Book and Movie reviews
SEP 01, 2014 13:56 PST
                                                                  Scott Mc Kiernan Proudly Presents The PICTURES of The DAY (POD) ~ POD features the finest visual reporting of the last 24 hours from ZUMA Press' wire service. The pictures of the day are continuously updated 24/7/365, so be sure to check back frequently throughout the day. ~ POD's calendar allows one to search for previous pictures of the day, dating back to the early 1900s. ~ Viewers may also comment on each picture that is currently featured as a picture of the day. ~ Another exciting feature is the WORD, a forum where ZUMA picture editors and photojournalists give insight into the making of the picture as well as the POD selection process. ~ Love a particular picture? Order a copy of the print online. ~ Stay tuned as many more special features to come. ~ Join the POD community and spread the word.                                                                                        
  WHAT?
Phase One P65+ Digital Back: Stan Sholik
With the introduction of each new digital back from Phase One, we are constantly reminded that technology will progress in spite of our wishes that it would stabilize long enough for us to catch up to it. Sometimes this progress occurs in ways that answer our needs as professional photographers, and sometimes it brings us features we didn’t realize we wanted until we have them. This is truly the case with the Phase One P65+ back.

I admit to having been skeptical about the need for a back that incorporates a 60.5 megapixel sensor when I read the press release about the P65+. Yes, it is a boon to wide-angle shooters to have a sensor that covers the full 645 format without cropping. But, other than landscape and art photographers producing really large prints that clients will view from arm’s length, who really needs a back capable of producing a 350MB, 16-bit file, that can produce a 22 x 30 inch print at 300 dpi?
Once I received the back, it didn’t take me long to realize there is a lot more going on with it other than enormous file sizes and enhanced wide angle capabilities. Built into the P65+ are capabilities that any professional photographer with deep enough pockets to afford the technology will find useful, some of which will likely never be available from any other digital back manufacturer. Chief among these are Sensor+ technology, a higher speed capture rate and greatly improved image quality.

Dalsa, who along with Kodak, produces sensors used in medium format backs, developed Sensor+ technology under the guidance of Phase One, which now holds the proprietary rights to its use. With Sensor+, the 60.5 megapixel array of six micron pixels in the full resolution P65+ back are grouped together in a technology called “binning” that results in an effective 15 megapixel array of 12 micron pixels. The full area of the sensor is still used; there is no cropping involved.
The 15 megapixel Sensor+ array has four times the ISO rating of the 60 megapixel array. This 4X increase in ISO speeds results in effective ISO ratings of 200 to 3200 with the Sensor+ activated. The 15 megapixel file will produce a 15 x 11.2 inch image at 300dpi, large enough for most print applications.

There are other advantages to Sensor+. Capture speed increases from just under one capture per second to nearly 1.5 captures per second. While this might seem slow in comparison with digital SLRs, the P65+ will keep capturing images at this rate until your CF card or hard drive is full. Since you don’t need to worry about filling a buffer and waiting for it to clear, the P65+ is capable of capturing about 86 captures per minute versus about 60 captures per minute with a Canon 1Ds Mark III. With Sensor+, the P65+ converts from ultra-high resolution when you need it in the studio or on location, to a fashion, beauty, portrait or wedding back, capable even of hand-held available light captures if you need them and all at the push of a button. With all of us taking on any assignment we can get in this economy, this versatility is welcome, even if we didn’t realize we needed it.

Lest you think that the higher ISOs of Sensor+ come at the cost of image quality, from my testing, I can assure you they do not. While CCD sensors, like the one in the P65+, have lagged behind the CMOS sensors in reducing noise at higher ISOs, images from the P65+ at full resolution look to my eye to have half the noise at comparable ISOs than previous Phase One backs. That is, the P65+ at 60.5-megapixel resolution has about the same noise at ISO 800 that the P45+ has at ISO 400 for example. With Sensor+ then, its maximum ISO of 3200 has about the same noise as that of the P45+ at ISO 400. In practical terms, there is visible noise in the shadows, but most of it is luminance noise that is easily controlled in post processing, making 3200 a quite usable ISO.

The only downside I found to Sensor+ is the inability to use the P65+, with or without Sensor+ activated, for exposures longer than one minute. There is more information about the technology behind Sensor+ and its other advantages, such as moiré reduction on the Phase One website, www.phaseone.com.

While Sensor+ technology adds to the versatility and value of the P65+, I’m guessing that most photographers will be using it for its full frame/full resolution capabilities. For this, it is at its best shooting tethered to a computer running Phase One Capture One Pro or DB software, version 4.8 or better.

Phase One is on an aggressive upgrade path with its version 4 software. While some of this is brought on by the release of new digital SLR models, much of it has to do with increasing the speed and functionality with the P+ series of digital back, particularly the P65+ and the newest addition to the line, the P40+ with Sensor+ technology.

With version 4.8, you have full control of the P65+ back, being able to set white balance, ISO and switch Sensor+ on and off. You can also control camera functions, including aperture in full stops and shutter speed from the Capture One software. One function that Phase One has yet to integrate into the software is Live Preview for the P65+ back. I have been told it is in the works, and the P65+ documentation includes instructions for performing Live Previews with several cameras including the Mamiya 645AFD III.

In or out of the studio, making full resolution or Sensor+ captures, the images are gorgeous. At full resolution in particular, the level of detail is approaching that of scanned 4x5 film, without the grain (for better or worse depending on your tastes) and without the need to navigate through the scan to clean it up (for better, without question). It has not reached the quality of a scanning back, but it is unlikely that even a 4x5 single shot back when it arrives will be able to do that. At this point in time, the Phase One P65+ digital back represents not only the height of current digital sensor technology, but also the most versatile back currently on the market.
MSRP of the P65+ back for the Phase One/Mamiya 645AFD III camera is $39,990 with the Classic Warranty.
Spyder3 Digital Projector Profiling: Stan Sholik
A color-managed workflow is important at all times to professional photographers, but never more so than when we are presenting work to our clients. The Datacolor Spyder3Studio includes tools to ensure that they will see accurate color on your monitor, on proof prints and on a projection screen. The same Spyder3Elite colorimeter used for monitor profiling can also be used to profile a digital projector for those photographers using front projection in their sales room.

Projector calibration is very straightforward since some of the adjustments necessary in monitor calibration are unnecessary or unavailable with projectors. For example, the human eye automatically adapts to brightness and whitepoint in a darkened room, making these hardware adjustments superfluous if they are even available for the projector.

So it is simply a matter of connecting the Spyder3, following the on-screen directions, and running the software process. The result is a profile for that projector and screen. At the end of the profiling process there is an option for creating two other profiles. These include adjustments for use in less desirable situations with more ambient light in case your sales room cannot be darkened totally during the day.

The initial Spyder3Elite screen gives you the option of profiling a projector. With the Spyder colorimeter sitting in the provided stand and the projector connected to the computer, the software instruct you on the correct positioning of the two.

The next screen…………………The entire process takes about the same amount of time as profiling your monitor.

Since your computer sees the projector as a monitor, the projector profile is handled in the same way as a monitor profile. You must load the projector profile as the display profile before beginning your presentation, and the software you use must support color management. Apple’s Keynote 3 software, part of iView 2008, does; PowerPoint does not. Be sure to check the program you are using.
With a color managed sales room, your clients will see your work in the best possible light, and you will never need to ensure them that you will ‘fix the colors in the final print’.
Nik Sharpener Pro 3.0: Stan Sholik
Everyone who understands and is totally comfortable using Photoshop’s Unsharp Mask raise your hand. OK, you 10 photographers can turn to the next article. For the rest of us, Nik Software, Inc. has created Sharpener Pro 3.0. With a new interface, new tools and presets, Nik has demystified output sharpening for photographers.

For me, and probably for most photographers, the most important new feature of the version 3.0 is the Sharpening Soft Proof view. We have all tried to guess the relationship between what Photoshop presents on screen in the Unsharp Mask preview and how the sharpening will actually in an inkjet or halftone output. It usually takes some amount of trial and error to get it right.

Sharpener Pro 3.0 (SP3) eliminates the guesswork with its Sharpening Soft Proof view. SP3 adjusts the sharpening and resolution displayed on the screen to closely match what the printer will produce in terms of sharpness and detail. It takes into account the image (output) size, output resolution, standard viewing distance, the sharpening parameters you have set, as well as the resolution and standard viewing distance of the monitor. If you don’t like what you see, you can adjust the sharpening while the soft proof is displayed. I found that it really did give a pretty accurate representation of the way the image would reproduce when printed to inkjet and photographic (Noritsu) printers. The images accompanying this article will be a test of how well the default presets in SP3 work for halftone output!

While to me this is the big news in the new version, users of Sharpener Pro 2 will notice many other improvements and innovations. For one, the interface has been totally revised and made consistent with other programs in the Nik family. It is completely resizable and color neutral, with your choice of light, medium or dark gray background behind the image. View mode and Preview mode icons are grouped consistent with other Nik plug-ins, as are the Select, Pan and Zoom tools. The sharpening tools are locked to the right side of the interface, as with other Nik products.

Most of the other major changes are found in the sharpening tools, with updated output sharpening choices, new Creative Sharpening Tools and the addition of Nik’s U Point-powered Control Points.

With an image open in a compatible imaging program, you open SP3 open from the Filters (or appropriate) menu. It opens in a new window with the suggested workflow running from top to bottom in the tools palette on the right.
You first choose your output device from the Output Sharpening section. Each choice of Display, Inkjet, Continuous Tone, Halftone or Hybrid Device opens a set of options appropriate to the selection.
For Display, the only option is Adaptive Sharpening, with the default being 50%. Sharpening increases by moving the slider to the right and decreases to the left, but it takes into account the image size and other factors so it is not effectively linear.

The other output choices include many more options. These options are needed in order to match the sharpening to the image resolution and the characteristics of the output device as well as the paper on which it will be printed. Once you make these selections, you can click “OK” and apply the settings, or you can further customize the sharpening using the new Creative Sharpening Tools.

Three of the four Creative Sharpening tools are new in SP3. The carryover from version 2 is the Output Sharpening slider. The default setting is 100%, with a range from 0% to 200%. The recommended starting point, 100%, is based on photographer feedback from previous versions according to Nik. Increasing or decreasing this amount applies more or less sharpening to the image.
The three new tools are: Structure, Local Contrast and Focus. The Structure slider increases the sharpness of smooth surfaces and textures, the image information between lines and edges. To increase the sharpness of fine edges and small details, you use the Local Contrast slider. The Focus slider adaptively sharpens the out-of-focus areas more than the in-focus areas. The slider for each of these new tools is set to 0, with a range of –100 to +100. The effects are dramatic from one end of the scale to the other.

All of the above tools apply their effects globally to the image, and for most images, that will be all you need. But SP3 gives you several ways to apply sharpening selectively using the Selective Sharpening tools.

The first option utilizes Nik Software’s U Point technology. By adding control points to the image you can apply any or all of the Creative Sharpening tools to selected areas without creating a mask. For example, if the sky starts looking “grainy” when you have applied your global sharpening, you can add a control point to lower the output sharpening and structure.

Actually, SP3 provides an even better way to change the sharpening of the sky or any three-color/gray values in the image. Clicking on the Control Points drop-down menu allows you to select the second option, Color Ranges. The screen redraws and presents you with three boxes, associated eyedroppers for selecting a color/value from the image and Output Sharpening Strength sliders, again set at 100%. Using one of the eyedroppers to select the sky, you can change the amount of sharpening, but the other creative sharpening tools are not available. Perhaps they will appear in the next version. By using all three boxes, or adding additional ones, you can target a range of hues.gray values.

It is possible to view the targeted areas you selected using control points or color ranges by choosing the Effect Mask view from the Mode menu along the top border. This view shows the mask that the software saved you from having to create. With color images I found it much more useful than the orange Effect Overlay that is also designed to preview the mask. With monochrome images however, the Effect Overlay worked far better than the Effect Mask. It’s good to have both available.

There is yet another way to selectively apply sharpening. By clicking the Brush button next to the Cancel and OK buttons at the bottom right of the interface, SP3 applies your sharpening to the image, drops you back into Photoshop with the sharpened image on a new layer with a layer mask, and opens the Nik Selective Tool from the File>Automate menu. At this point you can Paint the layer mask with white to selectively apply the sharpening. Or, you can use the Fill option to apply the sharpening to the entire image, and then use the Erase tool to remove the sharpening from areas.

Sharpener Pro 3.0 has many other features, including a RAW Pre-Sharpener tool, the ability to copy and paste adjustments between images in Apple Aperture, and compatibility with Photoshop’s Smart Objects, allowing you to adjust sharpening after applying Sharpener Pro. You can also create up to 10 of your own presets if you are repeatedly printing the same size image to the same size on the same output device. It is very sophisticated software, but intuitive to use thanks to the Sharpening Soft Proof viewing mode. Once you try it, I’m betting you’ll forget where to find the Unsharp Mask tool in Photoshop.

The suggested retail price of Sharpener Pro 3.0 is $199.95. Sharpener Pro 2.0 users can upgrade for $99.95 More information about SP3, including video tutorials showing the software running within Photoshop and Aperture and a free15-day fully functional trial version is available from the Nik Software, Inc. website, www.niksoftware.com.
Microsoft® Windows® users must have an AMD or Intel processor with 1GB RAM recommended, Windows 2000, XP or Vista and Photoshop 7 through CS3, Photoshop Elements 2.0 through 6.0, or Adobe Photoshop plug-in compatible application. Apple® Macintosh users must have G4, G5, Intel® Core™ Solo, Intel Core Duo, Intel Core 2 Duo, or Intel Xeon® processor (Universal Binary compatible) with 1GB RAM recommended, Mac OS X 10.4 or later and Photoshop CS2 and CS3, Photoshop Elements 4.0 and 6.0, or Adobe Photoshop plug-in compatible application or Apple® Aperture™ 2 (version 2.1 or later).
Nik Silver Efex Pro: Stan Sholik
Through the long history of silver halide photography, the black and white print has been seen as the ultimate expression of a photographer’s vision. This remained true even through the evolution of color photography and its acceptance as an art form. Working in black and white not only required the ability to see the world in terms of form, structure and luminance values, it required the photographer to possess the technique to translate this vision, in the darkroom, into a monochrome print.

Now, in the short history of digital imaging, the mystique surrounding black and white images is rapidly disappearing. Photoshop, especially CS3, Lightroom and Aperture include built-in tools that nearly automate the production of monochrome and toned images. And increasingly sophisticated printers for monochrome output are becoming available. High quality black and white printing of digital captures and scanned images is now available for anyone with the interest and money to invest.

But, as anyone who has worked in a wet darkroom knows, creating a black and white print that expresses your vision of a scene you’ve photographed is far different than just making a straight print. The same is true in a digital darkroom—you need the proper tools and the proper workflow if you expect to create images that go beyond the ordinary and represent your vision. For photographers working digitally in black and white, the Nik Silver Efex Pro will take you farther and faster along the monochrome path than Lightroom, Aperture or CS3 alone.

As a plug-in for Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Aperture 2.1 and other Photoshop plug-in compatible programs, Silver Efex Pro (SFX) looks and functions similarly to other Nik plug-ins such as Dfine, Viveza and Sharpener Pro. Like these programs, SFX includes Nik’s U Point technology that allows adjustments without complex selections and masking.
Installation is straightforward. The installer finds your plug-in folder, asks for registration information and installs. You can begin working without a reboot.
After opening an 8- or 16-bit RGB file in your imaging program, you access Silver Efex through the Filter >Nik Software popup menu. Your image reopens as a monochrome in center of the SFX interface, which is resizable through a control in the lower right corner rather than a maximize button. Once you get it to the size you like (after a few clicks and drags I got it full screen), it remembers this for subsequent images.
The default interface has three main sections. On the left is the Style Browser, in the center is the Preview Window and to the right is the Enhancement Controls panel and Loupe window. A menu bar runs along the top with viewing tools.

The Style Browser contains preset styles that you can apply to your image with a single click, as final art or as a starting point for further enhancement. Nik supplies about 20 presets on the CD. I don’t have the exact count because I’ve downloaded a few of the 33 (as of today) additional presets on the Nik website. And of course, you can create and save your own. You can also turn this panel off to gain extra screen space for your main image.
The Enhancement Control panel to the right is where you find the controls to manipulate your image. The topmost section contains the three primary controls used for adjusting both global and selective tonality: Brightness, Contrast and Structure. The center section provides presets for emulating traditional black and white films and tools to stylize an image with toners and vignettes.

Below the Enhancement Control panel is the Loupe. This shows a section of the image at 100% when the image is zoomed out to fit the screen or acts as a navigator when the image is viewed at the two zoom ratios, 100% and 300%, provided by the program.

In a program where you are able to freely adjust highlight and shadow values, I was surprised to find that there is no histogram. Instead, below the Loupe, are 11 boxes, marked from 0 to 10, representing the Zone System. Clicking on one of the boxes, or rolling the cursor over them, brings up a crosshatch display on the preview image showing what areas of the image fall in that zone. While I found this interesting and informative as far as it goes, I question its value in the 21st century where digital imagers are far more knowledgeable in reading histograms and black (K) percentage readouts than in understanding N-2 development. I’d rather see a histogram with a line indicating where the gray value falls as you more the cursor over the image.

Nik recommends a specific workflow, and the Enhancement Control panel lays this out from top to bottom. After selecting a style from the Style Browser as a starting point if desired, you apply global changes to brightness, contrast and structure with the controls at the top of the panel. Brightness and Contrast are the same controls found in any imaging program while Structure is a very handy control over local contrast. After making global changes, Nik recommends using the U Point controls to make brightness, contrast and structure changes to specific regions of the image.

If you’ve spent the time to do this carefully, you pretty much throw it all away with the next steps that Nik recommends. Applying a color filter or selecting a film type other than the Neutral default dramatically changes all of your previous enhancements! It’s back to the initial global and control point enhancements to readjust tonality to your liking. Not to say that this is a bad thing, just that, with all of the options available in Silver Efex, you’ll find yourself spending more time creating your image than you might initially expect from the well-written Nik user guide.

One feature that I’d like to see incorporated in future releases is the ability to apply the color filters with U Point technology. This would allow you to darken the sky with a red filter and lighten the ocean with a blue filter. As it stands, color filters can only be applied globally.

While I’m nitpicking SFX, I need to mention the Film Types emulation. Nik offers 18 different film emulations plus Neutral from which to choose, nicely arranged by ISO. You preview the look of each by rolling your cursor over the film names and watching your preview image. While the results vary with each film type, the variation is much greater in most cases than you would find if you had shot the actual film. Having shot both FP-4 and Plus-X for many years, I can testify that you would never find the tonal variation between them (given normal processing) that the Nik emulations would imply.
The Film Types panel gives you numerous controls over color response and tonality making this less of an issue. And the Grain control produces the most realistic film grain I have seen. But I would recommend a workflow of choosing a Film Type (with appropriate adjustments) first, a Color Filter (with appropriate adjustments) next, then go on to global and selective enhancements.

When you are satisfied with your enhancements, you have the choice of either applying them to the entire image as a new layer, or brushing them on when you return to your imaging program. In Aperture, you can apply the enhancements to multiple images. In Photoshop, SFX can be applied as a Smart Filter. I also found that if you make a selection, you could open the selection when you choose SFX from the Filters menu, apply your enhancements to the selection and it will open as a new layer in Photoshop.
The creative possibilities that Nik Silver Efex Pro open up are endless. I have only touched on the tools available in the program. Even the excellent tutorials and user guide that Nik Software provides will only begin your exploration of this program. If you are interested in digitally creating black and white or toned images, Nik Silver Efex will be a valuable, easy-to-use tool.

