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6/30/11

 

Used items you may, or may not be interested in.

 

I trolled the used dept of B&H photo today, and found a few items some people may be interested in.  The used Sony hotshoe adapter ($65) keeps very rare but possible voltage spikes from wrecking your camera.  Non-Sony flashes and radio triggers may introduce slightly more voltage via the hotshoe than your camera can take, but it would be very rare.  I bought one for mounting the Radiopoppers™ transmitter on my camera, "just in case."  I also paid full price ($93) so if you're in the market for something like this, check it out.

 

Also available is an excellent used copy of the CZ 24mm F/2, $1149.  An older version of the Sigma 400mm F/5.6 is for sale, it's listed as having an AF Maxxum mount, I have no idea if it's any good or not, but it's pretty cheap, $139.

 

The used Sony HVL-F58AM top-line flash is $399, that's $100 off the list price, and almost the same price as the new less powerful HVL-F43AM.

 

In other news, the first flash review will probably be posted tomorrow.

 

JUNE2011/usedhp.jpg
Used items of interest

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6/29/11

 

News and reviews coming in July.

 

I'm checking out a bunch of neat photo items right now, such as the super popular Tamron 70-300mm F/4-5.6 USD, (which will include a quick Sony 70-300mm G comp), Rokinon 35mm F/1.4, three flash reviews and some accessories reviews. 

 

Due to interest and demand from readers, I'm going to start reviewing flashes.  The flash reviews will be straight-up and right to the point.  I'll be doing Sony and aftermarket flashes like Vivitar and Sunpak etc.  The regular format will be a couple of product shots to start, then a huge specs section, along with some general info and final thoughts.  Missing will be the ambiguous slop that usually accompanies the typical flash review.

 

I hope sometime next month I'll be able to start writing some "how to" articles on interior photography and proper flash use, more or less springboarding beyond the initial off-camera flash use page.  Is anyone interested in that?

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6/27/11

 

Super-wide zoom comparison page is up.

 

This page compares the Sigma 10-20mm F/4-5.6, Sigma 10-20mm F/3.5, and the Tokina 11-16mm F/2.8 using the same cropped images from the reviews, however, they've been put side-by-side to make the differences show up more.  There are a few surprises, so if you want to kill five minutes, check it out.

 

JUNE2011/swzcomphp2.jpg
click for comparison page

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6/25/11

 

Weird light at the snack hut.

 

This snack food hut is located at Glacier point, Yosemite National Park, CA.  The "hut" is really your standard convenience store that sells junk food and souvenirs etc, to people like me.  I bought some dumb stuff like a baseball cap and a 2000 calorie giant donut (Cinnabon-ish).

 

I took this shot last year in late June while lodging at the Glacier point hotel.  Anyways, as I was lurking the grounds at midnight with my camera, which I usually do (anywhere) with a bright moon, I saw some weird red light coming out of the store windows, so I thought I'd stop to take a quick shot of this building.  The store really didn't look all that great to the eye, but I knew it would probably come to life in a photo, so I spend the time to "set the scene" if you will.

 

What you don't see in the picture is all the A-frame signs, movable product racks and garbage cans that were scattered all over the front of the place, (I suppose a necessary part of daily operations), not to mention the split rail fence at the bottom that was smashed to pieces by a couple of park service employees that ran over it with a delivery truck earlier in the evening, I know that because I saw it!!  The two lazy employees just laughed and left the mess behind, but I fixed the fence by propping up the cross rails with rocks and sticks, I also moved all the racks to the left side of the building in back of the bushes.  Additionally, I put the signs and garbage cans behind the entry columns, out of view from my position.  That's what I mean by setting the scene.


Funny, but I didn't care for the image after I shot it, and decided to do it again the next night while the moon light was about the same.  Unfortunately, the red light coming from the windows was gone, and only a few dim yellow bug lights were lit.  So that was it, no possibility for a re-do.  I ended up cropping out the bad section of split rail fence which was at the very bottom; I also PS'd a puddle of water off to the right, and enhanced the bushes in the near left side to make them appear thicker.  Finally, I brightened the sky a little and added a vignette (dark corners) to frame it; most people try to eliminate this, but I like the effect.

