Category Archives: Tips, Tricks & Gear

I love gear. Everybody know that so here’s a spot for me to ruminate about gear. I’ll also share insights into post production software such as Lightroom, Photoshop, etc.

Nikon Releases D850 Teaser

Well, Nikon has finally announced the coming of the replacement for the D810 as the new D850, touting great things. You can see the short video below. Am I excited, not really and I’m going to tell you why. Will I be buying one, yes, but more on that in a moment.

There are several reasons why I’m not jumping out of my skin for the new D850. First, and foremost, is that, over the years, I’ve realized that the camera and all the gear in the world really doesn’t matter. I’m what matters. Every camera we have today is better than anything they’ve had available in the past. You can make amazing photos with your phone! So, it’s not the camera, it’s what you do with it and how you, the person behind the camera, sees and composes the image. A new camera is not going to make you a better photographer. It took me many years and quite a bit of money to come to terms with that. We all like shiny new objects.

Reason Two: Nikon has had a less than stellar track record of late. The D750 is now on its third, yes third, recall. Unacceptable, especially when you make your living with these tools. I’m hoping this won’t be the case with the D850, but who knows.

Reason Three: It’s a tool. That’s it. I don’t get excited when I buy a screwdriver to complete some project around the house. A camera is no different. It gets a job done.

Reason Four: Over the past year, I’ve been moving more and more to my Fuji gear. As my friend David Duchemin says, it is a camera that gets out of the way. I love that I don’t need to get into some inexplicably complex menu system to make a minor adjustment. It’s all right there on the manual dials on top or the aperture ring on the lenses. The gear weighs 2/3 less than my Nikon gear so, again, it gets out of the way. I can carry it around all day without even noticing its there. And, it gets the job done. The images are rendered beautifully… remember, it’s a tool that renders images, you are the one that makes the images.

So, you may be asking, why are you going to be getting one? You already have a D810. Well, here’s the deal. I’ve been using my D810 for 3 years now. I mostly use it for work, which is to say architecture and some product photography. I also use it for fashion work as it works well with my lighting setups. I’ve identified the camera’s shortcomings that I am expecting the D850 to address. Namely, faster auto focus, better low light ability and 4K video. These are all things that I’ve been wishing the D810 was better at. Will the D850 have more megapixels, probably and, frankly, I wish it wouldn’t. 36 is more than enough for MY NEEDS.

Why stick with Nikon at all if I love Fuji so much? Well, that’s a good question. For one, I’ve got some great Nikon glass. For two, in my architecture and real estate work, I use my 19mm and 45mm Tilt Shift Lenses daily and Fuji doesn’t have any. There’s another NEED that I’ve identified that justifies sticking with Nikon (for now). I sold my beloved D4s because I realized that, while that camera is freaking amazing, I don’t need the features that it is famous for, mainly speed. Yes, it’s great in low light, but so are my Fuji’s. Are the Fuji cameras as good in low light, well no, but I don’t NEED to shoot in the dark day in and day out like many sports or wedding photographers do. Is it better for concert photography? Well, maybe, but I shoot those for fun, not for money and the Fuji cameras perform well for my purposes.

I’ll wait until the official announcement to decide if I’m going to upgrade to the D850 to make sure that this new camera will fill the needs I’ve been wanting out of the D810. If not, well, I’ll have $4000 in the bank that I can use to travel someplace where I can use the cameras I already have to make some new images. Just some thoughts.

Control Your DSLR for Less Than $40

For several years now, Camranger has been the only choice if you want to tether your Nikon, Sony or Canon DSLR wirelessly to your phone or tablet.  While the Camranger is a worthy device that allows you access to all your camera settings remotely as well as instant viewing of your images, even in live view, the $299 pricetag, to me, seemed excessive.  By the time you add extras such as the USB cable, mount, etc, you’re approaching $400 not including your tablet.

2016-07-11_8-37-53Well, this weekend, I’ve discovered a $40 alternative.  All you need is a TP-Link MR3040 Battery Powered 3G Wireless Router and a $9 app called DSLR Dashboard (Android) or QDSLR Dashboard (IOS).   If you go to DSLRDASHBOARD.INFO/, you can download new firmware for the router that will turn your $30 device into a $300 Camranger, with virtually the same functionality.  When I got the TP-Link router, I was surprised that it is the exact same device used for the Camranger, just rebranded.  Same case, etc.