The suggested retail price of Silver Efex Pro is $199.95. More information about Silver Efex Pro,
including video tutorials showing the software running within Photoshop and Aperture and a free
15-day fully functional trial version is available from the Nik Software website, www.niksoftware.com.
Microsoft® Windows® users must have an AMD or Intel processor with 1GB RAM recommended, Windows 2000, XP or Vista and Photoshop 7 through CS3, Photoshop Elements 2.0 through 6.0, or Adobe Photoshop plug-in compatible application. Apple® Macintosh users must have G4, G5, Intel® Core™ Solo, Intel Core Duo, Intel Core 2 Duo, or Intel Xeon® processor (Universal Binary compatible) with 1GB RAM recommended, Mac OS X 10.4 or later and Photoshop CS2 and CS3, Photoshop Elements 4.0 and 6.0, or Adobe Photoshop plug-in compatible application or Apple® Aperture™ 2 (version 2.1 or later).
ExpoImaging Ray Flash: Lord of the Rings: Stan Sholik
Ringlights have generally fallen into two categories: small, low-power, battery-powered units designed for macro photography or large, powerful, AC-powered units used by portrait, fashion and commercial studio photographers. Now, thanks to ExpoImaging, there is a third category: a lightweight, “battery-powered” ringlight that is powerful enough to shoot portraits and full-length fashion and wedding images, but equally well suited for the lower-power requirements of macro photography.

The ExpoImaging Ray Flash is a circular lighting unit (ExpoImaging rightly calls it a “ringflash adapter”) that mounts on your Canon or Nikon hot-shoe mounted flash. There is no flashtube in the Ray Flash. Rather, a series of polished surfaces, channels and baffles directs the light output from the on-camera flash, around the lens, and onto the subject.


Mounting the Ray Flash couldn’t be easier. You simply slide the circular section over your lens and connect the upper section to your flash. Twisting a dial on the Ray Flash adjusts a pressure plate to hold the unit securely to the flash. I was a little skeptical about how well this would hold, but in use the one pound Ray Flash stayed securely fastened, both when walking around with the camera banging against my hip and also with the camera/flash/Ray Flash pointed downward while doing macro photos.

The circular lens opening is 4-1/8 inches in diameter, which was large enough for all of my lenses. With one lens, the circular section of the flash unit was positioned over the zoom ring and with a manual focus macro lens, it was over the focusing ring. In both cases it is more difficult to operate the rings. I’ve had these issues when using high-power ringlights also. Since the Ray Flash is only one inch thick, it is relatively easy to deal with these issues using a little effort. With the thicker high-power units, there is no easy solution.
The Ray Flash solves another even bigger issue that I have with high-power ringlights, that of exposure. With those units, every time you move closer or further from your subject, the exposure changes since the flash moves with the camera. With the Ray Flash mounted, you can control exposure just as you would using your on-camera flash without the Ray Flash attached. This means all available modes from full TTL to full manual for all flash exposures from full-length portraits to macro work. You also have the ability to use the Ray Flash as a fill light with other flash units and even as a main or fill with ambient light, just as you would use your on-camera flash.

ExpoImaging claims “minimal light loss” when using the Ray Flash, but my testing showed a consistent two stop loss. I tested at several distances with the flash on manual 1/1, 50mm position using a calibrated flash meter Translated, this resulted in exposures of f8.5 rather than 16.5 at six feet and 5.6 rather than 11 at 10 feet, ISO 100. Your mileage may vary. Of course, if you need the smaller aperture, you can dial up the ISO. I also tested for any change in color temperature and found there to be none.


I did my testing with the Ray Flash mounted on a Nikon SB800 mounted on a D2x. The weight of the ringflash pulled the head of the SB800 down slightly so that it was not exactly parallel to the film plane. The design work done by ExpoImaging must have shown this also. Included in the system are two rubber wedges that you can cut and attach to compensate. You can also use these to mount the Ray Flash on other, non-recommended shoe-mount flash units. I tried the Ray Flash on my backup SB80DX and it worked fine, even without the little bit of wedge I needed for the SB800.
At present, the ExpoImaging Ray Flash is only available for Nikon SB800, Canon 580EX and Canon 580EX II flashes. There are different models for different cameras that use the recommended flash units. More information is available on the ExpoImaging website, www.expoimaging.net. When purchased directly from ExpoImaging, the cost of the Ray Flash is $299.95.
Profoto D1 Air Monoblocs: Stan Sholik
Self-contained monobloc flash units have increased tremendously in popularity among professional photographers in the last few years. Much of this is due to the ability of manufacturers to include advanced electronic circuitry into smaller and lighter packages, providing capabilities and power output previously available only in separate power pack/flash head systems.

The D1 Air line from Profoto is an excellent example of these new high-tech monoblocs. The line consists of three models, named for the maximum Watt-second power output available from each: the D1 1000, D1 500 and D1 250. They are all fully digital, from the digital display on the back of each unit to the flash output controls inside, making them the perfect lighting tools for digital capture.
Each model is identical in size, about 12 inches in length and just over five inches in diameter. They are identical in diameter to Profoto’s power pack heads so you can mount the full line of Profoto light modifiers onto them.

I was sent a D1 500 Air kit for evaluation. It consisted of two D1 500 Air heads, along with two stands, two white umbrellas, power cables and a travel case into which everything neatly packs for transport or storage. When I unpacked the equipment I found that the Profoto Air Remote transceiver was also included.

I own a monobloc system that I use for executive portraits in the studio and on location. I like everything about them except the need to run around to each head if I want to change power settings to create different lighting ratios. The D1 Air monoblocs have eliminated the need for this.
The ‘Air’ in each of the model’s names refers to the built-in radio receiver in the unit. The receivers are controlled by the Profoto Air Remote transceiver, which attaches to the camera hot shoe and is used as a transmitter with the D1 Air monoblocs.

On the Air Remote, you can choose from eight different transmitting frequencies and the D1 monoblocs can be placed into six different groups. The Air Remote allows you to control the power settings and modeling light of all the units in each group or to control settings and modeling lights of all of the equipment attached at once.

I set each unit as a separate group so that I could adjust the output of each independently of the other in order to vary the lighting ratio. When I wanted to keep the same lighting ratio, but change the exposure, I just selected the Master button and changed the power settings of both groups. You can change the power in 1/10-stop increments by pressing the ‘+’ and ‘-‘ buttons or in full stop increments by pressing them and holding them down.

If I were using softboxes or reflectors, this system would have been perfect. But I was using the kit umbrellas, which meant the digital readout on the backs of the units faced the subject, not me. So, while I didn’t need to go to the heads to change the power settings, if I needed to see what setting I was on, I still needed to walk around to the back of the monobloc. Power level readouts on the sides of the units would have helped, but power level indicators on the Air Remote unit at the camera would be ideal.

Power levels on the units are indicated by arbitrary numbers. On the D1 500 Air, the numbers range from ‘4’ to ‘10’, with each integer one f-stop different from the one before or following. Repeated flashing at each power level gave exactly the same exposure flash after flash, not a tenth of a stop more or less. The color temperature at the same power setting varied by less than 50 degrees Kelvin with repeated flashing. Over the full power range from 4 to 10, the color temperature varied by only 400 degrees Kelvin, an excellent result and a good indicator of the advanced technology inside the units.
Just as much attention has been paid to the ergonomics of the D1 Air monoblocs as the technology inside. They are faster to set up than any other flash units I have ever used. There isn’t even a protective cover to remove from the flashtube. The flashtube and 300 Watt modeling lamp are protected by a frosted glass plate and built-in reflector that give a 77-degree light spread that is ideal for Profoto’s umbrellas and lightboxes. The Profoto umbrella slides into a tube along the top center of the unit and doesn’t even require a setscrew to hold it in position.


All of the controls are found on the back of the unit and are clearly labeled. The controls surround the knob used to set the power level. Turning the power setting knob adjusts the power in 1/10-stop increments; pushing it in and turning it changes the power in full stops. And these adjustments are exact when measured with a flash meter.

Even the design of the case that holds the kit is well thought out. Stands and umbrellas reside in the upper section so they come out first for set up. The two monoblocs are stored below so when they come out they can go directly on the stands. The power cords have their own pocket and are removed once the monoblocs are on the stands. The only thing my assistant wished for is wheels to roll the packed kit around.

His one complaint aside, there is little else to criticize about the Profoto D1 Air units. Especially since they are compatible with the full like of Profoto light shaping accessories. MSRP of the D1 250 Air is $1069, the D1 500 Air is $1179 and the D1 1000 Air is $1699. MSRP of the D1 500 Air kit is $2679. The optional Profoto Air Remote transceiver is $321. More information is available at www.profoto-usa.com.
Profoto Pro-8a Air Flash Generator : Stan Sholik
Sometimes a piece of photographic hardware can provide the inspiration for an image. Such was the case with the new Profoto Pro-8a Air flash generator. I had just received a request from a non-profit foundation for a promotional image for their upcoming fundraiser. The event is a major wine tasting competition, followed by a public tasting of the entries. And the times being what they are, there was no budget for production, yet the image had to be both interesting and descriptive in order to attract supporters to the tasting event following the judging.

I’d seen photos of liquids seemingly pouring into a glass and flowing up the other side like a tsunami, but I knew that most of these had been done with acrylic models of splashes, and there surely wasn’t a budget for that! And I knew my own flash equipment didn’t have a short enough flash duration or fast enough recycling time to even try the shot.

The Pro-8a seemed to be just what I needed to inspire me to make an attempt at creating the image. At maximum power (1200 watt-seconds (Ws) with the unit I had), the flash duration is 1/2200 sec. and the recycle time is 0.5 sec. At minimum power on my pack (5Ws), the flash duration is 1/12,000 sec. with a recycle time of 0.05 sec. I had a good feeling that as long as the pack was efficient enough to produce sufficient power at some intermediate power setting, I should be able to do the shot I wanted.
There were other possible problems with the equipment I needed to consider. With the power pack recycling so quickly, what if the color temperature changed from shot to shot? Even though I was capturing the image digitally, this could be a problem. Using a color temperature meter, I flashed the pack as quickly as I could at several power settings and found that the color temperature never varied from flash to flash by more than ±50 degrees Kelvin. No problem there.

As long as I had the meter out, I decided to see how much the color temperature varied over the full eight-stop power range of the Pro-8a. This turned out to be less than 500 degrees Kelvin, so no matter what power level I chose, this wouldn’t be a problem either.

The only other thing to test before I attempted the wine glass shot was whether the pack could keep up with the D2x and stop action at the same time. For this test I set up a golf flag from a previous assignment in front of blue seamless and moved a high power fan in close to the flag. The Pro-8a has outlets for two Profoto heads, so I directed one at the seamless and one at the flag. Both had normal reflectors.

The head pointed at the flag gave an exposure of f16 at ISO 100 at a power setting of 37.5Ws. The Pro-8a displays power settings in arbitrary numbers from 2 to 10 (in 1/10-stop increments) and 37.5Ws corresponded to the number ‘5’.

The background light produced a nice gradation when I set it to ‘5’. Since each outlet on the Pro-8a is completely independent, I could have chosen any power output for the second head so long as the combined power output doesn’t exceed 1200Ws. I started the fan and the flag was really whipping around as I held down the release of the D2x and filled its buffer with captures. As they downloaded to the computer, I looked at each one in Phase One Capture 1 v4.7 software (using the Hot Folder mode) and they were consistently exposed and without a hint of motion. I shot a lot of bursts to see if I could get the pack to blow a fuse, but I couldn’t even get it warm enough to turn the two-stage cooling fan to high speed. The Pro-8a never broke into a sweat.
Convinced that the wine shot had a good chance of succeeding, my assistant and I put the set together. We mounted the wine glass at an angle in front of a 4x8 sheet of white Plexiglas. We put one Profoto head behind the plex. The other we mounted into a small Chimera Pro II strip light so it would give a window-like highlight on the glass and illuminate the name of the wine competition on the glass. I left the power setting at 5 (37.5Ws), which now gave an exposure of f11 with the head in the strip light. I raised the power to the head behind the plex to 6 (75Ws) to blow out the background. With my assistant pouring wine, we had the shot and lots of others in less than an hour thanks to the Pro-8a.

A couple of days later, I had an assignment to shoot some medical equipment in a mock operating room. I decided to see how the Pro-8a stood up on a location shoot. My assistant loved the pack for several reasons. With all of its capabilities, the Pro-8a only weighs about 25 lbs. And the two large rubber handles make it easy for him to pick up and move it. He also loved that the controls were so easy to figure out (he’s not one to read manuals). And when I asked him for a little more power, he could give it to me in 1/10-stop increments. He also found that by holding down the power control for a head he could quickly adjust the power up or down in full stops. We checked this too—the adjustments are EXACTLY a full stop, not a tenth more or less.

On location we had a crowd of people to deal with—art director, client representatives, models and on-lookers. To minimize the cords available for everyone to trip over, we took advantage of the ‘Air’ feature in the Pro-8a Air name. This feature is a radio receiver built into the pack. A transmitter mounted on the camera hot shoe, or attached to the camera’s PC outlet, controls it.
The Profoto Air Remote transmitter (which can also act as a receiver) can control practically an infinite number of packs and heads. You can choose from eight different transmitting frequencies and the packs and heads can be placed into six different groups. The Air Remote allows you to control the power settings and modeling light of all the units in a group or to control settings and modeling lights of all of the equipment attached at once.

We only had the one pack and two heads to deal with, but it was still great to be able to control them from the camera, although my assistant had to run around to all of the other pack we were using to adjust the power levels on them. He suggested that I put my existing equipment on eBay and buy a few Pro-8a packs, either the 1200Ws ones like we were using, or the 2400Ws packs for when we’re shooting large format in the studio.


And there’s the proverbial fly in the ointment. The 1200Ws Profoto Pro-8a Air lists for $9,699 and the 2400Ws pack for $10,999. The Profoto Air Remote transceiver is an additional $321. All that technology comes at a price. Available without cost is downloadable software that allows you to control 127 Pro-8a packs from your Windows or Mac computer through USB cables. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the software to control even one pack on either platform.
There isn’t any assignment of which I can think that I couldn’t handle with Profoto Pro-8a power packs. They are even designed to operate on location when powered by a generator. The action-stopping ability and the ability to keep up with the fastest digital camera frame rates make them ideal for editorial and commercial fashion and sports photography. Combined with the enormous range of Profoto light-modifying accessories, they could handle any assignment an advertising/commercial studio photographer would have. More information is available at www.macgroupus.com.

The Profoto Pro-8a packs are expensive, but how do you assign a value to a piece of equipment that inspires you to create an image you’ve never attempted before. Here’s hoping my local rental houses build up an inventory of Profoto Pro-8a packs soon.
Quantum Instruments Trio QF8: Stan Sholik
Light, portable, shoe-mount flash units have been standard lighting gear for location photographers since they became available. As the age of digital photography has progressed, the technology of dedicated shoe-mount flash equipment has advanced also. Major digital SLR camera manufacturers offer flash units that can wirelessly control off-camera flash units in sophisticated ways.

Quantum Instruments has advanced their shoe-mounted flash units along with the camera manufacturers. With the introduction of the add-on FreeXwire FW7Q digital receiver for the T5d flash head, they leapfrogged over the camera manufacturers’ offerings by providing wireless radio connectivity. This technology is far more reliable and operable over a wider range of conditions than the manufacturers’ infrared connection.
Now Quantum has taken another step forward by offering the new Qflash Trio QF8 with built-in FreeXwire wireless radio connectivity. There are two models, the QF8C for Canon and the QF8N for Nikon. Both models send commands to any number of remote Trios or older Qflash models equipped with FreeXwire receivers assigned to three controllable groups. The Trio models not only duplicate all of the functions of the respective manufacturers’ units they extend those functions with user-savable programs, USB update capability and more.

You can shoot with the Trio, powered by a Quantum Turbo battery, as you would with any other hotshoe flash. Even without an internal battery it weighs about ½-pound more than my Nikon SB-800. But the advantages of increased power output (roughly 1.5 stops), a larger reflector giving softer light, and a taller profile putting the light higher above the subject’s eyes, quickly overwhelm the weight disadvantage.

However, the real power of the Trio isn’t unleashed until you are using multiple flash units. With an assistant moving with a portrait subject, or with a light pole through the guests at a wedding reception, you can control the lighting ration of the remote flash to your on-camera flash with the push of a few buttons. Or working alone, you can set up remote units in opposite corners of a large room and effortlessly shoot an event all evening with consistent exposures.

As with Canon’s and Nikon’s flash systems, this versatility comes with a price, and that price is a pretty steep learning curve. While the Operating Instructions booklet included with the unit does an excellent job explaining the nine available operating modes and their uses, I would have appreciated a few specific examples of how to set the functions for various common situations.


For example, if you have a remote flash as a main light and want the on-camera flash as a fill light 1 stop lower, what mode would you use and what should the setting be? (Answer: one possibility is to use QTTL Ratio mode with the on-camera flash set to –1 and the remote flash set to +1 so that the remote flash will give the exposure at which the camera is set. Remember to set the remote flash to RG mode.)
I thought I was able to figure out a few combinations by trial and error, but, after consulting technical support, I found I was right only about half the time. (I was wrong about the example above: I thought the remote should be set at ‘0’ compensation.) Fortunately, once you come up with combinations that work for you, you can save up to eight of them for quick recall. Unfortunately you can’t name them; they’re simply P1, P2, etc.

Along with Quantum’s high quality, technologically advanced products is a full line of accessories to support them. As part of the Trio wireless radio line is the new Qflash Pilot QF9. This is a shoe mount wireless radio command unit for use with remote Trio and T5d-R flash heads with wireless interfaces.

Yes, the Trio can be set to not fire while commanding remote flash units, but it would be better used as a remote flash in that situation. With a Pilot mounted on your camera, you have all of the command capabilities of a Trio without the flash, with the saving of about half the weight.

With fewer operating modes to deal with, the Pilot is much quicker to learn. As with the Trio, it too can control three groups with an unlimited number of flash heads in each group. Setting ratios and operating modes of the remote units is straightforward and the remote units need only be set to the appropriate Group. Once you do this and turn on the Pilot, you have full control right from your camera.

Quantum's system approach puts together everything that any photographer might need for a location or even a studio flash system, freeing you from both AC power and interconnecting control cords. The new Quantum Trio head has an MSRP of $1180. MSRP of the Pilot is $589. More information along with videos and helpful hints are available from www.qtm.com
Phase One Camera: Stan Sholik
To say the Phase One 645 is based on the new Mamiya 645AFDIII would be misleading—the Phase One camera simply IS the Mamiya 645AFDIII with a Phase One logo on the body and on the 80mm standard lens and lens hood. As such, it will accept any digital back from Phase One or any other digital back supplier that would mount on a Mamiya 645. It will also accept Mamiya 645 film and instant film backs.

The Phase One camera is also compatible with all Mamiya 645 lenses, although the latest line of Mamiya Sekor D lenses will provide full electronic functionality and optimum image quality with digital as well as film backs. Mamiya even offers an adapter to mount Hasselblad V system lenses on the camera for those photographers who require leaf shutters, but at the cost of auto focus and manual exposure setting. Rumor has it that Mamiya will have leaf shutter lenses available in the near future.
The Phase One 645 (and Mamiya 645AFDIII) is based on the very popular and affordable Mamiya 645AFDII body that I have used with digital backs for many years. Changes have been made in a number of areas. Photographers shooting handheld should welcome all of them. Those of us accustomed to working with a tripod-mounted camera will find some of them frustrating.

The first thing I noticed with the Phase One camera was the black matte finish, which replaces the previous shiny plastic body of the 645AFDII. It is much more in keeping with the high professional standards to which the camera aspires. The change in finish is also applied to the new Sekor AF 80mm f/2.8D lens, whose polycarbonate plastic cover is now aluminum finished in matte black. The lens sports a new ring next to the camera body. The ring allows you to change from auto focus to manual focus with a quick turn. Other new Mamiya D lenses feature a large focusing collar that can be pulled toward the camera body to instantly switch from auto to manual focus.