 

This was not a paying job, I was on vacation, but I always like to try and hone my skills every chance I get.  The Moon light and deep colors makes the picture work.  Late night is a great time to capture images of normally busy places, without having to worry about too many cars or people spoiling the shot.  If the moon is bright and at a good angle, you can come away with some good pictures. 

 

Specs for the shot are; Sony A900, Sony 16-35mm CZ lens @20mm, ISO 400, 59sec (bulb), F/4.

 

JUNE2011/gpointbrohp3.jpg
Glacier point concession stand

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6/23/11

 

This will be the last of the APS-C super wide zoom reviews for a long time; I've done all that are worthy of doing unless Sony comes out with something new, like the rumored Sony 10-24mm, hopefully that won't be a rebadged Tamron!

 

The Tokina 11-16mm F/2.8 is a spectacular performer in certain areas, an average performer in others, and a total failure in one big area.  What's important to you? 

 

See the complete Tokina 11-16mm F/2.8 review for details, especially the conclusion!!  A suggestion for Tokina; increase your corporate espionage budget and try to get Sigma's AF protocol for Sony "α" mount lenses, that's probably what Sigma did to get Sony's.  If you think I'm joking, check this page out; same type of deal; Sigma is being sued ($154m) by Nikon for stealing their Vibration reduction system.  Don't worry about the future of Sigma products in the event they lose a huge lawsuit, they should have professional indemnity insurance, which covers damages from ripping off other people's ideas and property.  Sigma's insurance carrier will likely negotiate a settlement with Nikon, and everyone will be happy.

 

JUNE2011/tok1116hp.jpg
click for review

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6/21/11

 

Don't forget to use your flash outdoors!

 

I'm working on an outdoor flash article which isn't ready right now, but the image below offers a glimpse at the content.  Although you don't need three flashes like I used here, using just one will noticeably improve your images.

 

I wanted to use the warm, setting sunlight along with some appropriate fill light to help accentuate the details and color of the main entryway to this beautiful Spanish colonial home, and the result is the final image below.  Just a thought; I like the hanging lantern light pattern on the walls, it looks like fire!  Everything in this house is custom hand-made, and meaningful. 

 

As I was photographing the interior of this private residence in the old foothills of Tucson, AZ, I decided to step outside and see how the late afternoon light was shaping up.  I thought maybe the sun would cast a nice soft light on this entryway before it set, but that wasn't to be.  With available light only, (inset photo) the scene looks flat and a little boring; to spice it up required using three flashes, all with orange gels.  All flashes were used off-camera.  To see how to do this, go here.

 

The first flash unit provided some general fill light, and was set up high and to the left, you can see the shadows from the plant on the tiles.  The next area of concern is the woodwork.  I aimed the second flash at the doors from high and to the right, (I'm probably holding the flash unit in my hand over my head), at about 1/4 power, that's a lot of power up close, but it was needed because the doors really soaked up the light!  I also used a flash zoom setting of 85mm to avoid light spill on the walls.  The third and final flash was placed just inside the doorway, and bounced off the right wall up high, doing this creates a warm, inviting glow in the transom windows, silhouettes the ornamental hardware, and makes that area of the image more visually appealing in my opinion.

 

This was a really nice house, and I wanted to help show it off in its best light, (literally!), so I took the extra time to properly light each scene, and charged accordingly!  Specs for the shot; F/7.1, ISO 200 1/5sec at 15mm, (23mm FF equiv) straightened, very mild crop and perspective correction.  The inset photo was taken a few minutes before the flash shot, and at a slightly shorter focal length.

 

JUNE2011/flashentryfin.jpg
Use your flash outside!

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6/20/11

 

Odds and ends.

 

The Vivitar shutter controller is so useful and fun, I've decided to add it to the recommended accessories list.  Also, If you don't have an APS-C super wide-angle zoom, I'd recommend the Sigma 10-20mm F/3.5 (reviewed below) over the similar, but less expensive Sigma, and the Tokina 11-16mm F/2.8.  I'm polishing the Tokina review right now, and should have it ready in a couple of days.  Optically, the Tokina is superb through most of the focal range, but it has some drawbacks that are troublesome.  If you don't need the extra light gathering ability of a wide aperture, and already have the Sigma 10-20mm F/4-5.6; just keep using it, and save yourself some money.