You will also want to pick up a 1-foot USB cable to attach to your camera.  For my Nikon D810, I needed a USB-3 Mini cable.

Here are the steps to create your wireless tethering device…. Since I am using Windows 10, that’s what I’m describing here.  I’m sure if you Google your OS, you can find what you need.

  1. Download the TP-Link MR3040 ddserver OpenWrt Firmware.  You can get it here.  If your TP-Link only has a two-way switch, you’ll want the V1 version.  The B&H link I listed above is for V2 so you should be fine.  Note where you downloaded this file.
  2. Plug the TP-Link directly into your computer’s ethernet connection.  Make sure the router’s battery is fully charged or that you have the device plugged in with the adapter.
  3. Flip the switch of the router to 3G.
  4. Access the router’s control panel by typing into a browser 192.168.0.1.  Once there, you will type in a user name/password of admin/admin (case sensitive).
  5. Once in, click on System Tools/Firmware Upgrade2016-07-11_8-43-34
  6. In firmware upgrade, choose the file that you downloaded in step 1 above.
  7. When the firmware is upgraded, the router will restart.  When it restarts, you will lose the connection because the firmware changes the IP address.
  8. Once restarted, type in 192.168.1.1. Now you will have access to the new OpenWrt firmware.
  9. Now, in the Open WRT password login.  It’ll warn that there is no password.  Simply type any password into the password and log into the router.
  10. Pick another router password.  This will be the admin password.2016-07-11_8-46-40
  11. Ignore SSH – Hit Save and Apply
  12. Go to System/System
  13. Pick Sync with browser to set the time
  14. Create a wireless network
  15. Click on Network/Wifi
  16. Enable the Generic SSID (mine was already enabled)
  17. Edit Settings
  18. Under ESSID change the name of the network from OpenWRT to whatever you want to call it.
  19. Check the LAN button under network.

That’s it.  Download the app to your tablet or phone, connect to the new wireless network (I called mine DSLR Dashboard) and you can now completely control your camera from your device as well as see images instantly as you take them.  When using my iPad for tethering, while RAW files work fine, they are huge files on my D810 so I shoot in RAW and JPG so that the JPG files transfer instantly.

There you have it.  Enjoy!

14 Days with the New Nikon 24-70 f/2.8E VR

32d820d181314e01a102aed67d0a0fa7I just spent a couple of weeks playing with the new Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 VR lens and, while this isn’t a full review, I thought I’d give a quick first impression.  The first thing you’ll notice is the size.  This thing is a beast.  It’s 20% longer and heavier than the older model.  This is due to the extra glass and the VR mechanism.  While it’s not really an issue when on my D4s (it balances this big camera body quite nicely), it’s a bit of an issue on my smaller D810 when not attached to the grip.  While everyone else is going smaller with the mirrorless cameras, it seems a bit crazy to go bigger when I’m already carrying around a 6 pound camera.

While the VR may help to get slower shutter speeds in lower light (up to 4 stops), I never really missed the VR in my older model.  At 2.8, the lens is already quite fast and typically, I don’t need slower shutter speeds when hand held.  At least for my photography.  However, when needed, it is definitely nice to have.  My biggest concern with this lens is the sharpness.  While I think sharpness is a bit overrated, I do want my images crisp.  I have to say that when stopped down to 2.8 or even 4.0, this lens, to my eye, seems less sharp than the older model.  This is especially visible at a wider angle or at the 70mm end.  At 35-50, it’s quite sharp, especially at the edges.  The edge to edge sharpness does trump the older model, but I typically shoot this lens at 2.8 and I want sharpness at the center which the older model has.  At $2400, this lens needs to be at least as sharp as my older workhorse.  It isn’t.  I thought it just might be my copy, but I’ve read this elsewhere.

I will say that this lens has lightening fast focus.  The older model is quite fast and I’ve had no issues in this department.  I’d say the newer lens is just a tad faster, but we’re talking milliseconds.  Again, not enough to warrant a $2400 upgrade.   My other concern is the 83mm filter size.  For me, this would add another $250-$500 to the cost as I’d have to purchase new CP and ND filters.

