well, but the EVF sensor that shuts off the LCD when you look through it is a bit sensitive.  When it got wet, it turned off the LCD until it dried off a bit.  I was worried the LCD had shorted out at first, but then realized the problem.

-There are not many native lenses available yet, but the lenses that have been released so far are very high quality.

-There is no built in intervalometer, and no programmable remotes yet available for the A7r.  There is a mobile app that allows for this, but I have not been able to get it installed and working yet.  I’m hoping someone will develop an easy to use intervelometer in the near future.

-The A7r is not a great action camera.  It has a relatively slow burst fire rate and gets bogged down if you capture too many images too quickly.  I’m running the fastest SDHC card I could find at the time.  This seems to minimize the buffering times.

-Battery life is shorter compared to a DSLR.  I was actually expecting it to be worse, so I was pleasantly surprised, but it is still shorter than most DSLRs.  This makes sense, if you’re running the LCD and EVF all the time it’s going to drain the battery.  I do carry four batteries on my photo shoots and a battery charger that allows for two batteries to charge at once which has a car plug adapter.  I also turn off the camera when I’m not using it.

My first impression conclusions:  The Sony A7r is a fantastic little camera. The image quality is wonderful.  I can’t wait to photograph more with the A7r, and see what it’s capable of.  I love the feel of the camera and the layout of the controls.  I also love how light and sturdy it is and that I can carry a very light kit when I want to.  The A7r does have issues, but none of them were deal breakers for me.  I still intend to use the A7r as my main landscape camera, and keep my Canon 5D II for action photography as well as timelapse sequences.  Stay tuned, I’ll be posting images from the Sony A7r and updates throughout the year on my Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/zack.schnepf, 500px and around the web.

Preventing Image Loss – Capture to Storage

Saturday, April 5th, 2014

By Adrian Klein

I wrote a little about this a few years back yet that was more specifically around different backup solutions. I figured that would be the end of it… wishful thinking. After a recent issue occurred during a power outage I realized over the last 7 or so years the issues with image loss from CF cards to hard drives failures run the gamut for me. My wish in sharing these stories is to prevent pain and misery on your end. Every year it seems I learn from an issue and change what I do. What exactly have I experienced? That is a great question. Where do I start I am not sure yet here it goes.

Losing a full CF card covering several days on a trip I likely won’t repeat or cannot repeat in the same way in Alaska. Check. Having a CF card go corrupt with hundreds of images and saying “no image” when trying to download. Check. Looking for images on a hard drive taken during a 10 day trip in Montana and none found and none backed up. Check. Having my so called “mirrored” drives both go out on me incurring hundreds in tech support to retrieve. Check. My supposed surefire RAID like setup with Drobo that should ensure if a drive goes out no data is lost yet having all drives go out and all data lost. Check. Having a PC that won’t boot after a power outage. Check.

The saying “if it can happen, it will happen” seems to be my motto for this topic. I will dive into each these experiences providing more detail and how it changed what I do to ensure I have my files for many years to come.

Dead hard drive from failure

Losing Cards in the Field
I had a horrible system, or no system really, on where I put my new and used cards when I was out hiking or backpacking. This is interesting when I look it now since I feel I have pretty good processes with most things in my life of importance. If I had to guess there still is a San Disk CF card somewhere on Kesugi Ridge in Denali State Park. If you see it, send it my way. It was in my camera bag on day one and on day three it was gone.

Now days I use the exact same pocket for my filled cards and it always stays zipped. Additionally if you have to leave your camera in your car while stopping somewhere on the road and you have irreplaceable images take them with you. Camera gear can be replaced. Not as easy for the images on your cards.

Corrupt Card – No Image Found
I have had this happen in a couple different scenarios. One time was near the end of the card I clicked to take an image and it said “error 99” and then proceeding to image preview said “no image”. Anyway I ended up using Lexar Image Rescue which is very inexpensive. I ended up recovering about 75% of the files. That was a relief.

The other scenario I had is where the card went corrupt while downloading the photos from a CF card reader. I also was able to recover most images yet not all.

Why did this happen. There are reasonable explanations for both, unfortunately. The card that went bad in my camera turned out to be fake San Disk. I bought it new online through Amazon retailer yet according to San Disk the serial number was not a San Disk number. Ouch! Now I only buy from reputable retailers, no more Amazon or eBay. As for the card that went bad on the card reader that was in the old days when I went as cheap as I could for everything. It was a very inexpensive card reader that was failing while trying to download the photos which ended up corrupting the card. Lesson here, buy a decent quality brand name card reader.

Images Not Found on Computer
About a year after a trip to Montana (this was back many years ago) I went looking one day for the images. They were nowhere to be found. Nowhere! At the time I had very lax backup process and I had failed to backup the images before formatting the CF cards. Sigh… How they were deleted I have no idea and may never know.