The handgrip has also been totally redesigned. It is larger, more comfortable and now rubberized for a more secure feel. The function buttons on the top of the handgrip have had their functions reassigned and new functions added, so 645AFDII users will need to pay attention when using them initially.

For example, the 645DII’s multiple exposure button is used to choose the type of metering—spot, center weighted or averaging—or, by holding it down longer, the focusing area. The Phase One’s focusing area can be set to the center of the field or to the left or right of the center. There is no indication in the viewfinder exactly where the left and right areas are, but they seem to be just outside the etched lines in the viewfinder. Without a clear idea of where the focusing area is, I found the new feature less than fully useful.

Changes have been made to other function buttons. The previous auto-bracketing control button now controls that function plus controlling multiple exposures. And the position of the self-timer control, which had been found in the ring surrounding the shutter release button, has been swapped with the mirror-up button previously found on the top of the handgrip. Using the self-timer seems more complex that it should be, but I doubt if many professionals ever use it. I can’t remember the last time I have.

But if you use the mirror-up function at all, it has its own issue that I discovered in the studio when doing still lifes. I normally lock the mirror up to minimize vibration from the mirror rising. With the Phase One camera, the process involves several steps: move the ring around the shutter release to the MUP position, focus, press the release once to release the mirror, wait a second or more and press again for the exposure. However, if you press and hold the release too long the second time, the camera makes the exposure, the mirror descends, then immediately rises again! It takes another (quick) press of the shutter release, which makes another exposure, to bring the mirror down again. Trying to avoid this, I found myself quickly stabbing the release button, which could well introduce vibration into the exposure. Using a screw-in mechanical cable release, the problem still exists, and I presume it still would when using the accessory electronic release, which I didn’t have.

When shooting handheld, and the Phase One camera is a complete pleasure to work with, I didn’t have an issue operating the function buttons and control dials, then confirming the settings in the top LCD. But when shooting on a tripod or camera stand with the viewfinder at eye level, I found it frustrating having to choose buttons by feel and to not be able to see the LCD screen to adjust or confirm settings. This is even more of an issue when a button has one function if pressed quickly and another if pressed, held, and released. With more familiarity with the camera, or a ladder, I’m sure I will be better able to deal with it. I suspect that only those photographers, like myself who are familiar with the AFDII buttons, will have this issue.
I do question the wisdom of one other change from the AFDII. The exposure compensation dial, which had been an analog dial and found on the metering prism, is now a function button on the top of the handgrip. Exposure compensation correction may be a thing of the past for digital photographers shooting RAW files given the software controls available to them. The exposure compensation value is shown in the viewfinder, so it is possible to use it with the camera at eye level on a tripod. But it’s almost a two-hand operation due to the placement of the button and the dial used to change the value.

So much for the external changes from the 645AFDII to the Phase One. The real excitement, and the major improvements for professionals, are inside the new bodywork. A new, powerful and silent coreless motor improves auto focusing, making it faster and quieter. This is especially noticeable with the Sekor D 75-150mm f/4.5 zoom, which focuses quickly and without hunting at all distances when mounted on the Phase One body. But don’t expect it to match the focusing speed of your digital SLR.

The Phase One camera also incorporates Mamiya’s updated intercommunication protocol MSCE (Mamiya Serial Communication for External). This provides increased information transfer between the digital back and the camera body, making data transfer fast and reliable. Most likely true, but not without a new product ‘bug’ in my test system.
When I mounted the 75-150 on the camera for the first time, the camera refused to see the lens, so I couldn’t auto focus or set the aperture. Thinking it was a problem with the lens, I went out to rent another and by chance ran into Chris Benes, the local Phase One rep. He’d heard of a firmware problem and suggested removing the battery from the Phase One back, remounting the lens, reinserting the battery and turning on the camera. Sure enough this worked—until I turned the camera off.

It turned out the procedure needed one more step. The camera first needed to see the 80mm lens. Then I turned it off, removed the battery, removed the 80mm, mounted the 75-150, reinserted the battery, turned the camera on and everything was fine. Most likely this communication bug will be quickly fixed in firmware, either in the camera or in the lens, which contains its own 16-bit CPU. I had no similar problem with the 80mm or 28mm lens.

The camera I tested was a Phase One P31+ Value Added package, plus a 75-150mm and 28mm lens. The Value Added package consists of the Phase One camera with the new 80mm lens and the Phase One back of your choice, plus all accessories you need to begin shooting. These accessories a 1GB Compact Flash card, a FireWire card reader, a FireWire cable for tethered shooting, two batteries for the digital back, two battery holders for the camera batteries, Capture One 4.1 and Capture One 3.7.8 software, the quickstart guide and a manual (I am told) on a 1GB flash drive. (I could not access the flash drive on any of my Windows XP computers.) All of this is custom packaged in a roll-around Pelican-style case with enough extra space to comfortably hold the two additional lenses Phase One sent along. A very attractive package and sturdy enough for the toughest location assignment.

The bottom line is simple. If you’re using a Mamiya 645, of any vintage, for film or digital, you will love the Phase One camera. The internal upgrades and compatibility with your legacy lenses will soon let you forget that you have to learn new button positions for certain functions.
If you’re moving up to a medium format camera, the Phase One camera is an excellent choice, particularly if you shoot hand held or want the ability to shoot both film and digitally. The ability to mount any Mamiya-compatible digital back is a big plus. And Mamiya has always produced excellent lenses, and the new D-series lenses are optically and ergonomically equal to anything on the market, and a far better value.
I can only assume that this Phase One camera will be the first in a new line of bodies that will ensure the future of both Mamiya and Phase One and offer photographers both now and in the future an open platform for digital backs that will benefit us all.
The Phase One 645 camera kit (camera and 80mm lens, without a back) is priced at $4,990. MSRP of the Value Added system with a three-year extended warranty/300,000 shutter actuation guarantee, and Hasselblad V lens adapter, is $7,990.


Various Value Added systems are available with a Phase One P+ back. The P20+ Value Added system has an MSRP of $12,490 up to the P45+ Value Added sytem at $35,990. Price with the new P65+ full-frame 645 back is not available yet.
Datacolor SpyderCube: Stan Sholik
I’m sure most professional photographers have some device in their camera bag to white balance their digital captures by now. The majority of these devices, ranging from an ExpoDisc to a coffee filter, provide a white balance by correcting the color temperature of the light before you begin shooting, saving it as a preset for the session.

While this approach yields excellent results for white balance, these devices do nothing to assist us in adjusting midtone brightness, shadow density and contrast to ensure we are taking full advantage of the dynamic range of the capture.

Datacolor, with the introduction of the $59 SpyderCube, takes a different approach to white balance and in doing so provides a device that addresses all of the techniques we need to extract the maximum tonality from our images. Standing only a little over three inches tall, the SpyderCube is the “Mighty Mouse” of color balance.

Unlike with the majority of white balance devices, the SpyderCube does not give you a camera white balance setting for the photo session. Rather, it is a postproduction tool designed primarily for working with RAW files, but usable with JPEGs within the limitations of available adjustments to JPEG files.

The SpyderCube really is a cube, with a polished sphere at the top and a short cylinder at the base. The sphere at the top provides a specular highlight and the cylinder at the base houses a standard ¼-20 threaded fitting for mounting the unit on a tripod or other compatible support.

Three faces of the cube are designed to face the camera. The top two are divided diagonally with white and gray surfaces for highlight and 18-percent gray balance. The lower face is black with a fairly deep black hole in it. The black surface provides an area for shadow density control. The black hole is used to provide an absolute black, even in a high key scene.

The SpyderCube is placed anywhere in the scene. Placement doesn’t seem to be at all critical. I’ve had it out of focus in macro photos and small in the scene with large sets and portraits in the studio. What is critical is positioning the SpyderCube so that the three important faces are seen in the camera.
If you’re capturing RAW files you can be as sloppy as you want with white balance. While I would normally white balance accurately by creating a white balance preset, for the purpose of this review I just used a camera setting close to the white balance of my light source.

You need to be precise with highlight exposure of course. By previewing the SpyderCube image with flashing highlights set on the LCD screen and adjusting exposure so that the white surface facing your main light is just beginning to flash will yield an optimal exposure.

The rest of the adjustments are carried out in post production. The Datacolor website (www.datacolor.com) has videos showing a Lightroom and a Photoshop Camera Raw color balance workflow using the SpyderCube. I go about it slightly differently so let me briefly explain my process.

After opening the image with the SpyderCube included, I zoom in so that the SpyderCube is large enough for the eyedropper to accurately read the surfaces. If you use Camera Raw, use the color sampler eyedropper and click on each of the important areas of the SpyderCube to set info points.
Once you have made the image neutral with highlights and shadows set ‘by-the-book’, you can adjust the image to look pleasing to your creative taste. I’ve yet to shoot a portrait that looks good to me when it is dead neutral. But having portraits dead neutral each time allows me to apply a color correction on which I have standardized so my results are consistent session after session.

Very few scenes or subject in the studio or on location will have a full range of tonal values and a reliable neutral available to you. With the SpyderCube, you will have them. It’s found a permanent home in my camera bag.
Phase One P45+ Digital Back: Stan Sholik
Just when you thought that Phase One had achieved the ultimate digital back with the launch of the P series in 2004, it upgraded each of the models to a P+ designation in mid-2007. Improvements are largely incremental rather than groundbreaking, but image quality and dynamic range continue to improve for each model.

Phase One sent the top-of-the-line 39 megapixel P45+ along with a Mamiya 645AFD II, 80mm, 75-150mm and Mamiya’s new 28mm f4.5 for this review. Because of the simplicity inherent in the back’s design and the full integration with the Mamiya body, I was able to make my first capture immediately after attaching the lens and back to the body, inserting the CF card, attaching the battery, turning on the back and body and activating the camera release.
After viewing the first few test captures on my computer, it was obvious that this wasn’t meant to be a quick grab-and-shoot system. At low ISO settings image quality is so high that camera and subject movement, not lens or sensor resolution, are the limiting factors on image quality. The P45+ back is meant for the high-end commercial/advertising photographer who is willing to work with the camera mounted on a tripod or camera stand and at a view camera-like pace.

So I decided to do some studio work with the camera tethered to my computer, and that’s where the problems started. Attempts to shoot tethered into my Windows 2000 and Mac G4 desktop systems were unsuccessful. This despite both systems exceeding the minimum system requirements and suggestions from Phase One technical support.
Next up was my Windows XP laptop. Here, Phase One didn’t feel it would work because of a FireWire issue. The P+ backs are designed to take their power from the FireWire port during tethered shooting and it isn’t necessary to attach a battery to the back. To do this, the back needs to be connected to a 6-pin FireWire port on the computer side and my laptop only had a 4-pin connector. I wasn’t about to give up, so I tried it anyway. I couldn’t use the Live Preview function, but other than that, everything worked fine as long as I had a battery in the back.

Further testing on a Windows XP desktop computer and a Mac G5 MacBook Pro, both of which have 6-pin FireWire connectors, went without a hitch. But if you’re considering a P+ back, make sure that the hardware on the computer side is up to date.

Once I had the tethered operation working, I was excited to try out Live Preview, which only works on the computer screen, not the LCD screen on the back. And I was frankly disappointed. Firstly, you must set the camera at the working aperture and “T” shutter speed, then release the shutter. Then at the computer you must choose Live Capture from the menu and use the on-screen controls to adjust exposure and white balance. Next, you open up a Focus window to check focus. But should the focus needs to be adjusted, you must go back to the camera, make an adjustment, come back to the computer to see if it’s better or worse, etc. Or yell back and forth to your assistant at the camera. I’m sure the marketing people love Live Preview, but I can’t imagine incorporating it into my workflow.


These issues aside, the P45+ excels where it matters, in image quality. One of the toughest tests of color accuracy is copy work, and I do a fair amount of this for artists and museums in Southern California. Since my clients need digital files rather than duplicate transparencies, I am constantly testing single-shot backs for this purpose. Until I tested the P45+, none have come close to the color accuracy of 4x5 Type B film. Under carefully controlled studio conditions, the color reproduction is as accurate as scanned film. It is as good or possibly even better than that of my old scanning back. Flesh tones also were rendered extremely well, both in the studio and on location.
The new feature of the P45+ that I like the best is its ability to make noise-free long exposures. I was a big fan of this with the Kodak DCS ProSLR cameras, and the Phase One patent pending XPose technology seems to operate in a similar fashion, allowing exposure times up to one hour. Shooting at the beach at sunset, I was able to make noise-free four-minute exposures at ISO 100, turning the surf into a mist. The 12-stop dynamic range held enough shadow information in the backlit rocks and sunlit clouds that I could bring detail back in the Capture One software.

This long exposure feature isn’t without its quirks however. Each actual exposure is matched by an equally long “dark” exposure. So a four-minute exposure actually takes eight minutes. Though I didn’t test it, I’m projecting that a one-hour exposure takes two hours to complete.
Battery life isn’t a strong point with the P45+. While I was shooting a dozen one- to four-minute exposures, battery capacity was down to 50 percent. Carrying a six-pack of spare batteries isn’t a bad idea if you plan on shooting for an extended period of time. While Phase One specs give battery life as 2500 captures in four hours for the P45+ back, I doubt if you would get 100 captures out of a full charge if you, like me, work slowly and review focus and histograms for most captures.

The Capture One software is the rest of the “good news” about the P45+ and the other P+ backs. With the ergonomic simplicity of the backs, the complexity of RAW file conversion and image output is left to the processing software. RAW files are compressed by the P45+ and output at 16 bits per color with lossless compression as 44MB TIFFs or with greater compression as 27MB TIFFs. After optimizing in Capture One software, final output file size at 100 percent resolution and 8-bit RGB is 112MB.
I can’t imagine any professional photographer being disappointed with the image quality that the P45+ back is capable of producing. I shot 4x5 transparencies in the studio alongside the P45+. While I still feel that the drum-scanned film has a higher resolution than the directly digital files, I admit it’s nit picking at this point in the technology. And I suspect that the differences between the P45+ and other 39-megapixel backs are down to the same nit picking.

What is important now in making a $29,990 buying decision is how the digital back integrates into your current or planned camera system, your digital workflow and your computer system. Digital backs will continue to evolve with higher resolution, better image quality at higher ISOs and lower noise throughout the range. With the gains made from the P series to the P+ series backs, Phase One seems dedicated to producing digital backs optimized for all photographic specialties and compatible with the widest range of camera bodies.
AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G: Stan Sholik
The 35mm lens, which was announced at PMA this year, is Nikon’s fastest fixed focal length lens designed for the DX format. Its focal length with DX sensors is equivalent to 52mm on 35mm film, making the lens a fast, normal, all-purpose lens for DX-sensor bodies.
It is smaller, lighter and less expensive than Nikon’s 35mm f/2 lens designed for film and FX bodies. With Nikon bodies from the D40 to the D400, the 35mm f/1.8 is a perfect all-purpose lens with very good close-focusing as well as low-light capabilities and optically superior in every way to the ‘kit’ zoom lenses available with these bodies. Weighing just seven ounces, it is excellent for travel and scenic photography since it adds so little weight to the camera body.

The new lens incorporates a single aspherical glass element to improve image quality. Shooting at maximum aperture, the lens I tested was very sharp in the center with some falloff in sharpness and a hint of color fringing at the edges of the frame. The red/cyan fringing is more pronounced at smaller apertures and higher contrast subjects at the edge of the frame, but is easily eliminated in postprocessing. Stopping down the lens to f/4 cleans up almost all of these issues.

The lens also incorporates a seven-blade diaphragm that delivers soft edges to out-of-focus background features. Missing is Nikon’s usual window in the lens with a distance scale below. Included with the lens are a soft pouch and a round lens hood.

Some of the work I do involves legal photography where it is important to capture images with a ‘normal’ focal length lens. I have been doing this with my 35mm f/1.4 manual focus lens on my D2X. Testing the two lenses side-by-side, the AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G delivered better image quality and is smaller and lighter too. With an estimated street price of under $200 including the lens hood and case, it’s on my shopping list. And it still takes the classic 52mm filters and accessories.
AF-S DX Nikkor 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED: Stan Sholik
The introduction of the 10-24mm lens is a bit of a puzzle to me since Nikon already has a very high quality 12-24mm f/4 for the DX-format bodies. With a variable aperture, the 10-24mm would seem to be targeted more to the mid-level market rather than professionals, and without my being able to shoot them side-by-side it’s tough to make any conclusions about comparative image quality. I have shot the 12-24mm and was very impressed with the resulting images, as I am with the images from the 10-24mm.
As with the 12-24mm, the new 10-24mm will find use when shooting tight interiors, architecture and corporate assignments, where a wide angle of view or dramatic perspective are required.

The 10-24mm varies from f/3.5 to f/4.5, making it a little faster at the wide end and a little slower at the long end than the 12-24mm. If the focal length markings are accurate, the f/4 aperture kicks in at about 13mm and f/4.5 at about 20mm. Minimum aperture is f/22 at 10mm and f/29 at 24mm.

Both the 12-24 and the new 10-24 are virtually the same size and weight, both incorporate three aspherical elements and two ED (extra-low dispersion glass) elements, both use internal focusing and it seems that both will have a similar street price of just under $900.


But what sets the 10-24mm lens apart from the 12-24mm is the 10mm focal length. While the difference between 10mm and 12mm may not seem important at first glance, in 35mm film terms this is the difference between a 15mm and 18mm lens, and that is considerable, particularly when you want that 15mm perspective or need that angle of view.

Also appealing with the new lens is its close focusing distance. While the 12-24mm focuses to 11.8 inches throughout its zoom range, the 10-24mm focuses to 9.6 inches throughout its range. As with millimeters of focal length, these extra close focusing inches mean a lot when you need them.

Image quality is impressive with the 10-24mm. As with the 35mm f/1.8 there are color fringing issues at wide apertures, but again I found them easily corrected in postproduction with Nikon Capture NX2 software.

Sharpness is excellent in the center of the frame even wide open, but corner sharpness is best between f/8 and f/11. There was obvious barrel distortion at 10mm when I did my “brick wall” test, which changed to slight pincushion distortion from 16mm to 24mm. However, I didn’t notice this in my “real world” shooting, but if you do, Nikon Capture NX2 has a Lens Distortion correction tool that will automatically correct it.
I don’t think that many professionals will be trading their 12-24mm Nikkors for the 10-24mm, but if you’re in the market for a zoom lens in this range, you should give serious consideration to the AF-S DX Nikkor 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED.

If you are considering the new Tamron SP AF 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 Di II LD Aspherical [IF] lens for your Nikon, I have tested it recently, though not side-by-side with the Nikon 10-24. While the two lenses seem similar on the surface, the internal optical design is somewhat different. I found considerably more color fringing with the Tamron lens, but it was also easy to remove in postproduction. There was also considerably more barrel distortion with the Tamron than with the Nikkor, however. Look, feel and handling are remarkably similar between the two manufacturers given the $400 lower street price for the Tamron. For me, that makes the Tamron a good bargain, but it’s the Nikkor that I would want in my camera bag.
Leica M8.2: Stan Sholik
To say that Leica Camera AG has released a new rangefinder camera has never been an accurate statement. The truth is that, with each new model, Leica releases a further development of the first Leica rangefinder introduced in 1925, and a direct descendant of the first M-series body introduced in 1954. The latest development, the Leica M8.2 digital rangefinder camera, improves upon and advances the technology and usability of the Leica M8, introduced in 2006.