I’m not going to go quite as far as to say I was disappointed with this lens.  The build quality seems the best on the market, the focus is fast and the distortion is minimal.  But when I compare it to my older 70-200 f/2.8G, I just can’t justify spending $2400 on this lens.  Even if I can sell my old one for, say, $1400 (which may be difficult to the flooding of the market by upgraders), that’s still $1000 investment in a slight and minimal upgrade.  I’d say if you’re a wedding photographer and need to shoot hand held in low light, the VR might help (but even then, you’re not typically going to shoot longer exposures because people are usually moving around),  then it might be worth the price.  For me, I’m not convinced.  I returned my lens without too much reservation.

Think Tank Airport Helipak Review

6-21-2015 11-34-38 AMThink Tank has done it again.  They have filled a need for a lightweight, portable pack to carry the Phantom Quadcopter anywhere and everywhere.  For the past couple of years, I’ve kept my Phantom Vision Quadcopter in a Go Professional hard case.  While it was packed perfectly and safely, the case was extremely heavy and difficult to carry long distances as it only had a handle, like a suitcase without wheels.

What I wanted was a backpack for my drone so that I could take it anywhere I wanted, whether it was through the city or on the trial.  Enter the new Think Tank Airport Helipak.  This bag is almost perfect!

Featuring a lumbar support, adjustable shoulder harness and a removable padded waist belt, I can carry this bag forever without really noticing it is there.  Inside, there’s plenty of space for any Phantom model, or similar sized quadcopters, including plenty of extra batteries, remotes and other accessories. (Oh, if you’re looking around for the top quadcopters under 100 dollars – find more info there.)  There’s even room for a professional DSLR and a lens or two.  Pictured here is the bag with my drone, all the accessories, a D810 camera body and a 28-300 lens.  There’s an outside pocket for a 15″ laptop, iPad and other things.   There is also an organizer pocket for a smart phone, wallet, business cards and the like.  And, as if all that wasn’t enought, there is a side pocket for a water bottle as well as small pockets on the shoulder strap for a snack or cell phone.  The interior can be reconfigured as needed.  It is sized for either international or domestic travel. _DSC0918

As with all their bags, Think Tank put a lot of thought into this bag and truly left no stone unturned.  My only quibble is that you have to take the props off in order to stow the aircraft.  I’m sure this is to keep the bag to a reasonable size and remain within airport standards.  A quick visit to the local drone store revealed that most bags and cases require removal of the props.  They even provided rubber protective tips for the rotor threads.  The bag is water resistant and it comes with a full, waterproof cover in case you are caught in a downpour.

As a Phantom 3 owner, I’m very excited about this bag.  It is the absolute perfect solution for taking your quadcopter anywhere you want.  At only $239.75, this bag is an absolute bargain.  Use this link and get a free gift and free shipping when you purchase one.

Thank Tank Airport Helipak

Fun with Portrait Professional

One of my students sent me a photo that she took of me so I thought I’d have a bit of fun with Portrait Professional Studio 11 which just had an update.  This took about 2 minutes and was a ton of fun.  You can do amazing things with this software.  Anyway, here’s the original (LEFT) and the after (RIGHT).  I thinned out the face, reduced some of the wrinkles, added the smile, brightened and upturned the eyes to match the smile and added a bit of color.

Before & After with Portrait Professional

Unlimited Space for your iPad, iPhone & More

A very common question that I get, and one that I’ve been searching a solution to, is how to increase the space on the iPad without buying a new one.  Well, I’ve finally found an answer and it is a good one….

Okay, so I own the new iPad.  I bought the 32-gig version thinking that would be plenty of space.  Was I wrong!  Between the magazine subscriptions, e-books, teaching material and photographs, not to mention videos, I’m long out of space.  I thought about selling mine and getting the larger hard drive but that’s another $300 investment.  Along comes this great discovery.  Maxell (remember that name mix-tape lovers of yore) has released the AirStash.  This amazing device is about the size of two flash drives, takes removable SD cards up to 32-gigs and connects to any device wireless with its own wi-fi connection.  I just got mine yesterday.  They cost about $115 from B&H and is well worth the money for unlimited space.  I tried it last night and I was able to stream video from it to my iPad with no issues.  You can stream to up to 3 devices at one time.  Document sharing is easy.  Picture storage a breeze.  An you can change out the SD card as you like.  Importing photos directly to the device is great for on the road backup.   It also has a USB port for charging and transferring files from your computer.  Please use this link to buy it if you are interested:   Maxell AirStash

stash