I learned from this to have a process of how my CF cards flow before they get back into camera for use. Now days it looks like this.

  • Download photos
  • Set CF card on desk near monitor
  • Confirm backup to offsite locations
  • Place CF card in hanging folder

This way I know that the folder that has the CF cards is one I can just pull from when I need more for the next trip.

Relying Solely on Internal Drives
Once upon a time my main “backup” was having multiple mirrored internal drives. This way if one failed the other would be fine. Well I found out that they can both go out together when I got the BSOD (Blue Screen of Death) one day. The computer shop was able to retrieve the data yet it costs hundreds of dollars in the process.

I no longer worry about having internal mirrored drives. It takes up more storage and since it failed me once I feel like it can certainly fail me again. Redundancy is now on and off site backups including Backblaze that are not internal to my computer.

Network Attached Storage – Drobo
I still remember buying my Drobo system from the camera store and loved this sleek shiny black box that could house terabytes of data. I had read about it and after seeing the demo I felt this was a must have as a good alternative to a true RAID system.

At first it lived up to the hype and dreams. However over time I realized having it plugged into my PC meant slower performance. Fine, I can deal with that not the end of the world. However a couple years after having it I came down to my PC to see all four green lights had turned red as in all four drives had failed. Sure enough no matter what I tried I could not get my drives working again. Fortunately what I did lose was all client portraits and weddings photos from years back and I never made the guarantee I would have them available after initial purchase. The unit then made it’s way to e-recycling to avoid it’s otherwise destined journey to the landfill.

I am sure there are good systems similar to Drobo (and likely Drobo has made improvements in new generations) yet it burned me and now I stick mainly to external drives I plug in for backup as needed.

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Power Outages
Like every other story noted above power outages never concerned me because I never had an issue. I also had a surge protector that I would be fine. Yet it was only a matter of time before this would be an issue.

I woke up a couple weeks ago in the middle of night. I thought it was darker than normal in the house with zero ambient light from the street or neighbors porch lights filtering in. Looking out the window I realized the neighborhood (or what I could see of it) had no power. In my half asleep dazed state I thought about my PC yet said “it will be fine” and went back to bed. The next morning I went down to my office. The PC was off and no matter what I did I could not get the drives to spin up. After an hour I said it needs to go the shop. They ended up getting it going again yet not without some angst of needing new drives, a week without my system and $100 fee.

I realized my power strip surge protector is not that great and I have had it for probably about 10 years. Now I am moving my system to a UPS battery backup and surge protector combo, the APC 350. Something I should have done long ago. There are fancier models yet I don’t need the loaded model with heated seats and moon roof.

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As you you can see I had the misfortune to experience plenty of issues loosing images, faulty cards, corrupt files and system malfunctions. My hope is your list of stories is not as long and that it remains short. What stories do you have on this topic? I would love to learn about something I have yet to experience to possibly avoid it happening to me and others reading this post.

 

DOES THE NEW 2014 MAC PRO LIVE UP TO THE HYPE?

Monday, February 24th, 2014

By Zack Schnepf

For those waiting for the review of the Sony A7r, I’m still working on it.  I will finally receive the 24-70 Ziess lens this week.  When I do, I can really start testing this camera.  My initial impression is about what I expected, fantastic image quality, but poor auto focusing.  I’ll elaborate in my next blog.

2014 Mac Pro:

 

When I saw the product demonstration for the new Mac Pro last summer, I was really excited.  It had been years since Apple had released a significant update of their pro desktop line and I was starting to consider switching platforms or getting an iMac.  Finally, last summer Apple unveiled a radically redesigned machine and I was pretty excited with what I saw.  I do a lot of high end processing in Lightroom and Photoshop, and do a lot of video editing as well.  This machine looked to be a perfect match for these demanding tasks, but would it live up to the hype?

The Hype.  You can see the official Mac Pro page here for all the details of this machine: http://www.apple.com/mac-pro/

I liked what I saw right away.   I loved the new unified thermal core design, it allows for a much smaller machine and is extremely quiet, using just one fan to cool the entire system.   This is impressive, but even more impressive are the components used in this machine.  This is a very forward thinking machine.  It uses top of the line Xeon E5 processors (up to 12 cores),  dual FirePro graphics processors, DDR3 ECC Ram(up to 64 gigs), PCI based flash storage, and a host of IO ports including 4 USB 3 ports, 6 thunderbolt ports, 2 ethernet ports and an HDMI 1.4.  This all sounded great, but I needed to see it for myself?