But does the photography world need a 10.3 megapixel digital rangefinder camera such as the Leica M8.2? While I wanted to be skeptical at first, after using one on loan from Leica USA, there is no question in my mind that there is no finer digital camera on the market today than the M8.2. The only question is whether or not your photography allows the use of a rangefinder camera: no sports photographers need apply.
This is probably a good time to confess that I have used Leica film bodies and lenses for more than 25 years. As a professional photographer I own equipment from 8x10 to Nikon digital, but when I shoot for myself, I grab my smallest camera bag filled with a Leica M6, three lenses and film and head out the door.

I was actually surprised to find that the M8.2 fit into the same space in the bag. Placed next to my M6, it took some close examination to see that it was ever so slightly thicker, but otherwise virtually identical in size. From the front, the only distinguishing difference other than the model number was the black Leica logo on the M8.2 rather than the red logo on my M6. I was pleased to find out that my 21mm, 35mm and 90mm lenses were also perfectly usable on the M8.2. In fact, with only a few exceptions, all Leica M-series lenses can be used on the M8.2.

M-series Leica’s are not the most compact cameras made, but they are the most compact cameras that fit comfortably in your hands while placing the controls under your fingers. The M8.2 is no exception, not that there are a lot of controls with which to deal. The right hand easily holds the body with the index finger poised over the shutter release, but with the finger able to extend itself to adjust the shutter speed if you’re shooting in manual mode. Your right thumb can easily reach the control wheel on the lower right of the back, allowing you to set +/-3 stops of exposure compensation by pressing the shutter release partially down without removing the camera from your eye.

Not that the M8.2 lacks exposure automation. As with the Leica M8, there is an Aperture Priority mode, set using the red ‘A’ on the shutter speed dial, where the camera selects a shutter speed from 1/4000 sec. to 32 sec. for your selected aperture setting. I found myself using this mode much of the time, thanks to the amazing exposure accuracy of the camera.


The shortest shutter speed, 1/4000 second, is twice that of the M8, where the minimum is 1/8000 second. This is a result of the revised metal focal plane shutter, which actually sounds like the shutter in my M6 and, I am told, is considerably quieter than the M8 shutter. I never noticed anyone paying attention to my using the camera, certainly it never attracted the attention that a mirror-flapping SLR receives. I also had the shutter advance set in Discreet mode—the motor does not advance the shutter until you release pressure on the shutter button. You are thus able to bring the camera to your eye, click off a frame with the subject looking directly at you, and then lower the camera and release pressure as you walk away. The subject will think you never took the shot.

On the other hand, I’ve never found Auto White Balance to particularly useful in any digital camera that I’ve owned or tested, and the M8.2 is no exception. Sometimes it works great, sometimes not so great. But the M8.2 also has all of the other usual settings that I do use, including Kelvin and Manual (to set a custom white balance). I nearly always shoot in RAW format, as I’m more interested in consistent white balance that I can adjust all at once on a batch of images.

Leica’s design philosophy of keeping the photographer as closely in touch with the subject as possible extends to the digital controls also. The five parameters of any user profile can be quickly altered at any time. Before I figured this out, I set up profiles for DNG RAW capture at intervals throughout the available ISO range of 160-2500. After, I found it easier to simply have a DNG, ISO 160 user profile and then change the ISO as the conditions required. Still, I would prefer a button on the back of the camera allowing me to access the ISO setting with one press rather than two. There is an automatic ISO setting that is available in all operating modes that will increase the ISO if the shutter speed would fall below a user-set value, but, preferring to be in control, I never used this.

Leica’s commitment to simplicity and quality are immediately apparent when using the M8.2 and even more obvious when viewing the image files. Image sharpness is extraordinary. Seeing the RAW images on screen, it is the first time that I could honestly say that a digital image looked as sharp as a scanned Kodachrome transparency.

Leica has teamed with Kodak to produce a custom 10.3 megapixel CCD (not CMOS) sensor for the M8.2. CCD technology was chosen for its lower noise at high ISO settings and for its larger fill factor (more sensor in a given area). With the rear element of the lenses so close to the sensor, microlenses were custom designed with varying offset to gather as much light as possible into the sensors at the edge of the field.

The other important factor contributing to the M8.2 image quality is the lack of an anti-aliasing filter over the sensor. Digital SLRs use this anti-aliasing filter to soften the image thereby preventing moiré patterns. Leica decided instead to have their RAW images sharp. I did notice moiré in one image, but I was able to remove it easily in postproduction.

It proved impossible with the current sensor technology to make the M8.2 a full frame camera. There is a 1.33 focal length extension factor. This shifts the equivalent focal length by about one step, that is, my 21mm becomes about a 28mm, my 35mm becomes just a bit less than a 50mm, etc. While this is all very logical, one of the great advantages of a rangefinder is the use of wide-angle lenses, and it is sad to see this impacted with the M8.2. Here’s hoping that the technology will allow a full-frame M9 some day soon.

Leica has partnered with Phase One as well as Kodak. The M8.2 includes Capture One 4 software with the camera. The sensor captures RAW images in 14-bit depth and camera electronics convert this to 16 bits for Capture One. Dynamic range is very wide. In images taken at a wedding without fill flash, with the setting sun behind the couple, I was easily able to hold detail in the clouds around the sun and in the groom’s jacket.

Is the M8.2 perfect? As a digital camera, yes, pretty much from my perspective. Oh, I could complain that it uses an SD card rather than Compact Flash card. And some users are sure to be put off by the removable baseplate to change batteries or remove the SD card, but not me. I love the obvious bow to previous M-series generations this represents. And it lacks a PC outlet for attaching a studio flash (who would use this camera for studio photography anyway?) And of course, I would prefer if it had a full frame sensor. Other than that and the desire for a little less noise at ISO 1250 and 2500, I can’t find anything to fault.

The more I used the Leica M8.2, the more I wanted to find ways to use it. And every time I picked it up, whether it was to shoot a sunset out of my window or in the scrap metal recycling yards near my studio, I remembered how much I loved photography. That alone will make it worth the $5995 MSRP for me once this recession is over. Leica M8.2
By Stan Sholik
To say that Leica Camera AG has released a new rangefinder camera has never been an accurate statement. The truth is that, with each new model, Leica releases a further development of the first Leica rangefinder introduced in 1925, and a direct descendant of the first M-series body introduced in 1954. The latest development, the Leica M8.2 digital rangefinder camera, improves upon and advances the technology and usability of the Leica M8, introduced in 2006.

But does the photography world need a 10.3 megapixel digital rangefinder camera such as the Leica M8.2? While I wanted to be skeptical at first, after using one on loan from Leica USA, there is no question in my mind that there is no finer digital camera on the market today than the M8.2. The only question is whether or not your photography allows the use of a rangefinder camera: no sports photographers need apply.
This is probably a good time to confess that I have used Leica film bodies and lenses for more than 25 years. As a professional photographer I own equipment from 8x10 to Nikon digital, but when I shoot for myself, I grab my smallest camera bag filled with a Leica M6, three lenses and film and head out the door.

I was actually surprised to find that the M8.2 fit into the same space in the bag. Placed next to my M6, it took some close examination to see that it was ever so slightly thicker, but otherwise virtually identical in size. From the front, the only distinguishing difference other than the model number was the black Leica logo on the M8.2 rather than the red logo on my M6. I was pleased to find out that my 21mm, 35mm and 90mm lenses were also perfectly usable on the M8.2. In fact, with only a few exceptions, all Leica M-series lenses can be used on the M8.2.

M-series Leica’s are not the most compact cameras made, but they are the most compact cameras that fit comfortably in your hands while placing the controls under your fingers. The M8.2 is no exception, not that there are a lot of controls with which to deal. The right hand easily holds the body with the index finger poised over the shutter release, but with the finger able to extend itself to adjust the shutter speed if you’re shooting in manual mode. Your right thumb can easily reach the control wheel on the lower right of the back, allowing you to set +/-3 stops of exposure compensation by pressing the shutter release partially down without removing the camera from your eye.

Not that the M8.2 lacks exposure automation. As with the Leica M8, there is an Aperture Priority mode, set using the red ‘A’ on the shutter speed dial, where the camera selects a shutter speed from 1/4000 sec. to 32 sec. for your selected aperture setting. I found myself using this mode much of the time, thanks to the amazing exposure accuracy of the camera.


The shortest shutter speed, 1/4000 second, is twice that of the M8, where the minimum is 1/8000 second. This is a result of the revised metal focal plane shutter, which actually sounds like the shutter in my M6 and, I am told, is considerably quieter than the M8 shutter. I never noticed anyone paying attention to my using the camera, certainly it never attracted the attention that a mirror-flapping SLR receives. I also had the shutter advance set in Discreet mode—the motor does not advance the shutter until you release pressure on the shutter button. You are thus able to bring the camera to your eye, click off a frame with the subject looking directly at you, and then lower the camera and release pressure as you walk away. The subject will think you never took the shot.

On the other hand, I’ve never found Auto White Balance to particularly useful in any digital camera that I’ve owned or tested, and the M8.2 is no exception. Sometimes it works great, sometimes not so great. But the M8.2 also has all of the other usual settings that I do use, including Kelvin and Manual (to set a custom white balance). I nearly always shoot in RAW format, as I’m more interested in consistent white balance that I can adjust all at once on a batch of images.

Leica’s design philosophy of keeping the photographer as closely in touch with the subject as possible extends to the digital controls also. The five parameters of any user profile can be quickly altered at any time. Before I figured this out, I set up profiles for DNG RAW capture at intervals throughout the available ISO range of 160-2500. After, I found it easier to simply have a DNG, ISO 160 user profile and then change the ISO as the conditions required. Still, I would prefer a button on the back of the camera allowing me to access the ISO setting with one press rather than two. There is an automatic ISO setting that is available in all operating modes that will increase the ISO if the shutter speed would fall below a user-set value, but, preferring to be in control, I never used this.

Leica’s commitment to simplicity and quality are immediately apparent when using the M8.2 and even more obvious when viewing the image files. Image sharpness is extraordinary. Seeing the RAW images on screen, it is the first time that I could honestly say that a digital image looked as sharp as a scanned Kodachrome transparency.

Leica has teamed with Kodak to produce a custom 10.3 megapixel CCD (not CMOS) sensor for the M8.2. CCD technology was chosen for its lower noise at high ISO settings and for its larger fill factor (more sensor in a given area). With the rear element of the lenses so close to the sensor, microlenses were custom designed with varying offset to gather as much light as possible into the sensors at the edge of the field.

The other important factor contributing to the M8.2 image quality is the lack of an anti-aliasing filter over the sensor. Digital SLRs use this anti-aliasing filter to soften the image thereby preventing moiré patterns. Leica decided instead to have their RAW images sharp. I did notice moiré in one image, but I was able to remove it easily in postproduction.

It proved impossible with the current sensor technology to make the M8.2 a full frame camera. There is a 1.33 focal length extension factor. This shifts the equivalent focal length by about one step, that is, my 21mm becomes about a 28mm, my 35mm becomes just a bit less than a 50mm, etc. While this is all very logical, one of the great advantages of a rangefinder is the use of wide-angle lenses, and it is sad to see this impacted with the M8.2. Here’s hoping that the technology will allow a full-frame M9 some day soon.

Leica has partnered with Phase One as well as Kodak. The M8.2 includes Capture One 4 software with the camera. The sensor captures RAW images in 14-bit depth and camera electronics convert this to 16 bits for Capture One. Dynamic range is very wide. In images taken at a wedding without fill flash, with the setting sun behind the couple, I was easily able to hold detail in the clouds around the sun and in the groom’s jacket.

Is the M8.2 perfect? As a digital camera, yes, pretty much from my perspective. Oh, I could complain that it uses an SD card rather than Compact Flash card. And some users are sure to be put off by the removable baseplate to change batteries or remove the SD card, but not me. I love the obvious bow to previous M-series generations this represents. And it lacks a PC outlet for attaching a studio flash (who would use this camera for studio photography anyway?) And of course, I would prefer if it had a full frame sensor. Other than that and the desire for a little less noise at ISO 1250 and 2500, I can’t find anything to fault.

The more I used the Leica M8.2, the more I wanted to find ways to use it. And every time I picked it up, whether it was to shoot a sunset out of my window or in the scrap metal recycling yards near my studio, I remembered how much I loved photography. That alone will make it worth the $5995 MSRP for me once this recession is over.
Digital Anarchy Knoll Light Factory 3.0 For Photoshop: Stan Sholik
Few Photoshop-compatible plug-ins will be as closely related to Photoshop as Light Factory. It’s creator, John Knoll, is co-developer of Photoshop along with his brother Thomas. As visual effect specialist at Industrial Light and Magic, John Knoll was involved with Star Wars and Star Trek films as well as Star Trek television episodes. Several of the presets in Light Factory are derived from those created for Star Trek projects.
But don’t get the impression that Light Factory is designed for wild sci-fi imaging. Its uses are very down to earth, from creating sun flares to enhancing a landscape photo, from adding sparkle to diamonds in wedding photos to adding subtle star bursts to interior lights.

Knoll Light Factory contains 19 basic lighting effects that can be combined in a truly infinite number of ways. The developers include 130 different combinations (flares) to get you started and show you the potential of the program. They had a good time naming them as well as developing them. Names range from the descriptive (four point star) to the silly (kitchen sink). Each of these presets consists of some combination of the 19 basic lighting effects.

After installation, Light Factory is listed with other installed Digital Anarchy programs in the Photoshop or Photoshop Elements Filters menu. In Photoshop, Light Factory can be used with 8- or 16-bit images and in Photoshop CS3 as a Smart Filter.
Clicking on Light Factory in the Filter menu opens your image in a proprietary interface that has been redesigned in Version 3. The center of the interface holds the Preview window with your image and the default or user-selected flare preset applied. Below the preview is a group of Layer Controls and below those, a group of Master Controls.

You can reposition the flare in the image by dragging it around the image with the mouse button pressed down. With many of the presets, moving them away from the center of the image increases the spacing between the flare elements, just as would happen with a lens if the light source moves closer to the edge of the frame.

Right-clicking in Windows or Control-clicking on Macs in the Preview window brings up a menu that allows you to lock the position of the flare when you are satisfied with it. Also in this menu are zooming and viewing controls and their associated keyboard shortcuts. I always find it mildly frustrating when the keyboard shortcuts used by a plug-in differ from those in Photoshop. For example, in the Windows version, Light Factory uses Ctrl-I to zoom in and Cntrl-O to zoom out rather than Ctrl-+ (control plus) and Ctrl-- (control minus). Perhaps the next version will correct this.

Below the Preview window are the most useful tools in Light Factory, the Layer Controls. These tools, Tint Layer, Obscuration Layer, and Invert control how the flare interacts with the image. A fourth control, View, allows you to see different layers in the Preview window.

The Tint Layer tool allows you to load another Photoshop color layer that will interact with the flare color to product the final result. For example, a blue tint layer and yellow flare will result in a green flare. If the image layer is selected as the tint layer, the flare will take on coloration of the underlying image.

The Obscuration Layer drop-down is, for me, the most useful tool in the program. It allows you to select a layer or layer mask that will obscure or hide the flare. By selecting your image layer you can have the sun appear to come through trees or emerge from behind buildings. The effect is totally believable.

A new feature to Knoll Light Factory 3.0 is the Randomness slider and its corresponding Randomize button. The Randomness slider accomplishes a few different states of chaos between certain numerical values. Simply drag the slider or type in a value, hit the Randomize button, and anything might happen. If you like the effect, name it and save it as a new preset!
If the Layer and Master Controls don’t give you enough options (and adjusting them doesn’t keep you occupied long enough), you can adjust each parameter of every Element that makes up the flare. Depending on the Element, there can be as many as 12 different parameters with which to play. You make the adjustments by selecting a flare Element from the column at the right and changing parameters in the panel below the Elements list. The ability to fine-tune each Element of the flare is Light Factory’s most powerful tool. It can also be its most time consuming once you really get into it. But the program practically begs you to experiment, but it can become the ‘black hole’ of your time if you’re not careful.

Other than having to break away from Light Factory to eat, sleep and work, the only additional frustration I had when using it was the difficulty in applying multiple flare effects to the same image. I wanted to add subtle star bursts to the many interior lights of a performing arts center photo and use it as a sample image for this article. I quickly discovered that I could only add one starburst at a time. After adding the first, I had to click OK in Light Factory, have it apply the effect and return me to Photoshop, then select File>Digital Anarchy>Light Factory, have the plug-in reopen, apply and adjust the next flare, and repeat the entire process for each star burst. Too many lights, too little patience. Perhaps in a future version it will be possible to apply multiple effects without closing and reopening the program.

If you’ve sold all your old manual-focus lenses and miss the flare you used to see, or you want to add interest to your wedding, landscape or night photos, or you just have way too much time on your hands, Knoll Light Factory is there for you. It’s far from being a ‘one-trick-pony’ plug-in. It includes a range of effects for a wide variety of situations, and the ability for you to customize it to the limit of your available time ensures your visual effect will be unlike anyone elses.

Light Factory 3.0 is available directly from Digital Anarchy (www.digitalanarchy.com) for $149 for new users or $89 as an upgrade from Light Factory 2.0. Digital Anarchy also provides a wealth of information, tutorials, an excellent downloadable manual and a fully-functioning demo version on their site. The program runs under Mac OS 10.3.9-10.5, Windows 2000-XP Pro, and Vista 32-bit and 64-bit. Host programs are Photoshop 7.0-CS3 and Photoshop Elements 3.0-5.0
Alien Skin Image Doctor 2: Stan Sholik
Designing a Photoshop-compatible plug-in filter set can be a difficult task for a software company, particularly if it essentially duplicates tools found in the host program. The plug-in must do its job better, faster, and easier than the host program’s tools in order to justify its cost. Where your skills lie on the line from imaging program novice to retouching professional will determine the appeal of Alien Skin’s Image Doctor 2 to you. Only experienced Photoshop users are likely to find that they already have the skills to manually perform the tasks that Image Doctor 2 automate.

Image Doctor 2 includes five relatively independent filters: Dust and Scratch Remover; Smart Fill; Blemish Concealer; Skin Softener; and, JPEG Repair. As the program name implies, each of these is designed to operate on a particular photo repair problem.

The Dust and Scratch Remover is a useful filter for repairing scans of old photographs as well as cleaning dust from digital captures and removing telephone lines or other long, narrow areas from photos.

Smart Fill can automatically replace unwanted elements ranging from trash cans to unwanted party guests from images.

Blemish Concealer is used to remove pimples, moles, birthmarks and other smaller, discrete skin problems.

To deal with repairs that cover a larger area of skin, such as wrinkles, oily patches or a large area of small pimples, Skin Softener is a useful tool. High school senior photographers might find this filter alone worth the cost of the entire bundle.

When I first started testing the program, I was really disappointed with it. It didn’t seem to work on the difficult images I wanted to repair. Only after I decided to slow down, read through the PDF manual and some help topics found in the Help menu of Image Doctor and watch some tutorials on the Alien Skin website (www.alienskin.com) did I begin to appreciate the power of the software.

Using the Smart Fill filter is a good example. When I first tried to use it to remove an object that was close to the subject I didn’t want to remove, Smart Fill cloned some of the subject into the object area. But, after spending time in the Help menu, I found there is another mode of operation located in the Basic tab of the interface. I could manually select the area to use as the fill source and, as long as the initial selection is carefully made with no feather, the fill works perfectly. And even if the fill isn’t quite perfect, also found in the Basic tab is a Random Seed (starting number for a random number generator) tool that improves the fill each time you select it almost like magic.

Trial and error plays a large role in getting the most out of Smart Fill. The Settings tab of the Smart Fill offers nine different factory settings with different Basic parameter settings. One of these is likely to get you a pretty good result. If you come up with settings that give you a better result than the factory options for images that you work on repeatedly, you can save your parameters to the Settings list.