A couple of articles almost ready are; flash use outdoors, and how to properly remove lateral color fringing in your pictures.

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6/16/11

 

I've finally finished the Sigma 10-20mm F/3.5 review, this is a newer design than the one I reviewed a few years ago.  If you're wondering what the differences are between the two, you're in luck, I'm working on a comparison involving the two Sigma lenses, and the Tokina 11-16mm F/2.8, that's the reason the reviews are taking so long.  The comp will be available after the completion of the Tokina review.  All three lenses are on every Real Estate photography websites list of "must haves" and are purchased (mostly Sigmas) by many people that want to get started in Real Estate photography. 

 

The Sigma 10-20mm F/3.5 HSM has some really nice qualities, and a couple of negatives.  Is it worth the extra money over the less expensive older model?  Check out the review for the answers.

 

JUNE2011/sig1020revhp.jpg
click for review

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6/14/11

 

New "miscellaneous" page on nav bar.

 

I forgot to mention in previous posts that I consolidated several pages to form a miscellaneous page on the nav bar.  You'll find the Minolta and Sony brochures and manuals, Homepage archives, the now defunct Reader's Digest, useful links, the Photo Gallery and more.  I did this to clean up the nav bar, and help highlight the most popular sections of the site.

 

Also, I'm listing all the product reviews (like wireless shutters, tripods etc) in the lens reviews table, middle bottom.  I'll probably make a dedicated page for all the product review links in the near future. 

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6/13/11

 

Sigma has QC issues at more than one level.

 

I'm putting the finishing touches on the Sigma 10-20mm F/3.5 review, which should be ready in a few days.  This lens has a very good build quality, and it appears Sigma is now applying a new, and much nicer satin black finish to its newer lenses, (similar in color to Sony lenses), instead of the nasty flat black, dirt-in-paint look I've been complaining about for years...so things appear to be looking up for Sigma lovers. 

 

Ironically, as Sigma makes real progress at improving the looks of its products, they seriously underestimate the need to improve the promotional product images such as the one below.  I noticed this photo as I was getting specs for the 10-20mm lens from Sigma's official site, sigmaphoto.com.  This lens photo doesn't look like it was produced by a professional photographer, although it would be good for an eBay listing.  I see strong reflections from poor lighting placement in the gold band, focus distance window and metal mount.  There's also too much hard light coming from the front.   I'm not a product shot expert, in fact, I've never been paid to take a product shot, but I know the difference between a good shot and a bad shot.  This particular Sigma lens image shouldn't have been chosen as a prominently displayed, promotional shot by a company with a multi-million dollar marketing budget.

 

I took my shot (at bottom), and post processed it as it appears in about 20 minutes.  Nobody is paying me a dime.  Sure I could do more to it, like maybe add a more interesting background, key-in a (dedicated lighted) focus distance window, and slip in a drop shadow at the base, but it's just for my site, most people probably won't notice this stuff, or care.  However, I do care, it's my work.  It's a reflection of who I am and what I'm about, I'm not sloppy with a could-care-less attitude.  My work isn't perfect, but I try to keep improving my quality and technic.  I'd be embarrassed to submit the Sigma shot, especially if they paid me to do it!  I looked at other lens shots from Sigma's website, some do look good, but why not have all products look good?  who's in charge of that?

 

Sigma has some really good products, and a lot of potential, unfortunately they also have poor quality control in their lens assembly and marketing departments, it seems they've lost their way, and could use a good beat down.  A funny but true story: while serving in the Army in the 1980s, my unit was called up to train for a new task, something I suppose we thought boring at the time, and of course, we did poorly that day, mostly from lack of effort, and the instructor wasn't happy, and reported our behavior to the "higher authorities."  So guess what?  Late that night, around 3am, the commanding Sergeant came barreling through the barracks, madder than a hornet, and threw a (full) trash can down the middle of the room, and followed up by turning over bunk beds, with people still in bed!  But that's not all, there's more; the entire contents of the room were thrown out the windows from the second floor, clothing, gear, mattresses, duffel bags and all.  To top it off, we had to stand out in the freezing cold for several hours, at attention, until breakfast time.  It took the rest of the morning to comprehend what happened, clean up the mess, and attend to our regular duties after that.  From then on we took our training a little more seriously!  End of story.  This is what should happen from time-to-time, when necessary, to people at the top, and bottom ranks, we'd all be better off.