I wanted to build the ultimate machine for processing photos and video.  Here are the options I decided on:

Processor:  3.5 GHz 6-Core Xeon E5

Memory:  32 GB 1867 MHz DDR3 ECC Ram

Graphics:  AMD dual FirePro D500s, 3GB VRam each

Storage:  500GB PCIe based flash storage

It took a few months to get here, but I’ve now had this computer for a few weeks.  Here are my initial impressions.  This is an absolute beast of a machine.  I’ve been blown away by the speed of every task I’ve thrown at this machine!  Much of this has to do with upgrading to a solid-state boot drive.  The computer starts up incredibly fast, about 6-7 seconds, compared to several minutes on my last 2009 Mac Pro.  Applications launch very quickly, even apps like Photoshop, Lightroom, and Final Cut Pro X launch in a second or two.   Not only that, with 32 gigs of fast Ram I never have to worry about how many applications I have running at once.  Even while doing some heavy lifting, like processing multiple 36 megapixel files in Photoshop, this computer continues to blaze away at startling speed with silky smooth performance.

The Dual GPUs come in handy for me using FCPX, Motion, and high FPS video playback.  The new version of OSX, Mavericks can also leverage the GPUs to help speed system intensive tasks.  You can see some amazing performance editing 4k video in real time using Final Cut Pro X here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-myFXiEh2Q

Only a few applications are fully optimized to take advantage this right now, but hopefully apps like Photoshop, and Lightroom will take advantage of this soon.  Even without being optimized I’m seeing huge performance increases in all tasks.

One issue I have, is not with this computer, but apple in general.  Not many displays use thunderbolt yet, and even with adapters, my 30” Dell would not work at full resolution.  Eventually I want to move to a 4k display, but not until they support 60 FPS, and will work with thunderbolt.  For now I’m using an Apple 27” thunderbolt display.  Despite some terrible reviews I’ve read about this monitor I’m actually quite pleased.  The reflective surface is my only real gripe.  This can be a big problem for a lot of people.  Luckily for me, my office has good lighting to avoid any glare.  The image quality is very good, and once I calibrated it, the color is as good as anything I’ve used so far.

External storage:  Because of the tiny form factor of this computer there is no room for internal storage drives except for the PCIe based flash solid state drive.  I have several external thunderbolt drives totally almost 20 terabytes of space including backup drives.  So far the speeds over thunderbolt are fantastic and I have no complaints at all.

Price:  This is not a cheap machine.  The configuration I built added up to around $5000.  I’m sure I could build a comparable PC for a bit less, but the user experience in OSX is worth the premium to me.   I know there are people who are more technical than I am who can build a hackintosh for less as well, but this is such a well designed machine.  I have no regrets at all.

This computer is overkill for a lot of people.  Many would be much better off with an iMac with a solid state drive, or a Macbook Pro, or a comparable PC.  I’ve always pushed my computers to the limit, I like to run several system intensive programs at once.  I’m also increasingly busy.  For me the new Mac Pro is going to save me a lot of time, and less time in front of the computer is more time out in the field and with my family and friends.  I’m extremely pleased.  The Mac Pro lived up to the hype and in my case exceeded my expectations.

IS THE NEW SONY A7R A GAME CHANGER?

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

by Zack Schnepf

In my opinion, the Sony a7r is the most exciting camera to come out since the Canon 5D Mark I. It’s affordable, full frame, mirrorless, compact, has interchangeable lenses, and delivers the same image quality as the Nikon D800e. It can’t compete in all areas though. It definitely has pros and cons, but for my style of shooting I think it’s going to be a game changer. My hope is it can take over as my main landscape camera.

I’ve always been intrigued by mirrorless camera systems. From the beginning I could see the potential of this format. With the new Sony a7 and a7r, I feel like the potential has been realized. In my opinion, this camera offers many benefits over DSLRs. Lets talk about the good points of this camera:
1. Size and weight. I’ll be able to shave several pounds from my pack compared to my current setup.
2. Amazing image quality, comparable with the Nikon D800e
3. Full frame
4. Manual controls
5. Good ergonomics and controls
6. Easy recharging over USB (easy charging in the car, or on my laptop).
7. 1080p/60fps video
8. Price $2300 (pretty affordable considering what you get)

There are several areas where this camera doesn’t fair as well, and I have several concerns that I’ll be testing when I get this camera in my hands. lets talk about the bad points of this camera.
1. Slow auto focus (not as important for me, I rarely use auto focus at all).
2. Very limited set of dedicated lenses available this year.
3. No built in timelapse function.
4. No built in image stabilization.

I’m going to run the Sony a7r next to my Canon 5D Mark II this year and see how it compares. Because of the sparse offering of lenses available right now, I’ll be using this adapter for my Canon lenses: http://www.metabones.com/products/details/MB-EF-E-BM3

Eventually, I’d like a full set of dedicated FE lenses covering the common focal lengths. In my next blog I review how it stacks up in real world scenarios. I’ll be testing how the raw files hold up under my post processing workflow, and how the camera performs in challenging conditions, including some cold, winter shooting, as well as some astrophotography. For more information there are several early previews and reviews. I found this one particularly informative: http://www.cameralabs.com/reviews/Sony_Alpha_A7r/