The only downside to choosing different settings, random seeds or manual selections is that Smart Fill must regenerate the fill each time. Depending on your image size, this can take as little as a few seconds for a small JPEG to 1.5 minutes for a 34.5MB 8-bit TIFF on a fast computer with 2GB of RAM. While speed has been improved over the first version of Image Doctor, the program is not fast. This again raises the issue of where your skill level is using Photoshop, whether or not you could achieve the same result in less time with Photoshop’s built-in tools.

I also found that using a different tool than the one you thought would be correct for the repair produces the best result. With an image of a flying bird I wanted to remove both a horizontal line and a diagonal line from the water background. I tried several different combinations of the Smart Fill filter without achieving a perfect result. Then I remembered reading that the Dust and Scratch Remover could be used with objects as well as small scratches. Sure enough, applying it, adjusting the Basic settings slightly and running a couple of random seeds iterations removed both objects entirely.

The Blemish Concealer and Skin Softener are also independent filters, but which will give the best result in a given situation is not always obvious either. If your portrait subject has a distinguishing mole, it can certainly be quickly and totally removed with the Blemish Concealer. But doing so can entirely change the subject’s portrayal in the portrait. Skin Softener, which smoothes and softens rather than removing entirely, may be a better choice. Image Doctor provides options for either way you decide to go.

Similarly, with a portrait subject with a large number of small blemishes, I found that selecting a large area and applying Skin Softener worked well and much more quickly than selecting each blemish individually and applying the Blemish Concealer filter.

Of the five filters in Image Doctor 2, I think Blemish Concealer and Skin Softener are the most useful, and studios that do a volume of seniors, portraits, weddings and even events may even find them indispensable. They would also be better able to justify the $199 MSRP of the product than a more casual user. A free 30-day download is available from Alien Skin Software so you can see if your level of Photoshop skills is a match for the range of image repair tools in Image Doctor 2.
GoodSync Pro Backup and Synchronization Software : Stan Sholik
Very few photographers have only one computer these days. The minimum seems to be a desktop at home, a desktop at the studio and a laptop for location assignments and travel. Each of these may have an external backup drive connected. We download and process photos, send e-mails and write documents on whichever computer we are closest to at the time. Keeping them all in synchronization with the latest copy of each document or image folder has become a real issue.

Apple’s solution for this problem, Mobile Me, is pretty slick, if you are willing to part with the $99 per year for 20GB of storage. Microsoft’s solution, SyncToy, is free, but not very slick and the latest version, SyncToy 2.0 is in beta release, so users are warned that bugs may exist.

There is a solution for Windows users though that is in full release, easy to configure and that will handle backups and synchronizations in a wide variety of ways. That solution is GoodSync Pro, v7.2

GoodSync is a file synchronization and file backup softwareprogram that allows you to automatically sync files between desktops, laptops, and external drives. GoodSync also enables you to backup files to and from web servers and Windows Mobile phones and PDAs.

According to a recent survey, over 90 percent of photographers shooting digitally regularly back up their files. A backup can be thought of as a one-way synchronization, where newer files from one location are moved to, or used to replace in, another location.

Synchronization on the other hand is a two-way street. The files in two locations are compared and the newest file in either location replaces the older file, or is copied to the appropriate location on the other drive.

While this seems like a relatively simple job that could be done manually (just compare the save times of each file and copy the latest one), it can become quite complex. Synchronization also tracks deletions and ensures that files deleted on one drive are removed on the other.

With GoodSync, computers can be physically networked together for synchronization, but they do not need to be. Remote computers can be synchronized through an external USB drive or online, using File Transfer Protocol (FTP) or Web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning (WebDAV). With FTP or WebDAV synchronization, images shot on location can be automatically saved to an online remote server where they can be accessed from any other online computer using the appropriate username and password.

What if you have made changes to the same file on both computers you are synchronizing? GoodSync’s algorithms recognize this and mark the files as a ‘Conflict’ without making any changes. You must then decide which version you want to synchronize to the other.

What if you are traveling with your notebook, change the time to the new time zone, and modify files? If GoodSync’s algorithms sense that many files have a difference in modification times expressed as the same number of whole hours, it declares this a ‘Time Shift’, marks the files and does not copy them. GoodSync even allows you to override this action so that synchronization will take place automatically.

I first set up GoodSync to do automatic backups on my home computer. Downloading and installing the software went without a hitch. Setting up a backup is very straightforward. After selecting New from the Job menu, you give the job a name and choose Backup as the job type. A tab opens above the blank window and a blinking cursor appears in a window on the left next to the Browse button. Here you choose the folders or individual files to back up.

After choosing the files, you move to a similar windows next to the Browse button on the right and choose the destination for your backup. Clicking the Analyze button at the bottom of the screen and waiting for it to complete its work brings up a list of the files that require action. The first time through you see all the files you selected for backup of course. You can review the list or just select Sync to perform the backup. Options under the Job menu allow you to set the backup frequency.

I’ve used several other automatic backup programs in the past and have never been satisfied with them because they noticeably slowed down the computer if I ran backups while I was working. And I couldn’t run automatic backups in the middle of the night on my home computer since it’s in the bedroom and too noisy to leave on at night. So I did manual backups, and never often enough.

With GoodSync installed, I didn’t notice any performance hit when it performed its backup every two hours. In fact, I kept checking the first few days to see if it was actually performing the backups and sure enough it was.

Having convinced myself that it performed backups as advertised, I set up a synchronization job of the documents on my home computer to the documents on the studio computer using an ION 60GB external USB 2.0 hard drive as an intermediary.

It took less than a minute to copy the 215MB of data to the ION drive. After installing GoodSync on the studio computer, I set my documents folder to synchronize with the ION and selected Analyze. This showed me that files needed to be updated in both directions. I clicked Sync and the studio computer was updated and the ION contained the files that were missing or out of date on my home computer. At home I connected the ION and the synchronization was done automatically, and, as long as the ION is connected to either computer, both will be in perfect sync.

For photographers with access to a web server, GoodSync can synchronize remote computers through the Internet as easily as through an external drive. All you need to know is your username, password and the folder where you want to store your synchronization files. If the web server supports Secure FTP, GoodSync supports this protocol also, so that only users with the private key can access the files.

In an environment of multiple computers and the need to have multiple backups and access to the latest files stored on each computer, GoodSync Pro is an excellent solution. Included in the latest version (v. 7.5.5) is support for 64-bit Windows and the ability to sync your computer with Windows Mobiles phones and Pocket PC devices. A free version is available on the GoodSync website (www.goodsync.com). The Free version is unlimited for 30 days. After 30 days the free version allows up to 3 jobs and 100 files to be routinely backed up or synchronized. GoodSync Pro can be downloaded from the same site for $29.95 for the first PC and $9.95 for additional computers. Supported OS are Windows 2000, XP and Vista.
Genuine Fractals 6: Stan Sholik
When onOne Software released Genuine Fractals 5 in 2007, they made major changes to the program. It was their first release of the product since they purchased it and it included a new scaling algorithm along with new capabilities, all wrapped in an attractive modern interface. Genuine Fractals 6 adds further functionality that will be of interest to a select group of photographers whose lives it will simplify.

The software continues to be available in two versions, Genuine Fractals 6 ($159.95 MSRP) and Genuine Fractals PrintPro 6 ($299.95 MSRP). Both are Photoshop plug-ins and both use the same scaling algorithm, but differ in a few features. For example, the PrintPro version scales both 8- and 16-bit CMYK, RGB, LAB and grayscale files, while Genuine Fractals 6 will only scale RGB and grayscale files (8- and 16-bit).

Chief among the latest enhancements are the addition of output print Tiling to both versions and the addition of a Gallery Wrap feature to Print Pro. Batch processing, that required you to create a Photoshop action in GF5, is now built into both versions of GF6. And there are other less obvious changes in GF6 that will make life easier for all users.
Tiling allows you to output large prints on a smaller printer. After selecting a preset output size or directly inputting the final size, you switch the Tiling feature on. Boxes are available to input the dimensions of your printer paper and the amount of overlap (usually about ¼ inch) between the images that you desire. The monitor shows the tiling and the overlap areas as well as any cropping of the image to fit the final output size. When you click Apply, GF6 automatically creates the separate files you need to print on your smaller printer in order to create the large output.

The new Gallery Wrap feature is aimed at photographers who print images on canvas. Labs that offer this service wrap the edges of the canvas around the wooden support frame resulting in the loss of several inches of the image from all sides. If there is important information at the edges, it is lost to the sides of the frame.

Using the Gallery Wrap feature of GF6, you input the thickness of the frame and whether you would like the edge to reflect or stretch the areas near the edge. The software automatically creates the additional areas needed so that none of the actual image area is lost. Presets are available to soften the reflected or stretched areas also.

No longer do you need to create a Photoshop Action to resize a folder of images. You can access GF6’s built-in batch processing feature from either the onOne dropdown menu in Photoshop’s menu bar or from the File>Automate menu. You have the option of choosing any one folder and creating settings to scale, rename, and resize the images to two separate destinations. The settings for each destination can be entirely different.

Batch processing in GF6 is also a very powerful archiving tool. One of the available output file formats is .STN, Genuine Fractals proprietary format, which uses fractal technology to compress image information. You can choose either lossless or lossy compression, but you will need Genuine Fractals loaded onto whatever computer you are using in order to reopen the file.

As in GF5, you do not need to convert images to .STN format in order to scale them. In fact, one of the new features that is available in both versions of GF6 is support for files with Photoshop layers, layer masks and type layers, so you do not need to flatten an image before resizing. However, scaling should be the last operation you perform on a file, unless you sharpen it outside of GF6, so the advantage of working on an unflattened image is debatable.

While these are the main features new to GF6, there are a few others that speed up and enhance your workflow. If, like me and many other photographers, you find yourself spending more and more time in Lightroom or Aperture, you will appreciate that GF6 automatically installs itself into those programs as well as into Photoshop.

While GF6 is available in these programs through their plug-in menus and the scaled result is fed back to these programs, the actual scaling is done using Photoshop as the imaging engine, so you must also have Photoshop installed on the computer. When accessed through Lightroom or Aperture, the tiling feature is not available. Gallery Wrap is available through Lightroom, but not through Aperture.

Another change to GF6 is the addition of presets to the Texture control. The Texture control that was introduced in GF5 gives you the ability to adjust the amount of detail that is "pulled out" of continuous tone areas, as well as to control how strongly the scaling algorithm works on edges and areas of high contrast. As with unsharp masking, the Texture control is not particularly intuitive to use, even after reading the detailed explanation in the GF6 user guide. So the five presets (General, Low-res JPEG, Portrait, Landscape and High Detail) are welcome as starting points for understanding this useful tool.

One step backward that I found in GF6 compared to GF5 was the maximum scaling amount. In GF6, asking for enlargements beyond 1000% brought up an error message, while with GF5, I was able to scale up to 10,000% with smaller images. This is unlikely to be an issue in the real world however.

In all the tests that I did comparing GF6 with Photoshop’s Unsharp Mask, the results with GF6 looked consistently better on the monitor. In some cases depending on the amount of detail and the sharpness of the original image, the results were close. But with original images that are sharp and contain lots of fine detail, the scaled output was clearly superior with GF6.

However, what you gain in quality, you lose in speed. Scaling a 3.03MB TIFF to a 303.5MB TIFF (1000%) required 4 minutes and 18 seconds in PrintPro, but only 4.2 seconds using Photoshop Bicubic. While GF6 isn’t going to win any speed contests against Photoshop, the better quality of the final image along with the ability to tile the output, produce gallery wraps and sharpen while scaling make Genuine Fractals 6 a useful plug-in for those photographers who can make use of those capabilities.

System requirements remain the same as GF5. The software installs as a plug-in in Photoshop CS2 (v9.0.2), CS3, or Photoshop Elements 4 or later versions of these programs. OS requirements are Windows XP SP2 or Vista or Mac OS 10.4.4 or later with Microsoft .NET 2.0 framework installed. GF6 for the Mac is written in Universal Binary to be fully compatible with both PowerPC and Intel-based Macs.

To use GF6 in Lightroom you must be using Lightroom 2 or higher. Integration with Aperture requires Aperture 2.1 or higher. Upgrade price from GF5 is $99.
OnOne Software’s FocalPoint 1.0: Stan Sholik
A Google search on “soft focus Photoshop plug-in” reveals over 377,000 results. Even if each page is referenced multiple times, there are still many thousands of free and commercial plug-ins of this type available. So the fact that onOne Software has created a new one, FocalPoint 1.0, that is so unique in its application, so well designed, and so useful that every photographer, no matter what types of images they create, should have it on their computer, is amazing.

Photographers from the very earliest days of daguerreotypes and glass plates have used selective focus and manipulated depth of field to draw the viewer’s eyes to the photographer’s subject. Modern selective focus techniques using tilt-shift lenses or view camera controls and a variety of camera accessories prove this look is still pursued creatively today, both in analog and digital photography.

Using selective focus during the image-making process, however, requires pre-planning and often times the use of specialized lenses and equipment. FocalPoint software moves the process from image creation to post production and combines selective focus with the ability to lighten or darken the areas outside of the in-focus “sweet spot”. And unlike using Photoshop’s tools for blurring and vignetting, FocalPoint is so easy (dare I say “fun”?), that you’ll end up searching your database for images on which to use it.

Installation is completely automated and activation is possible on two computers, Mac or Windows. As with other onOne programs, rather than appearing in the Filters menu of Photoshop, you open FocalPoint from the onOne menu in the Menu bar or from File>Automate. (Photoshop Elements users will find FocalPoint in the File>Automation tools menu.)

Depending on the size of your image, it takes a few seconds for FocalPoint to open in a new window with the last group of tool selections applied to your image. The interface is clean and attractive with the latest black background/dark gray toolbar found in other onOne programs (as well as Adobe Lightroom and Phase One Capture 4).

The interface can run full screen and is dominated by a large image preview making it easy to evaluate small changes in the tools. To the right of the preview window is a Navigator window and below it are the Aperture, Blur, Vignette and Film Grain tool windows.

The Navigator gives you the choice of four magnifications, Fit, 1:1, 2:1 and 4:1, which are more accurately Fit (to screen), 1:1 (actual image pixels), 1:2 (1/2-actual size) and 1:4 (1/4-actual size). Those misnomers aside, a magnifying glass found at the bottom of the interface allows you to evaluate the image at magnifications larger than 1:1.

The Aperture window contains controls for the type of aperture (round or planar) as well as the aperture’s feather and opacity.

The Blur window holds sliders for the amount and type of blur (either soft focus or motion).

Controls for the amount and brightness (white to black) of the vignette as well as control over the midpoint of the vignette are found in the Vignette window.

Finally, the Film Grain window holds a slider to add simulated film grain to the area outside the “sweet spot”. By default, Film Grain is turned off and must be activated by clicking in a box next to the title.

Below these tools is a window of Presets, pre-made selective focus and vignette settings that you can apply with a single mouse click. You can also create your own presets and save them to this menu. The Preset menu also appears in the onOne dropdown menu in Photoshop’s menu bar. If you have a series of images (during an event/wedding/portrait session), you can apply FocalPoint to one image, save the adjustments to a preset, and apply the adjusments to additional images without opening FocalPoint at all You can also apply the adjustments to a batch of images by creating an Action and then using the File>Automate>FocalPoint command.

Other controls are present in the toolbar below the preview window and in the FocalPoint menu bar.

While sliders are available in the Aperture and Blur windows, the main control for adjusting the size, shape and position of the sweet spot is the FocusBug. It is active by default when FocalPoint opens unless you have closed the program after turning it off.

You position the center of the FocusBug in the area you want to keep sharp (the sweet spot), then adjust the size and shape of the sweet spot by pulling and rotating the “legs” of the FocusBug. A grid appears when you do this to help you visualize the area you are covering. The grid can also be turned off if you prefer.

Once you have defined the sweet spot with the FocusBug, you adjust the amount of blur and the amount of feather by using the “antennae” of the FocusBug. The length of the right antenna adjusts the amount of blur. Rotating it up or down adjusts the feather. The blur applied in FocalPoint is not the typical Gaussian blur. Rather, it is more like that created by the old Softar filters. FocalPoint’s blurs creates soft halos around highlights while leaving a somewhat sharper area also. This is especially attractive with portrait and wedding subjects and works well with commercial subjects also. It looks far better than my old trick of selecting highlights in Photoshop, creating a new layer, Gaussian blurring the layer and adjusting it’s opacity. FocalPoint does it much more quickly than running my Action and with more control.

The left antenna controls how much blur, if any, is applied inside the sweet spot. With commercial images I kept this at its maximum so that the center remained sharp. With portraits, a little softening in the sweet spot always looked better and also smoothed the transition when I used a small sweet spot and a lower value for the amount of feather.

When you are happy with your blur adjustments, you can add a vignette using the slider in the Vignette window. The center position of the slider is no vignette. Moving it to the left adds a black vignette while moving it to the right adds a white vignette. The midpoint slider adjusts the size of the vignette.

The vignette tool is tied to the shape of the sweet spot. I would have preferred a VignetteBug to independently position and control the vignette. When my sweet spot was far offcenter, so was my vignette. At times I wanted a more symmetrical vignette to darken the corners equally.

I found a way to achieve this, and at the same time discovered I could apply multiple independent blurs to the image. When you save your image adjustments by clicking Apply, FocalPoint returns you to Photoshop with the adjustments on a separate layer. With this layer active, you can select FocalPoint from the onOne menu again and apply additional blurs or a vignette that will save as a new layer when you apply the adjustment. And you can do this as many times as you want. Very nice.

There is also a checkbox in the menu bar at the bottom of the FocalPoint interface that, when checked, creates a layer mask when the adjustments are saved back to Photoshop. I used this with portraits to ensure that the subject’s eyes were sharp by painting black into the layer mask. Creating a layer mask automatically may seem like a small thing since it only saves a couple of mouse clicks in Photoshop, but to me it shows the careful thought that went into designing FocalPoint and making it useful for photographers.

Besides a VignetteBug, I’d like to see an even stronger blur incorporated into FocalPoint. Working with a motorcycle shot, I couldn’t get the background as soft as I really wanted it. I could have returned to Photoshop with the FocalPoint adjustments and added a mask and Photoshop Gaussian blur, but I would have prefered to simply have more blur available in FocalPoint. I ended up adding a FocalPoint Motion blur that solved my problem.

Speaking of the Motion blur, I’m a big fan of Lensbabies optics for my macro and food photography. The Motion blur in FocalPoint gives a remarkably similar result, and I’m going through my pre-Lensbabies flower images to see which ones may have a new life after FocalPoint. Like a polarizing filter in your camera bag, no photographer should be without FocalPoint in your computer.

FocalPoint 1.0 requires Photoshop CS2, CS3 or Photoshop Elements (4.0.1 on Mac or 5.0 on Windows). It will not run on other imaging programs that support Photoshop plug-ins. Mac OS 10.4.10 or better and Windows XP SP2 or better, along with a fast processor and at least 1GB or RAM are also needed. Windows users also need Microsoft dotNet Framework 2.0 installed.

FocalPoint 1.0 can be downloaded from onOne Software (www.ononesoftware.com). MSRP is $159.95. A 30-day download for testing and evaluation is available. The onOne website also contains helpful video tutorials and an excellent downloadable manual.
Elinchrom EL-Skyport Wireless System : Stan Sholik
Devices for the remote triggering of flash units fall into two categories, infrared (IR) and radio frequency (RF). Of the two, RF devices are the more versatile. With RF systems, the transmitter and receiver don’t need to be in line of sight of one other, they perform equally well in bright sunlight and a darkened studio, the distance over which they operate reliably is greater than IR systems and RF systems offer more available channels.