 

JUNE2011/sigmarket2.jpg
JUNE2011/sig10202hp.jpg

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6/11/11

 

Samples using Vivitar wireless shutter.

 

While I was watching a bunch of hillbillies on Sunday, I took a moment to hook up the Vivitar wireless shutter controller and snapped off a few shots of some birds at the fountain from the comfort of an easy chair and air conditioning.

 

The camera was placed about 20-25' (7-8m) away from the fountain, outside in the shade, where the temp was still 104°F, or 40°C.  The out of focus background foliage distance is about 15' (5m).  The Sony A580 with Vivitar shutter controller worked great during the roughly two hours of shooting with the Sony 70-400mm lens, at 400mm.  I adjusted the focus with live view focus check, and turned the AF off, but let the camera decide the shutter speed.

 

The second shot is a House Finch, the last shot a Lesser Goldfinch, the black bird on top I'm not sure about.  The last shot was taken from a different angle and time.  Specs are F/8, ISO 200, 1/250-500sec, 400mm, Jpegs, and not fully enlarged here.

 

JUNE2011/bird1ab.jpg
Rare bird, first time ever seen.
JUNE2011/bird2ab.jpg
House Finch
JUNE2011/bird3b.jpg
Lesser Goldfinch

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6/9/11

 

Sony prefers Canon for lifestyle shots.....

 

and Phase one for product shots.  When I'm looking at new product images in the Sony press center media gallery I always download the full size image if available.  It seems most product shots are taken with a Phase one camera based on the EXIF data.  In the lifestyle shot below, (and two others), I noticed it has full frame Canon camera info in the EXIF data.  Yes, I know Sony is just hiring a photographer to shoot the images, but their standard operating procedures should include making sure to "wipe" the embedded data clean, and crop and resize the images just to throw people off, and avoid embarrassment.  On the other hand, Sony probably figures "normal" people will never bother checking that kind of stuff out, and posting it on a website!  I guess I'm weird.

 

New product announcements include a slightly updated NEX-3 (now called NEX-C3), and A33 (now called A35).  Don't feel bad if you recently bought one of these original cameras, the updated versions aren't really offering much in the way of image improvements. 

 

There is a new NEX flash, called the HVL-F20S ($150), available in October, with a GN20, enough to bounce, but I wonder if the camera is smart enough to increase the power when it's being used to bounce?  This flash is very similar to the Sony alpha flash with almost the same name.

 

A new Macro lens will be available too, in October ($250).  This time we get a 30mm F/3.5 internal focusing design, but only offers a working range of about an inch, that's awfully close.  I wonder how many people wrote Sony and demanded a 30mm E mount macro lens?  Sony must've had a really small focus group.

 

JUNE2011/nexcpromohp.jpg
Nobody notices the Sony NEX C3, taken with Canon full frame camera.
JUNE2011/newsonyflslenshp.jpg
New Sony NEX flash and 30mm F/3.5 Macro lens

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6/7/11

 

New arrivals, and choices.

 

The Rokinon 35mm F/1.4 lens is now in stock.  Full frame users may want to look closely at this item, it's probably similar in quality to the 85mm F/1.4.   For APS-C users; skip this lens, and go directly to the almost perfect Sony 35/1.8 (review here) for way less money, I suspect it's also better, although not quite as fast.  I'll be reviewing the Rokinon 35/1.4 in the future.

 

If you're feeling lucky, the Sigma 120-400mm is available.  Order half a dozen and keep the best one.   Sigma primes seem to have pretty good QC, but the telephoto zooms are trouble.

 

JUNE2011/rok35hp.jpg

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6/6/11

 

If you own a Sony DSLR or SLT camera, your choice of wireless shutter controllers is limited.  In fact, as of this review, there is only one Sony wireless shutter release, the RMT-DSLR1, which has a bunch of buttons, but only two are used for the Camera shutter, one operates the shutter instantly, the other starts the two second timer, there are no other options, the rest of the buttons are for TV viewing. 