The lack of competition in the marketplace has resulted in two downsides to the greater use of radio slaves: your strobes can be triggered by other photographers if they are using the same channel on identical transmitters and the RF system that will fire the widest range of power packs is relatively expensive. Elinchrom, Swiss manufacturer of electronic flash equipment and accessories whose products are distributed in the US by Bogen Imaging, has addressed these issues with the introduction of the EL-Skyport Wireless System.

The Skyport system is available as individual modules or in a variety of sets. If you are fortunate enough to own Elinchrom RX monoblocs or power packs, there are Skyport units and sets designed specifically for them, including a Transceiver RX USB that plugs into a Windows or Mac computer. This unit allows the complete control of the flash unit from the computer including the ability to store studio lighting diagrams and setups.

The Universal Set consists of one hot-shoe mounted and triggered 2.4 GHz Transmitter with replaceable lithium battery and spare battery drawer; one Receiver with a wall charger (and worldwide wall outlet adapters) for its rechargeable internal Li-Ion battery; an 8-inch cable to connect the transmitter to the camera’s PC socket if it doesn’t have a hot shoe (for use with a large format camera for example); a 16-inch cable with a 3.5mm male plug to connect the receiver to the flash; and a connector to adapt the 3.5mm plug to a phone plug.

The Skyports are some of the smallest, lightest units on the market. The transmitter and receiver are roughly the same size, about 2.5 x 1.75 x 0.5 inches. The transmitter weighs less that one ounce and the receiver less than two ounces, including the rechargeable battery. Each has a 1.75-inch flexible antenna that swivels 360 degrees, though I never needed to move the antennas from their stored position alongside their respective units and out of harm’s way. This despite the fact that I walked outside and tried unsuccessfully to get a misfire from over 100 feet away through the metal rollup door of my studio. Elinchrom quotes a range of 165 feet in the studio and almost 400 feet out of doors. Forty-bit security ensures that the receiver won’t be triggered by extraneous RF sources and ultra-fast processing allows syncing up to 1/1000 of a second for cameras with that capability.

Both the transmitter and the receiver have frequency channel selectors. The three slide buttons allow for eight different configurations of transmitter/receiver frequencies. Of course, the transmitter and receiver frequency settings must match. The buttons themselves are tiny and recessed in the bodies of the units. This prevents your accidentally changing them, but makes it tricky if you need to.

There is also an easily accessible Group switch on both the transmitter and receiver. With the Mode switch in the Group position, this switch allows either one or multiple strobes to be arranged into four different triggering groups. Elinchrom RX owners will find this useful as it gives them the ability to control power and modeling light settings for each group. But I found it useful to individually measure my background and foreground exposures with my Sinar/Gossen through-the-lens metering system. Sliding the Mode switch to All allows you to trigger all groups at once. The transmitter has a Test button also.

My older Balcar power packs with their pre-digital high sync voltage have been a problem for other RF systems to fire reliably, and for one to fire at all. Sure enough, the Skyport wouldn’t fire them either, though the Skyport would trigger other packs and monoblocs that I own. After receiving assurance from Elinchrom tech support that the Skyport receiver can handle a trigger voltage up to 400 volts and a peak current of 1 amp, I traced the problem to a faulty connector that adapts the 3.5mm plug on the receiver to the phono plug of the Balcar. Once I replaced the connector, I never had a misfire. I would like to see Elinchrom include a cable to connect the receiver directly to the phono plug without the need for an adapter.

EL-Skyports are just now arrived in the US. Skyport Universal Wireless Sets will sell on the street for about $185. Additional receivers should sell for about $100. Promised for late fall is a module that will remotely fire Canon, Fuji, Nikon and other cameras with remote terminals. Additional information is available online at www.bogenimaging.us.
Mamiya DL28 Camera: Stan Sholik
'Affordable' has always been a relative term. With business in a slump for many professional photographers, affordability becomes an even more important issue. So the introduction of Mamiya’s DL28 medium format digital system, although priced well under the competition at $14,999, may not seem relevant to many photographers. But it is a system that deserves attention.

The DL28 system consists of the Leaf Aptus-II 6 digital back mated to Mamiya’s latest 645AFDIII body and 80mm f2.8 Sekor D lens. The 645AFDIII is designed to accept digital backs as well as film and maximizes communication between the camera and compatible backs. Likewise, Mamiya’s extensive line of Sekor D lenses are optimized for digital capture, although you can use older Mamiya 645 lenses as well as Hasselblad V lenses (with an adapter) on the body.

The Aptus-II 6 digital back incorporates a 28 megapixel sensor that produces an approximately 80 MB 8-bit RGB file when decompressed. You’re thinking that the latest flagship Canon and Nikon bodies produce almost the same size file at half the price, and you have a problem finding them affordable? Point taken, but if you can look beyond the pixel resolution to the quality of the image, you’ll see what the extra money buys you.

The Aptus-II 6 Dalsa manufactured sensor is nearly twice the size of that in a full frame digital SLR, with a lens multiplication factor of 1.3x. The 6144 x 4622 array of 7.2 micron pixels captures images at 16 bits with a 12-stop dynamic range. Image quality is excellent from ISO 50 to 400, with some noise becoming visible at ISO 800.

The most noticeable feature of the Aptus-II line is the 6 x 7 cm LCD display and the lack of any controls on the rear of the back. The display is a touchscreen, which for most uses can be controlled with finger taps, although for some actions requiring more precise control I had to use the stylus that resides in a slot at the top right of the back. The touchscreen turns out to be both a blessing and a hindrance at times.


As with digital SLRs, the DL28 back is heavily menu-oriented. When I received the system, I initially ignored the menus. The back, body and lens are delivered completely assembled, so I was capturing images as soon as I had charged and installed the battery and installed a CF card. But once that initial joy was satisfied, I started browsing through the menus. When powered on, the display shows four icons containing menus for Camera controls, Shooting options, Editing and Setup. Selecting any of these icons drops you into a screen full of choices, many of which have dropdown menus with further options.

They are of value if you choose not to load the Leaf Capture software. But since most of the options (you can choose from 11 different portrait look settings for example) are duplicated in Leaf Capture, which you will need in order to shoot tethered, and you can only capture in RAW format, the need for all these menu options is lost on me.

The touchscreen is a blessing for quick navigation through the menus, and I was easily able to read the text on the large screen, at least indoors. Outside, even with the LCD brightness at 100%, the menus become more difficult to see. This is is unfortunately true when viewing the image preview. In bright sunlight, the image on the touchscreen is very difficult to evaluate. I found myself having to evaluate exposure with the histogram rather than the image when out of doors, even as large as it is, zooming in to evaluate sharpness is pretty pointless.

It is in the studio where I found the DL28 system to be truly outstanding. While I found it necessary to mount the four pound system on a tripod when I was outside to capture consistently sharp images, in the studio with studio strobes, the Mamiya’s 1/125 second sync speed and the Aptus-II 6 capture rate of one capture per second, I was able to hand hold the DL28 and move around comfortably when I worked.

In the studio, I prefer to shoot tethered to a computer to better evaluate the image, and the DL28 integrates quickly to Leaf Capture software for tethered shooting on both Macs and Windows platforms. A 15 foot Firewire 400 cable is included in the package that connects to the bottom of the back when the battery is removed. I was disappointed to find that Leaf has chosen to put a proprietary connector on the digital back side and that the cable is quite a bit stiffer than the braided cables I’m used to using. I was also disappointed to find that you cannot control the Mamiya’s camera settings or make a capture from the computer with the Mamiya, although you can with the Leaf Afi-II system. And while Leaf’s Live Capture software supports live view for some Leaf backs, the Aptus series is not supported.

One advantage the DL28 has over some other systems when shooting tethered is that the capture is displayed on the back’s LCD as well as the computer monitor, so you don’t need to stop your portrait session to check the monitor to see how things are going.

Overall, the studio shooting experience is excellent, both tethered and untethered. With the range of portrait looks built into Leaf Capture and the ability to create your own, the DL28 is an excellent choice for the portrait and wedding studio, while being capable of occasional product shooting. Image quality is noticeably superior to digital SLRs with similar megapixel counts. Whether the quality difference is enough to make it affordable to you is the question. More information on the operating system requirements as well as information on the DL33 (33 megapixel) system can be found on the Mamiya website, www.mamiya.com.
Creative Light Light Modifiers: Stan Sholik
Is it possible for a professional photographer to get excited about a new line of lighting accessories like softboxes, umbrellas, reflectors and stands? I didn’t think so until the MAC Group shipped me some samples of the new Creative Light line of light modifiers they are representing. Not only are they well designed and constructed, they are priced below or well below competing products. At a time when real “value” in photographic gear is difficult to find, Creative Light has succeeded in delivering it.

The equipment is designed in Sweden by professional photographers and I believe it. I received two 24 x 36 inch softboxes, each a slightly different design. The “RF” softbox has a recessed front with the front diffuser attached with Velcro slightly inside of the edge of the box. This allows you to attach a grid for greater control of the light direction.

On the “FF” softboxes, the front diffuser, rather than being recessed, slips over the outside of the box, covering the full front. This produces a greater amount of spill if needed, and also allows any number of them to be ganged together to create a larger, seamless light source. My old Broncolor boxes were designed like this and I’m glad to see the design revived. Both softbox series have a highly reflective silver lining making them very efficient. Even with the internal diffuser attached, there is only an amazing 0.2-stop light loss when the boxes are mounted on a Profoto D1 Air. As well as I could meter, the light from both boxes was even within ½-stop from their centers to each corner. Color temperature of the Profoto light was unchanged with the softboxes mounted.

I noticed some nice touches assembling the softboxes. The speedring and rods are color coded. In my case the rod color is blue, so they slide into the speedring holes marked with a blue dot. Even an assistant should be able to do it (just kidding assistants). And the rods are flexible steel rather than aluminum or fiberglass so they hold the box rigidly. The steel is thinner than the aluminum poles I have in other softboxes, but is more flexible and easier to position. I’m sure they’ll hold up better than fiberglass poles, which only seem to break when you are setting up, not taking down, the box.

The outer fabric of the boxes has a quality feel to it, and it too should stand up to a lot of use and abuse. All of the seams are evenly stitched and, once assembled and mounted on the Profoto, there is no stray light emitted from either box. Both boxes rotated freely around the speedring and Creative Light says this will be true no matter which of their boxes or which of the 18 brands of strobe for which they currently supply speedrings you own.

That’s all very nice, but the best part comes when you open the files you shot with the softboxes. I used them to shoot still lifes for a catalog of one-of-a-kind handmade jewelry. Previously I had done other items from the same designer with other equipment and was amazed at how much more “life” there was to the jewelry with the Profotos and the Creative Light boxes. Granted this is very subjective, but it struck me as soon as I opened the files.

I decided to use the same setup for the captures of the model wearing the jewelry and again, the results were excellent. The skin tones were gorgeous and the jewelry reproduced beautifully.

When I shoot portraits, I now use an octagonal box for its soft light and round catchlight in the eyes. But since I didn’t have either the 3- or 5-foot Creative Light Softbox RF Octa to test, I used their white 41-inch umbrella for a head and shoulders portrait.

I wasn’t as impressed with the umbrella construction as I was with the softboxes. The ribs slide into small metal “feet” that are sewn into the outer rim of the umbrella. This probably works very well, but I still prefer the old Balcar design where the ribs are permanently mounted into positions around the outer rim. The Creative Light umbrella ribs and other metal parts are alloy composite metal and seem like they’ll take a lot of abuse.

The black outer fabric of the umbrella has a nice feel to it and although it seems light weight, no light is transmitted through it. The shaft is a virtually universal 8-mm diameter that should fit any umbrella holder or flash head. It is nicely tapered on the end to speed sliding into the umbrella holder on flash heads. A nice thoughtful touch.

Creative Light also makes two lines of reflectors. I used a 33-inch white/silver round reflector that folds, figure eight style, into a 14.5-inch storage pouch. It snapped open and folded down very easily, which my assistant appreciated, having struggled to fold other competing products. Unfortunately I chose a wind-swept mountain top for the test, so it was a bit of a struggle for him to hold the reflector in position. For situations like that, Creative Light makes a triangular reflector with a padded handle, but I didn’t have one of these to test.

The Creative Light website (www.creativelight.com or through www.MACgroupus.com) shows other products from the company that will also be available at most dealers. While detailed pricing is not available yet for all products, MSRPs for the items that I tested are as follows: the RF softbox, $138; the FF softbox, $110; and the umbrella and reflector, $31 each. From what I’ve found online, these prices are below the street price of other products of comparable quality. They look to me to be an excellent value.
ContrastMaster for Mac: Stan Sholik
My apologies to Harald Heim, the software genius behind a large number of interesting and inexpensive image and video plug-ins available on The Plugin Site, www.thepluginsite.com. I downloaded ContrastMaster 1.0 for Mac shortly after it became available in December 2008 in order to review it, and its taken almost six months for me to come to grips with it enough to feel comfortable putting words to computer screen.

I will bear the majority of responsibility for the delay. It’s not that I haven’t tried to make sense out of the program. I have on multiple occasions, then given up in frustration.

But some of the responsibility is yours, Harald. In creating an entirely new vocabulary of terms to deal with contrast, then packaging them in an attractive but complex interface, and offering few clues about when to apply the tools, you made it difficult for a logical, rule-following user to get comfortable with the program.

It wasn’t until I chanced upon a blog entry by you that I decided I should just get on with using the program. You said, “My own experience as (ContrastMaster’s) developer is that my knowledge does not really help me much in using them (ContrastMaster tools), because they can produce different results depending on the image. So I think trying them and observing what the options do will give you a better idea about them.”

I’m just not the trial-and-error type, but in this case, I have to agree that it is the only reasonable way to learn ContrastMaster. And the results I achieved make me thankful that you knocked me out of my “logic” box and forced me to try ContrastMaster on a large number of images in order to learn what the program can do.

It turns out I was wrong in both cases. ContrastMaster showed me that contrast is quite a complex concept and that the tools available outside of the ContrastMaster software are inadequate to deal with all of its subtlety.

ContrastMaster offers three local and four global contrast adjustment methods as well as various masking, saturation and brightness options. The three local adjustment methods allow you to dramatically improve contrast in small image details without blowing out highlights or damaging the image. You can apply these three methods separately or use various options to mix them together for even better results.

The four global methods (Shadow/Highlight-Contrast, Stretch, Equalize and Polarize) work on the tonal range of the image and help to improve the result even further. There is also an option for changing the brightness of the image. The masking options let you remove the ContrastMaster effect from an image area where you do not want to have it applied, e.g. skin areas, a blue sky or a wall. This can be done with the help of shadow/highlight and color masking options. Additionally, a saturation mask feature lets you improve saturation without oversaturating the image.
Sound overwhelming? confusing? I found it to be, particularly when the local contrast adjustments are named “Dynamic”, “Adaptive” and “Local” and act on specific areas of the entire image and the Shadow/Highlight-Contrast Global adjustments only act on local shadow or highlight areas. Ultimately the only way I could deal with this was to use the software on lots of images to see what the sliders would do to them.

ContrastMaster is helpful in this learning process. When you first open the program by selecting Filter>Photo Wiz>ContrastMaster 1.0 in Mac Photoshop, you are presented with a dialog box saying you are opening ContrastMaster for the first time so it will open in the Novice mode. (Six months and numerous openings, I still get this dialog box.) The Novice mode presents you with simplified controls with only the three local contrast adjustment sliders and three of the global adjustment sliders plus a Saturation slider available.

Once you are reasonably comfortable with the Novice method, its time to click on the Expert mode. In the Expert mode the tool options increase considerably. Rolling your mouse over each option brings up a description in the Help window at the lower right of the interface, which may or may not be of much help.

The question mark at the bottom of the interface brings up the online manual, which again you may or may not find helpful. I found it more a collection of ‘hints’ than a manual, and the source of my initial frustration. My only recommendation is to do what I have done: open up a large number of images and move the sliders while you pay attention to both their positions and the effects they generate in the image.

Bottom line is that ContrastMaster gives you more control over contrast than any other program available. The Dynamic adjustment is similar to what you get in other imaging programs, but with the ability to control whether the contrast is enhanced for large details or small details. The Adaptive adjustment automatically adjusts detail of different size at the same time as you move the slider. It seems to be unique to ContrastMaster, but I felt it must be applied with some care since it caused a lot of artifacts in smooth areas for me.

There are added bonuses in ContrastMaster. The Equalize slider in the Global palette, combined with strong contrast effects can produce pseudo HDR results. The Polarize slider does an excellent job of darkening blue skies with no effort on your part or the need to use another program. A Histogram with many viewing options is available, as well as an Info palette so that you can make sure you haven’t gotten too carried away with your highlight and shadow adjustments.

I found very few images that didn’t benefit is some way when adjusted in ContrastMaster, but then again, I have my digital cameras set for low contrast when I shoot. It’s always easier to raise contrast than lower it. If you find yourself in need of more control over contrast than your imaging program can provide, download the ContrastMaster for Mac demo and try it out.

There are three versions of ContrastMaster for Mac depending on your hardware and software. All versions are available from The Plugin Site (www.thepluginsite.com) for $69.95. Windows versions are also available for the same price.
True Black and White Digital Prints: Stan Sholik
One of the true surprises of the digital revolution is the rebirth of interest in black and white, or more properly “monochrome”, imaging. From fine art photographers to photojournalism-style wedding photographers, there is a resurgence of interest in monochrome prints.

However, this hasn’t prevented nearly all labs with traditional wet black and white darkrooms to close down operation, including my own. Photographers have been forced to accept monochrome prints printed either with an inkjet printer or a minilab printer printing monochrome images on color paper.

Unfortunately, because these prints are created from drops of gray or color ink, or in layers on color paper, they often suffer from banding, color casts, bronzing or metamerism, where the print looks different under different light sources. While inkjet printer manufacturers in particular have been making advances in dealing with these issues, they still exist.

Now, thanks to the folks at PTS Consulting and Service Group (www.ptscsg.com), there is another solution available for monochrome printing. PTS is converting Fuji Frontier 370 minilabs to print on Harman/Ilford Express Digital B&W Paper. This is a true silver gelatin RC paper that processes in black and white chemistry and is available in rolls with a glossy or pearl surface. Several labs in the country have this machine already installed, including Fromex in Long Beach, CA and Photoworks in San Francisco, CA. It is a viable solution for high-volume photo studios also.

PTS, owned by Pat Lepera and Karen Evans, is the first company to successfully a laser minilab from color to monochrome. Although Operations Manager Jack Cutler, a former fashion photographer and lab owner, was understandably reluctant to provide details, he did let on that most of the conversion centered around software and laser calibration rather than hardware modifications. The only visible difference between the original and modified machine is the replacement of the Fuji front panel with a silver panel that has the name “Silver Edition” added and the addition of “Black and White” below the “Frontier” name. The full name of the converted printer is “Fuji Frontier Silver Edition Digital Printer”.

PTS chose the Fuji Frontier 370 not only for its build quality and reliability, but also because parts and service are available worldwide. This ensures that a PTS unit bought today will be able to remain in service for years, and will still have value if an owner decides to sell it in the future. PTS can even convert it back to a color unit if desired.
Input can be either 35mm or 120/220 black and white film, or a monochrome RGB JPEG file from a scan or from a digital camera. Output from the Frontier Silver Edition remains the same. Print size is 3.5 x 5 inches to 10 x 15 inches. It can print 400 8x10 prints per hour from a single image or about 360 8x10 prints per hour from separate images.

To see how prints from the Silver Edition compared to the output from a comparable Noritsu, I sent the same RGB monochrome file of two images to both Fromex Photo and Digital (ww.fromex.com) in Long Beach, CA for a “True Black and White” print and to the local lab that I use for Noritsu digital prints for a monochrome print from a color printer.

The “True Black and White” print from the Frontier Silver Edition looked just like I would have expected if I had printed it in the darkroom. Even the Pearl surface paper looked and felt like the old Ilford Pearl on which I used to print.

The print from the color lab had a slightly warm cast to it with more contrast than I wanted and just didn’t look as “clean” as the Silver Edition print. Side by side, I don’t think anyone looking for a neutral black and white print would have chosen the print from the color printer over the Silver Edition print.

For labs, or for photo studios with sufficient black and white print volume, the $24,000 PTS Fuji Frontier Silver Edition Digital Printer will produce the finest monochrome prints available today. PTS Consulting and Service Group is located in Fleetwood, PA and can be reached at (610) 376-5202
UNI-LOC Macro Tripod: Stan Sholik
Many technical elements go into making a successful macro photograph. But before they come into play, you need to get the camera in position. This always means positioning the lens a few centimeters from the subject and often means positioning it a few centimeters off the ground. Your skill and willingness to do this as well as your technical and aesthetic abilities determine your success in creating macro images on location.

Every photographer who specializes in a specific area of photography has or develops certain personality traits to go along with their skill and specialized equipment, and macro photographers are no exception. For them, as well as most nature photographers, patience is an essential part of their makeup. For many, this patience will be tested the first few times they use the UNI-LOC tripod system, but their reward is mastery of what is, in many ways, the finest tripod ever made for location macro photography.

What makes the UNI-LOC so useful is the same thing that may initially try your patience. To set it up, rather than splaying out three legs one at a time as you would with most tripods, you loosen a single large locking lever. This frees all three legs and the center column at once. If you haven’t read the set-up sheet included with the tripod and you are holding the tripod legs when you do this, you will find the center column swinging on down to the ground. Hopefully your camera is not yet attached.

Once you discover that the center column needs to be supported and the locking lever loosened only enough so that you can move the legs against the friction of the locking lever mechanism, then setup proceeds smoothly enough. After only a few miscues, you quickly become master of the proper technique. But because of the freedom of movement of the legs and the center column, it is possible to set up the tripod in an unstable configuration. It is always a good idea to make sure the tripod is stable before you attach your camera.

Once everything is stable, the entire system needs to be positioned exactly where you want it. UNI-LOC makes that as easy as it is possible for it to be, but patience is still needed as it is with any tripod and non-zoom lens. The difference is that you are talking about moving centimeters or less forward and back with macro photography.

Loosening a large locking clamp on the center column allows you to smoothly slide the camera forward and back to achieve a precise position and magnification. Extending the center column too far with a heavy film or digital SLR will result in vibration problems at magnifications around life size and greater. Locking up the mirror before making the exposure and using a remote release will minimize vibration causing blur.

In the shooting I did with the UNI-LOC tripod, there was never a time when I couldn’t get the camera and lens where I wanted it to be. The system is so adjustable, it IS possible to get it positioned perfectly and have it unbalanced, so you must take some care when you attach your camera. Figuring out how to get myself into a comfortable position to look through the viewfinder to compose and focus the image is another study in patience and sometimes pain, but one we needn’t go into.

I tested a UNI-LOC MASYS1600 system tripod with a UNI-LOC UNL30RBHQRB ball head and quick-release platform. This turned out to be an ideal system for both the D2x and F3 w/motor drive with which I photographed, primarily with a 105 Micro Nikkor.

While a lot of factors determine image sharpness, tripod mass is one of them. My system had that, weighing in at about nine pounds. This weight was never an issue for me, but I never trekked that far from my car or campsite. Your mileage may vary.

UNI-LOC system tripods, of which mine is one, are totally modular. You can remove the major components and transform them into a choice of monopods, a walking stick and a table-top tripod with the twist of a few Allen screws.

The center column itself is a unique design. It has one 3/8” mounting screw at one end for mounting a ball or pan head for conventional use much like any other tripod. At the other end of the center column are two more mounting screws set 90 degrees from each other on a short angle joint platform. This gives you the choice of mounting points when you are centimeters off the ground. The angle joint platform itself can move through 180 degrees to aid in positioning. In conjunction with the UNI-LOC ball head, it’s hard to imagine a position into which you could not get the camera.

The legs of the tripod are another clever design solution. The lower section nests outside rather than inside the upper section, as with most tripods. What you can’t see from the photos is how easy it is to adjust the length of the legs. All that is needed is a slight twist to loosen the leg clamp, a push or pull on the clamp to increase or decrease the length of the leg, and another quick twist to tighten the leg clamp. The lower section of each leg is completely sealed against the elements, meaning that the tripod can be submerged in water, mud, sand, etc. up to the height of the leg clamp, about 21 inches. I tested this while shooting in tide pools and on the beach and it is absolutely true. No harm done.

There are a number of UNI-LOC tripods in several product lines designed for different camera weights and photographic purposes. All are completely modular so parts and accessories can be added as needed. UNI-LOC also offers a line of ball heads and pan heads as well as accessories. UNI-LOC is a small British company and its products are available in the US from www.uniloctripods.com or from the UNI-LOC store on eBaY.com.

The system I tested would have a list price of about $600. While this is probably not the only tripod you would own as a professional photographer, it is the only one that will give you the combination of speed of setup, stability and ease of positioning that you need for macro photography.
White Balance Filters Comparison: Stan Sholik
If the number of products available to white balance digital cameras before shooting is any indication, professional photographers’ interest in creating a neutral color balance must be very high.

With prices ranging from $8 to over $100, I thought it would be interesting to test a few of these white balance filters under actual ambient lighting conditions to see if they actually produced an accurate white balance and if there were the advantages or disadvantages to each. One of my photographer friends was swearing by Mr. Coffee filters for white balancing and I was curious to see if he was really serious! My store was out of them but had Melitta Junior Basket filters in stock so I picked up a pack for testing.

Along with the Melitta, I tested five filters designed for professional photographers: the ClearWhite, ExpoDisc Neutral, Lally CAP, Mennon and Phoxle SpectraSnap. Designers of each of these photographic filters took a slightly different approach, and one approach or another might influence your decision as much as the ability to accurately white balance.

The standard ClearWhite filter is a four-inch square with a small hole drilled in one corner by which you can attach the supplied neckstrap. One side of the filter is a 1/8-inch piece of diffused white plastic while the other side is a 1/16-inch piece of black foam with a 2.5-inch hole cut from the center. You hold the foam side against any lens with a diameter up to 95mm and make exposure to set the white balance. I felt a little silly walking around with it dangling around my neck, and it’s a little large for pockets, but it stores compactly in a camera bag when it isn’t needed. MSRP is $49.95 and it is available from www.DigitalPhotographyKits.com

Most photographers are familiar with the ExpoDisc and, by way of disclaimer, it is the filter that I have used since it became available. The round ExpoDisc consists of a prism-textured plastic disc on one side and a plastic diffusion disc on the other. Sandwiched between the two are color correction filters. I use the 82mm model and simply hold it in front of the lens with the prism side facing the. ExpoDiscs are available in various sizes from 52mm (MSRP $69.95) to 95mm (MSRP $169.95) from ww.ExpoImaging.com. They also include a neckstrap that I don’t use, but the 82mm fits easily in a pocket.

The Lally CAP takes a unique design approach. It is a piece of gray fabric with elastic sewn into the edge. The Lally CAP slips over the front of your lens (up to about 100mm diameter) and stays in place while you make the white balance exposure. You need to remove most of the ‘flower-petal’ lens hoods in order to use it, but it can be slipped over the lens hood of other lenses. What I really liked about the Lally CAP was slipping it off the lens and just stuffing it into a pocket until I needed it again. It is available from www.LallyPhotography.com for $29.95.

There are many variants of the Mennon white balance filter sold under other names but all looking and costing the same. It is made in China and consists of two pieces. One piece screws into the filter threads of your lens and the white plastic diffuser snaps on. It is sold as a white balance lens cap that can remain on your lens for protection when the lens is not in use, but I set aside the threaded section and just held the diffusing piece over the lens. Filters are available from 52mm to 77mm for about $5 on eBay.

The Phoxle SpectraSnap is a flat white disc with notches holding a removable blue rubber band. I removed the rubber band and simply held it in front of my lens. It too is pocket sized, but seemed to scratch a little more easily than the others. The scratches seemed to have no effect on its operation however. It also comes with a nice soft black fabric bag in which I stored it between tests. There is only one size of the SpectraSnap available and it is suitable for lenses up to 120mm in front diameter. MSRP is $59.95 from www.phoxle.com.

The giant of the group is the Melitta filter, measuring over 6 inches in diameter and large enough for a 300mm f/2.8 lens. Available at supermarkets in packs of 200 for about $2, I had a hard time taking it seriously at first.

I tested in three different challenging lighting conditions. First was in the morning fog to see if the white balance filters would deliver a neutral gray fog. Second was on an industrial assignment using only the plant’s available light. This consisted of 4000 oK, 65 CRI lamps about 30 feet off the floor, large skylights and open roll-up doors. Finally I shot in late morning inside a church lit with the new compact fluorescent bulbs in overhead fixtures with light streaming in through stained glass windows. At each location I did my white balance exposure with the lens and filter pointed at the main light source, then captured a JPEG of the scene.

The original captures are reproduced here…

In each lighting condition, the Auto White balance of the D3 gets you somewhere in the ballpark, but not to a neutral. In the church series, the Auto white balance is far too warm, while in the fog and industrial series it is too cool. The ClearWhite nailed the fog and industrial tests, but, as with all the filters, is a little cool in the church. Closest to neutral in the church and providing the most accurate visual match is the ExpoDisc, which also delivered a very neutral fog scene and was only slightly warm in the industrial capture. The Lally CAP is consistently cool in each of the conditions although it does a pretty good job with the fog. The Mennon also was consistently cool, but pretty close in the industrial shot. The Phoxle SpectraSnap was cool in the church, but nailed the fog and was only slightly cool in the industrial setting.

But the surprise of the test is the Melitta. It delivered a perfectly neutral fog and was slight cool in the others, but no worse that most and better than the Lally CAP and the Mennon!

To pick a winner, I’d say, with the conditions tested here, it’s a tossup between the ClearWhite and the ExpoDisc. But in a pinch, stop by a supermarket and pick up a bag of Melitta Junior Basket coffee filters.
Elinchrom EL-Skyport Wireless System : Stan Sholik
Devices for the remote triggering of flash units fall into two categories, infrared (IR) and radio frequency (RF). Of the two, RF devices are the more versatile. With RF systems, the transmitter and receiver don’t need to be in line of sight of one other, they perform equally well in bright sunlight and a darkened studio, the distance over which they operate reliably is greater than IR systems and RF systems offer more available channels.

The lack of competition in the marketplace has resulted in two downsides to the greater use of radio slaves: your strobes can be triggered by other photographers if they are using the same channel on identical transmitters and the RF system that will fire the widest range of power packs is relatively expensive. Elinchrom, Swiss manufacturer of electronic flash equipment and accessories whose products are distributed in the US by Bogen Imaging, has addressed these issues with the introduction of the EL-Skyport Wireless System.

The Skyport system is available as individual modules or in a variety of sets. If you are fortunate enough to own Elinchrom RX monoblocs or power packs, there are Skyport units and sets designed specifically for them, including a Transceiver RX USB that plugs into a Windows or Mac computer. This unit allows the complete control of the flash unit from the computer including the ability to store studio lighting diagrams and setups.

I’m not an Elinchrom owner, so I received an EL-Skyport Universal Set plus an additional Universal Receiver to test. The Universal Set consists of one hot-shoe mounted and triggered 2.4 GHz Transmitter with replaceable lithium battery and spare battery drawer; one Receiver with a wall charger (and worldwide wall outlet adapters) for its rechargeable internal Li-Ion battery; an 8-inch cable to connect the transmitter to the camera’s PC socket if it doesn’t have a hot shoe (for use with a large format camera for example); a 16-inch cable with a 3.5mm male plug to connect the receiver to the flash; and a connector to adapt the 3.5mm plug to a phone plug.

The Skyports are some of the smallest, lightest units on the market. The transmitter and receiver are roughly the same size, about 2.5 x 1.75 x 0.5 inches. The transmitter weighs less that one ounce and the receiver less than two ounces, including the rechargeable battery. Each has a 1.75-inch flexible antenna that swivels 360 degrees, though I never needed to move the antennas from their stored position alongside their respective units and out of harm’s way. This despite the fact that I walked outside and tried unsuccessfully to get a misfire from over 100 feet away through the metal rollup door of my studio. Elinchrom quotes a range of 165 feet in the studio and almost 400 feet out of doors. Forty-bit security ensures that the receiver won’t be triggered by extraneous RF sources and ultra-fast processing allows syncing up to 1/1000 of a second for cameras with that capability.

Both the transmitter and the receiver have frequency channel selectors. The three slide buttons allow for eight different configurations of transmitter/receiver frequencies. Of course, the transmitter and receiver frequency settings must match. The buttons themselves are tiny and recessed in the bodies of the units. This prevents your accidentally changing them, but makes it tricky if you need to.

There is also an easily accessible Group switch on both the transmitter and receiver. With the Mode switch in the Group position, this switch allows either one or multiple strobes to be arranged into four different triggering groups. Elinchrom RX owners will find this useful as it gives them the ability to control power and modeling light settings for each group. But I found it useful to individually measure my background and foreground exposures with my Sinar/Gossen through-the-lens metering system. Sliding the Mode switch to All allows you to trigger all groups at once. The transmitter has a Test button also.

My older Balcar power packs with their pre-digital high sync voltage have been a problem for other RF systems to fire reliably, and for one to fire at all. Sure enough, the Skyport wouldn’t fire them either, though the Skyport would trigger other packs and monoblocs that I own. After receiving assurance from Elinchrom tech support that the Skyport receiver can handle a trigger voltage up to 400 volts and a peak current of 1 amp, I traced the problem to a faulty connector that adapts the 3.5mm plug on the receiver to the phono plug of the Balcar. Once I replaced the connector, I never had a misfire. I would like to see Elinchrom include a cable to connect the receiver directly to the phono plug without the need for an adapter.

EL-Skyports are just now arrived in the US. Skyport Universal Wireless Sets will sell on the street for about $185. Additional receivers should sell for about $100. Promised for late fall is a module that will remotely fire Canon, Fuji, Nikon and other cameras with remote terminals. Additional information is available online at www.bogenimaging.us.
HP Photosmart Pro B8850 Printer: Stan Sholik
Affordable fine art-quality photo inkjet printers are currently undergoing the rapid evolutionary cycle that early digital cameras underwent. In a niche that Epson created and owned for many years, Canon and now HP have introduced innovative and cost effective products that rival those of Epson in terms of output quality, while improving in areas of color calibration and ink savings.

The latest introduction from HP is the Photosmart Pro B8850 printer. While HP is promoting this printer as “the perfect printer for passionate hobbyists and advanced amateur photographers”, it is just as “perfect” for most professional photographers. While it lacks the Ethernet connectivity, the ability to print on media thicker than 0.7mm, and the compatibility with third-party RIPs of the Photosmart Pro B9180 Photo Printer, the B8850 is capable of producing the same print quality as its “professional photographer”-oriented sibling, at a price savings of more than 20%.

The B8850 prints on cut sheets from 3.5 x 5 inches to 13 x 44 inches with eight HP Vivera pigment-based inks. The inkset includes both Photo (gloss) Black and Matte Black inks, which the printer accommodates without the need to swap out cartridges. The appropriate cartridge is automatically selected based on the choice made in the paper type dropdown menu.

It took me about 25 minutes to unpack the printer, install the eight print cartridges and the four user-replaceable print heads. An excellent Quick Start poster speeds the process and makes it foolproof.

Once setup is complete, you power up the printer, load the media tray with sheets of HP Advanced Photo Paper and it goes through a close-loop self-calibration cycle designed to ensure color consistency. Among consumer-level units, this calibration cycle is unique to HP printers to my knowledge. The B8850 prints out a test pattern that the printer reads, compares to an internally stored target and adjusts the print head printing density as needed. The calibration cycle can be run at any time, but is only required when new print heads are installed, about every four years with average usage according to HP.

During the calibration cycle you install the printer software and once the calibration cycle is complete, you connect the printer to the computer’s USB 2.0 port with the supplied cable and you are ready to print. The printer software includes a wonderful printer driver for Photoshop. The print plugin combines settings from the print driver and Photoshop “Print with Preview” settings on one screen to significantly reduce the number of steps needed before printing.

The printer software also includes the HP Color Center that simplifies management of ICC profiles and the addition of papers and profiles not supplied by HP. The B8850 arrived with a nice sample pack of 13 x 19-inch papers, but only a few sheets of 8.5 x 11 HP Advanced Photo Paper Glossy, half of which were used during the self calibration. Not wanting to waste the large papers on my initial tests, I decided to test on my own favorite glossy paper, which wasn’t listed in the paper drop-down menu.

Using the Datacolor Spyder3Print system, I profiled my paper, added its name and profile to the HP print plugin using the Color Center, and it immediately appeared as a selection in the paper drop-down menu. Professional photographers should have no problem printing accurate color on any inkjet paper with the B8850 once they create a profile and add the paper and profile to the HP plugin software.

I used Scott Martin’s Onsight color evaluation image (www.on-sight.com) to assess print quality. Other than a slight ‘jump’ in the green and cyan color gradients, the color ramps in the color evaluation image were very accurately reproduced on HP Advanced Photo Paper using the HP-supplied profile. The gray scale was neutral in every block from 0% to 100% and the monochrome gradient showed no banding..

The ability to print stunning monochrome images is important to professional and fine art photographers. The B8850 provides two choices for this, Composite Gray and Gray Inks Only. I found that Composite Gray, which uses a neutral combination of gray and color inks, produced the better results by far. Shadows are dark and rich and highlights are clean with excellent detail using the Composite Gray setting.

Satisfied that I would be able to print accurate color and monochrome images, I loaded a 13 x 19 sheet of Hahnemühle Smooth Fine Art in the specialty media tray. While this paper is thin enough to use in the main tray, I was too lazy to switch the paper I already had loaded in it. To use this straight-through printing path of the specialty media tray, you must have enough space behind the printer to accommodate the full length of the paper. After aligning the front and right edges to guides on the tray, the printer moves it all the way through to print. A simple and effective jam-proof solution for large or heavy weight media.

It took about seven minutes to print the borderless 13 x 19 print as opposed to three minutes for a borderless 8.5 x 11. Print quality on each of the surfaces I tested was excellent and the profiles supplied by HP yielded accurate, neutral results.

If you won’t be embarrassed to use a printer designed for advanced amateurs, the HP Photosmart Pro B8850 Printer includes all the features that all but a few professional photographers need, and delivers print quality that should satisfy any professional or fine art photographer. MSRP is $549. Ink cartridges list for $33.99 each.
Comet CBm-1200 Battery Power Pack: Stan Sholik
Generally, battery-powered flash generators have fallen into two classes: heavy packs with high power output and capacity or lighter packs with less output and fewer flashes per charge. The Comet CBm-1200 generator, distributed by Dyna-Lite, is one of the few units that can deliver both high output and generous capacity in a compact, 16-lb. pack.

With outlets for two Comet CB or CX flash heads, the CBm-1200 can deliver its 1200 Watt-seconds (Ws) of power fully to one head, equally distributed to two heads or asymmetrically distributed to two heads with 800Ws to one and 400Ws to the other. An output variator allows you to vary the power over five stops from full power to 1/32 power in 1/6-stop increments. Flash duration at 1/32-power is rated at 1/1450 second.

Power output is very tightly regulated and each doubling of power upward delivered exactly a full stop increase in power on my meter. However, the CBm-1200 does not dump power automatically when you lower the power output. You must manually flash the unit, wasting a small amount of battery capacity.

I found battery capacity to be very good, even with this limitation. The system I tested is called the Comet CBm-1200 Special Value Pack, and consists of the power pack and charger, one CB-25H flash head and 16-foot cable and two NiMH batteries. Both batteries can sit inside the lower portion of the pack and can be used individually or together. A simple silk tab attached to the battery allows easy removal from the pack.