 

Wireless shutter controllers are handy if you want to take telephoto, long-exposure tripod type pictures without touching the camera and causing blur, or more importantly, if you want to take pictures without having to be close to your camera, such as photographing birds or animals that scare easily, from the comfort of your easy chair.  Automated controls allows you to take pictures without actually being there.  Additionally, you can program the number of total shots, time between shots, and the amount of shots of each shutter release, plus more options, Read more here.

 

As expected, the factory rated unobstructed range for both controllers is total BS, but that doesn't detract much from their usefulness.

 

I've reviewed two shutter controllers so far, the simple but effective Vivitar model, and the full featured Pearstone ShutterBoss, which is great for automated shutter control.

 

JUNE2011/wirelesscontrolhp.jpg
click for review

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6/4/11

 

The Manfrotto 058B tripod is marketed at medium and large format photographers working in the studio.  In my opinion, the most important features are its extended full-height sturdiness, and quick set-up, neither of which seems like it would be critical for studio use.  What makes the 058B tripod unique is its ability to be set and leveled simply by pushing a couple of thumb tabs, which releases the upper extension legs and allows them to drop down, from there you do your final positioning using the built in level, and release the tabs to re-lock the legs; this is super handy for outdoor use in uneven terrain (like here in AZ) when you're setting up for an important time-sensitive shot.  The head I have on this tripod is not what most people would choose, however, my decision was based on shot-to-shot set up time, such as multi-angled twilight shots and Real Estate work.  

 

In this fake, (but thoughtful) set-up photo I have the tripod fully extended, including the lower extension legs, so it reaches almost 8' (2.4m) with the 222 head.  Placed next to the tripod is a 5' (1.5m) step ladder so you can climb up to see the camera controls and viewfinder.

 

Continue reading...

 

JUNE2011/mtar1.jpg
click for tripod review

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6/2/11

 

White balance adjustment tool.

 

I forgot to include in the article below (Shoot RAW for better color) a handy tool for estimating the correct white balance when different light sources are involved, like a room with warm tungsten light along with some cool outside light coming from nearby windows.  I have the 77mm neutral expodisc, and find it works very well in getting the colors in the image very close to what they're supposed to be, and is quick to install and remove. 

 

If you have plenty of time, you can play with manual color temperature adjustments, (and green/magenta shifts) and work your way shot-after-shot to the correct color by eye, if you don't know how to do that, the expodisc will make it a lot easier.

If you decide to try one, I'd suggest the 77mm, that way you can use it on almost all lenses.  It lightly snaps on the lens front filter threads, but doesn't screw on.  If your lens has a smaller diameter filter size, just hold the expodisc up to the lens and go from there.  You use your camera's custom white balance setting with the expodisc installed to figure the correct white balance.

 

MAY2011/expohp.jpg
expoimaging expodisc neutral

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6/1/11

 

New stuff in stock, April to the archives.

 

I sent April homepage posts to the homepage archives, which has all the 70-200mm lens reviews and comp page.


Shown below are two flashes and the Tamron 70-300mm F/4-5.6 DI USD lens (no VC on Sony models) that may be a good alternative to the Sony 70-300mm G.  The price is right, and Tamron currently offers a mail in $50 rebate for a final price of $399.  I'll be reviewing one in the near future.

 

The new Sony HVL-F43AM flash is currently priced at $274, much less than the original asking price of $350.  This flash has the best power level control of any Sony flash to date, which is a good reason to try it out, especially if you use off-camera flash.  The description says it has no on/off switch, but that's a mistake, and a left over from using the HVL-F20AM description for a template.

 

The Nissin Di866 mark II flash has a neat secondary (sub) flash below the main head for fill use when using the main flash for bouncing.  The info says the flash acts as a master trigger for other flashes, and is compatible with Sony's flash system, although I'm not sure about how well that really works.

 

JUNE2011/flashtam70300hp.jpg
Sony HVL-F43AM, Tamron 70-300mm F/4-5.6, Nissin Di866 mark II