With both batteries connected, I shot 152 (two more than specified) 1200Ws flashes before the indicator lights for each battery on the pack showed them near exhaustion. With a single battery, 60-full power flashes are specified.

The pack does not have a cooling fan and the fan in the CB-25H head is disabled when connected to the CBm-1200. At the end of my testing, the head was noticeably hot to the touch, but the batteries were still cool. The pack does have an overheat indicator light and will shut down operation if the internal components begin to overheat.

Another advantage of using two batteries simultaneously is a lower recycle time. With a single battery, recycle time to full power is 5.5 seconds; with both batteries, the time drops to 3 seconds.

The batteries can be recharged while in the power pack. The AC-charger supplied with the system only charges one battery at a time. However, you cannot keep shooting on one battery while the other is charging. Charging time from fully discharged to fully charged is specified as two hours, but I consistently found that only 1 hour and 35 minutes is needed. An accessory cable is available for charging the batteries outside of the pack.

The CBm-1200 pack has all the other features you expect in a high-quality flash generator. There is a sensitive photocell that can be turned on for slave operation, a sound switch that can be activated to audibly indicate full charge, a ready light to indicate full charge and two RCA-type plugs for sync cords. A switch is also provided that will turn on the modeling light in the flash head for eight seconds.

Location photographers will appreciate that they can remove the cable use to connect the head to the pack from the head, making it much easier to pack each in a minimum amount of space. Reflectors and accessories latch onto the head and are held securely. A white diffusion dome covers both the flashtube and modeling light, which are both user replaceable.

When shooting digitally, consistent color temperature over a range of power settings saves time. Color temperature varied about 500 degrees Kelvin from maximum to minimum power with the standard reflector, which is excellent over this wide a power range. Repeated flashing at a constant power setting gave a variation of less than 50 degrees Kelvin, which would be undetectable in either digital or film media.

If there is anything lacking in the CBm-1200 it might be in environmental protection. For me, the ideal location power pack would be virtually sealed against the elements, able to be taken to the beach or desert without worry, and even able to sit in an inch or so of standing water.

The other potential shortcoming is in available accessories. Sections of the Comet website (www.comet-usa.com) are under construction and “Accessories” is one of these sections. Third party manufacturers do provide speed ring adapters to attach soft boxes and other light modifiers are available for the CB-25H flash head so this shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

On location at the beach, the system performed flawlessly. I triggered it with an Elinchrom Skyport radio slave and it never missed a beat.
The system performed equally well in the studio, where I used it to shoot images of smoke for a promotional piece. With the random nature of the subject, I made over 200 exposures at ½ power with both batteries connected, and the battery indicators had just gone off showing full power when I stopped. Your mileage may vary, but I was impressed with the performance.

MSRP of the Comet CBm-1200 Special Value Pack, which includes the pack, two batteries, a charger and a head, is $2830. This is a significant savings over the individual prices or $2795 for the CBm-1200 pack, $825 for the CB-25H flash head, $195 for the battery charger and $200 each for the NHB-2428 batteries.
California Sunbounce MICRO-MINI Reflector: Stan Sholik
For me, and I’m guessing for many other photographers, the days when there were budgets that allowed us to take a couple of assistants and a bunch of lighting gear on a location shoot have disappeared. Lately I find myself working alone or with one assistant. I’m learning how to pack more efficiently, use smaller dedicated flash units and do more with less.
The MICRO-MINI Reflector from California Sunbounce fits perfectly into this new way of working. Despite its name, California Sunbounce is headquartered in Hamburg, Germany and was founded by photographer Peter Geller. The company’s products are manufactured in Germany, and while they proclaim the build quality of German workmanship, that apparently ain’t what it used to be. More on this later.
The MICRO-MINI is the smallest of the extensive California Sunbounce line. Measuring just 2 x 3 feet and weighing just a little over a pound, it rolls up into shoulder bag for transport. On location it only takes a few seconds to unroll the reflector, snap the studs in the aluminum support bars into the aluminum crosspiece and you’re ready to go.
With your camera mounted on a tripod and a remote release, you can pose your subject, move to a good position to reflect light, hold the MICRO-MINI in one hand and shoot. Even without a remote release, holding the reflector high and to the side of the camera will give a much more flattering image than on-camera flash, or even off-camera flash held in the same place, due to the larger size of the MICRO-MINI. For working alone, California Sunbounce even makes a clip for your belt on which you can hang the MICRO-MINI when you’re posing the subject or metering.
But for me the MICRO-MINI really comes into its own when you mount a dedicated wireless flash to the accessory Flash Bracket and attached them to the reflector. Now you can work in open shade or backlit situations with complete control over your lighting using the MICRO-MINI/flash system as a main light. Mounting the system on a light stand or having an assistant is nice with this setup.
I shot using Nikon SB-800 flash units, which work great if your reflector/flash system is conveniently aligned so that the remote flash see the infrared trigger signal. While this gave me all the QTTL control I wanted, the triggering was sporadic. I tried to mount my Nikon SU-4 remote trigger to the flash bracket to give me a wider range of placement, but the SU-4 needs a tripod screw and the flash bracket didn’t have one.
Triggering reliability was not a problem with an Elinchrom Skyport transmitter on the camera and a Skyport receiver attached to the SB-800 on the flash bracket. The only limitation was the need to measure the flash exposure and set the camera exposure manually. This method turned out to give me the most consistent exposures frame after frame as well as perfect reliability.
The system that provided the most convenience and reliability during testing involved the new Quantum Instruments Trio wireless radio flash. I used it two ways in testing. I bounced the Trio into the MICRO-MINI as a main light and triggered it in QTTL mode with the Quantum Pilot on the camera hot shoe. I also used a Quantum T5d-R with a wireless receiver bounced off the MICRO-MINI and triggered with the Trio on the camera hot shoe for QTTL ratio flash. Exposures were as consistent as QTTL ever is and triggering was perfect. The added power of the Quantum over the Nikon was very welcome also.
But, with either Quantum attached, I wished the flash bracket were a little better built. The extra ½-pound of the Quantum head over the Nikon SB-800 was enough to allow the Quantum flash to twist out of position repeatedly no matter how much I tightened the connection. This, coupled with the need for me to sew one of the pockets in the fabric that hold the MICRO-MINI frame before I could assemble the reflector, made me wonder about modern German workmanship and quality control.
The MICRO-MINI I tested, with a Zebra (gold/silver zigzag that raises the color temperature about 400 Kelvin) fabric on one side and a white fabric on the other has a street price of about $205, including the carrying bag. There are other reversible fabric combinations available, including black/white and silver/white for a street price of $100-150, which you can buy separately or with a frame. The flash bracket is an additional $120.
Compact, versatile, and no twisting needed to get it back into its carrying bag, this is a great location reflector system. More information about the MICRO-MINI, as well as the other products from California Sunbounce, is available at www.sunbounce.com.
Nikon Capture NX 2: Stan Sholik
New features, including a revised interface, accompany the significant changes between Nikon Capture NX 1.x and Capture NX 2. Shooting professionally, rarely did I have only a single file to process and convert. And Nikon Capture software, including the latest v.1.3.3 of NX, I found just too slow and cumbersome. The workflows in Phase One Capture and Lightroom were much more efficient. So I was very interested to see the changes to Nikon Capture NX 2. What I found was both good and bad news.
Gone are the fly-out tool menus above the image window. These are replaced with a Toolbar. The tools are always visible unless you choose to hide them.
However, there isn’t access to files outside the local computer, only what is on the hard drive. A Favorites area has been added for quicker access. This turned out to be a problem for my workflow, but it may work for yours.
When the Folders Palette opens, the Browser palette also opens with thumbnails of folders or image files. This resulting workspace configuration, called Edit, is one of four built into NX2. Others are Browser, Metadata, and a Multi-Purpose interface configuration. If you come up with another workspace configuration you prefer, it can be saved, added to the list and called up at any time. You may also apply ratings from the Browser window and sort the images in various ways.
If you’re using multiple monitors you can arrange tools wherever you like then save this workspace. If using only one monitor, navigation with the mouse in different modes allows screens to pop up, an elegant, useful solution for photographers with a single monitor. But as much as the interface has been improved, it just isn’t attractive.
Capture NX was not lacking in image editing tools and its innovative use of Nikon Software’s U Point technology. The Color Control Point eliminated the need for complex masking. NX 2 takes this technology even further with Selection Control Points. You can add sharpening to a subject’s eyes without sharpening the surrounding skin, or Gaussian blur a background without blurring the subject.
Even the Color Control Point tool from Capture NX is improved, adding separate RGB, Hue and Warmth sliders immediately accessible at the control point by clicking on a tiny triangle.
Another new tool is the Auto Retouch Brush. It instantly removes dust, spots, blemishes, etc. It is similar to the Healing Brush in Photoshop, but with somewhat less flexibility. The changes are not permanent to the image file - there is no need to add a new layer.
At the top of the Edit List window is the new Quick Fix step. This includes a histogram and curves window along with sliders for quick, global changes. Two of these sliders, Highlight Protection and the mis-named Shadow Protection deserve special mention. Highlight Protection brings back highlight information and Shadow Protection opens up shadows, without going as deeply into the midtones as Lightroom’s similar tool. And, unlike with Photoshop’s Shadows/Highlights tool, these are applied intuitively and non-destructively to the image.
There are lots of other improvements which make NX 2 a much more pleasurable and useful program than previous Nikon Capture versions, and NX 2 even seems faster and more responsive while editing.
NX 2 still falls far short of usable for me if I have a large number of files to process.
After you adjust one file, you must save the adjustments to a Settings file by adding or deleting checkmarks in a long list of dialog boxes. Then, in order to handle batch processing efficiently, the files must be moved into a separate folder. Once this is done you must navigate through another window of options to start the process. To rescale the images or change their resolution when processing to TIFF or JPEG, you can only do one or the other each batch and as a separate adjustment not part of the batch process.
The process, once started after a couple more dialog boxes, is slow. And I ended up with a mess. The Batch commands copied and pasted the U Point location of my gray balance from the original file onto whatever it found in the new, I ended up with new files with far worse gray balance than when I started. After messing around for far too long, I discovered that I needed to use items from the Edit menu and associated controls if I wanted to make global edits to files and then run the batch process. U Point adjustments seem to be useless for batch processing unless you are processing nearly identical images.
Copying and pasting adjustments from an adjusted RAW file to others is no simple matter either. First of all, the Copy Adjustments/Paste Adjustments is found in the Batch Process dropdown menu, not in the Edit menu where you would first think to look, or by right-clicking the open image. Then, when I tried copying the adjustments from a single image and pasting them into another, it simply didn’t work. After consulting the manual, I found that you needed to deselect the adjustments you wanted to copy in order to copy them.
Batch processing in NX 2 still seems more like a software engineer’s solution than a photographer’s workflow. In time, if you had your heart set on an all Nikon-software workflow, I’m sure you could figure out how to use NX 2 for batch processing. For me, I’ll stick to using it for processing one NEF (or TIFF or JPEG) file at a time.
For the Mac, Mac OS X (version 10.4.11 or 10.5.1) is needed, but Capture NX 2 is not compatible with the Case Sensitive or Case Sensitive, Journaled disk formats. A PowerPC G4, PowerPC G5, Intel Core Duo, Intel Core 2 Duo, Intel Xeon, or better processor is required along with 1GB of RAM.
MSRP of Capture NX 2 is $179.95. Current users of Capture NX 1.x with a valid serial number can upgrade to NX 2 for $109.95 by downloading software from the Nikon site, www.nikonusa.com.
An Unlikely Hero: Stan Sholik
Ask any group of knowledgeable photojournalists for a list of photographers they would have liked to have known or to have known better, and the name of Eddie Adams will surely be on every list. Ever an enigma, even to those with whom he had repeated contact, Adams surely had stories to tell about his images and life. That's why a film biography should have much to offer. Unfortunately, Susan Morgan Cooper's An Unlikely Weapon doesn't get us much further beneath his public face than a casual meeting would.

The film begins in proper documentary style with the handheld camera following Adams through his East Village stomping grounds, grousing about life and the value of what he did in his. 'We all want to be the best,' he says. 'I don't know why. I mean, what's the difference? Nobody really gives a shit. So you wonder why we put so much into something. Because we are all going to die. We're disposable. And who really gives a shit, you know?'

This self-deprecating disdain for the value of his life's body of work is precisely the public face we want to shatter to find what drives a man to return time and time again to photograph human suffering and the horrors of war. Yes, we do wonder 'why (he) put so much into something'. And what forces drove him to make an abrupt about face and become the go-to photographer for the ‘Parade Magazine' Sunday supplement with hundreds of celebrity covers to his credit? Cooper never asks the tough questions for Adams to answer and Adams never willingly offers up those answers.

The finest moment in the film is Adam's long dialogue about his 'Parade Magazine' coverage of Fidel Castro. Adams fleshes out the details of his boredom waiting for Castro to grant him and the AP crew access. Not one to suffer Castro's or anyone else's fools gladly, Adams leaves Cuba to return to the US, only to be summoned back by Castro's personal promise to meet with them the next day. After an all-night session with the AP crew, but without giving Adams any time, Castro wants the interview ended.

Adams will have none of it. He demands and receives time for a private photo session. Castro takes him on a duck hunt where they return with a boatload of ducks and a portfolio of images that show a private side of Castro of which the world was unaware.

More long monologues like this, related by Adams, would have brought us much closer to an understanding of him and how he achieved the extraordinary images he created. Unfortunately they are few and far between. What did it take to talk Schwarzenegger into being photographed in a pool with a rubber duckie, or President Reagan pumping iron, or Rod Steiger in tights lifting a phony barbell? Cooper never asks and now we'll never know.
We do learn from Adams that he felt the only important work he did in his life was the coverage of the Vietnamese boat people. He relates the story of how he got on board the refugee boat in Thailand, purchasing food and fuel because there was none aboard for the journey. Having photographed in 'practically every refugee camp in the world', Adams was struck by the lack of smiles on the faces of the Vietnamese children on board. His resulting series of images, which he called 'the boat of no smiles', moved President Carter and the US Congress to grant them refuge here. 'That was the only thing I did in my life that was good. I mean, I'm not a good guy,' says Adams.

Rather than hearing mostly from Adams, we hear rather from those who knew him. They go on and on about the importance of his images and the humanity evident in them. If you didn't know this, you wouldn’t have spent your money to sit in the theater in the first place.

Fellow photojournalists Bill Eppridge and David Hume Kennerly, who spent time with Adams covering the Vietnam War, provide their personal insights into Adams. Newsmen and editors of Adams' era provide commentary, but few insights. 'Parade Magazine' publisher Walter Anderson tells us Adams was 'an editor's dream and an editor's nightmare.' What does he mean? Cooper never asks. The moment passes.

Rather than dig beneath the surface, Cooper chose to weave much of the film around Adams' Pulitzer winning photo of the assassination of the Viet Cong prisoner by General Nguyen Ngoc Loan. Adams' own reaction to it speaks volumes about him. He felt 'that photograph' wasn't worthy of the attention. Always the perfectionist, he said, 'It was the wrong time of day…the composition was terrible'.
But what he hated most about it was how it destroyed the life of General Loan. On his visit to the General in the small pizza shop he owned in Virginia, Adams was saddened by the words he found scrawled on the bathroom wall, 'We know who you are, fucker!' 'That really troubled me,' said Adams. Maybe nobody else gave a shit, but Adams did.

Like an Eddie Adams photo and Adams himself, An Unlikely Weapon is fascinating on many levels, but leaves me wanting to know much more about what I'm presented with on the surface.
Alien Skin Blow Up 2: Stan Sholik
With pixel resolutions of point and shoot cameras exceeding 10 megapixels, digital SLRs exceeding 20 megapixels, and digital backs exceeding 65 megapixels, it's hard to imagine that many photographers need software to increase the pixel dimensions of their images. This is probably the main reason that the number of products has steadily declined. One of the products left standing, Alien Skin Blow Up, has undergone a major revision, and version 2.0 delivers improved speed and quality over the previous version, along with a new interface.
Activation is limited to two computers, but it can be deactivated on one and moved. BlowUp is an automation plug-in, and is found under File, then Automate menu, along with its partner plug-in, Alien Skin Blow Up 2 Batch. The interface is now consistent with the latest versions of other Alien Skin products. The left panel of the screen contains the new Settings tab and the revised Controls tab, with a Navigation thumbnail below. The right 3/4 of the screen holds the Preview window. Other controls are clearly visible in the interface, and most of the keyboard shortcuts are identical to those in Photoshop.
Opening Blow Up, the full image appears in the Preview window and the rest of the interface will revert to the tab and settings on screen when Blow Up last closed. If it is the first time you are opening the program, the screen opens the new Settings tab. This allows you to quickly choose an output size and format without worrying about the details of each slider. Settings are also useful for batch processing; you can save the setting for an example image and then apply the same parameters to a folder of images.
If the proportions of your image don't match those of the preset, Blow Up overlays a cropping rectangle on the preview. While the crop is adjustable, you'll need to select the Crop Lock icon above the preview image to adjust it without upsetting the proportion. Dragging a corner as you would in Photoshop doesn't keep the proportion.
There are a couple of other quirks with the Settings tab. If your image is a horizontal, and you want a specific vertical crop, there is no way to do this from the Settings tab. And, although Blow Up supports CMYK images, there are no output presets for halftone printing. The output media are limited to Screen Sharpened (for web or screen viewing), Inkjet Glossy, Inkjet Luster, and Inkjet Matte. There is also no preset for continuous tone photographic (Lightjet, etc.) output. However, custom settings from the Controls tab can be saved as presets in the Settings tab, so this is a minor limitation.
In the Controls tab are a set of input boxes and individual sliders that allow you to select the resizing parameters. By unclicking the Constrain Proportion box you can input output sizes of your choosing, including cropping horizontal images to verticals. A crop rectangle appears that will keep its proportions as you move and adjust it, but again only if you have clicked on the Crop Lock icon. To preview the look of the cropped area you must click the Actual Pixels box. Unfortunately this doesn’t show you the area you selected. You must navigate to the selected area on your own. Since there are no default settings, you make a best guess for output and do a print. Then you make additional adjustments by trial and error until you achieve the output you like.
There are four options for adjusting output parameters. The first slider controls the degree of edge sharpness for the unavoidable loss of sharpness when resizing an image. The next slider allows you to add grain. It looks like Alien Skin adapted its grain-generating technology from Exposure into Blow Up, as the grain looks real and not like random RGB noise. By increasing the next slider, called Natural Texture, artifacts called 'crinkle' often disappear and the texture will look more natural. The final output adjustment slider removes blocky compression artifacts and smoothes halos. If adjusted to too high a value the image loses detail, but used at a low value along with the Grain slider, it does a great job cleaning up JPEGs during scaling. The final step in the Control Tab, Output Sharpening, adjusts an unsharp mask based on the output size, output resolution (dpi) and the output type (screen or inkjet paper type).
If you find yourself needing to resize folders of images, the Blow Up 2 Batch processing function, found in Filter Automate menu, is much easier to use than a Photoshop action. The same Settings and Controls tabs are available, along with buttons for selecting source and destination folders. If the proportion of the original image does not match the output proportion, Blow Up 2 Batch crops the image arbitrarily as needed.


Where Blow Up 2 really shines is upsizing small compressed JPEGS. Neither Photoshop nor Genuine Fractals could come close to the quality of the final image created with Blow Up 2. The Compression Artifact slider really does its job as advertised.




Pictured Above: A capture from the Internet, courtesy of Alien Skin, of a 339 x 500 pixel, 72 dpi JPEG Blow Up 2 was used to enlarge it 900 percent.

WEBBYS
lens rental