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convergence-motion-2-still

It’s been nearly a year since the first wave of “motion capture” enabled dslrs which I have been referring to hslrs or hdcds were announced. So after my eight months of using the Nikon D90 and the Canon 5D MarkII, I decided to revisit the concept of stills and motion. 

Needless to say the reaction to the convergence of still and motion capture was mixed and depending on whom you talk to or which Internet forum you read, remains mixed.  Some hardcore photographers expressed the sentiment that motion capture in a still camera is a gimmick.  Some videographers pointed out limitations that make hslrs suboptimal for capturing motion.  Some people adopted a wait and see attitude; yet others have embraced the possibilities with enthusiasm.  There are also those who were or are indifferent, as motion capture may be one more feature among many they will not use.  The discussions on the convergence of stills and motion  reminds me of the discussions several years back when Olympus first “lifted the mirror” facilitating live-view in a dslr or when the monotone capture option which was a feature on point-and-shoots, made its way to dslrs; or even further back to some of the passionate debate on digital capture versus. film.  There appears to be a direct correlation between time and acceptance or in some cases perhaps resignation.

Prior to the inclusion of motion capture in dslrs, photographers depended on the high frame-rate per second capability of their cameras to chronicle action. This eliminated many cameras from consideration for action shooters.  The inclusion of motion capabilities in still cameras opens up new possibilities for action shooters, and may make cameras, that otherwise would have not been considered for action shooting, contenders.

One thing is for certain:  Whether you are talking about the hslrs from Canon and Nikon, hdcds like the Panasonic Lumix GH1 or the Red DMSCs, a convergence of dual capture in a single package is not just coming, it is here.  I don’t really understand why the discussion for some comes down to one or the other.  Point-and-shoot cameras have had this capability for years and I don’t remember this ever being discussed in the same manner.  But then they were not capable of producing the quality of video we are seeing in the current crop of motion capable still cameras. 

My own stills/motion “ah ha” moment, came not because I woke up and realized there were three monitors on my desk, or because I found myself rotflmao courtesy of a YouTube video or watching a product promo on a manufacturer’s web-site, but rather while walking between locations in Central Park last August during a wedding shoot.  I wasn’t thinking about recording a blockbuster, only capturing a few moments of motion that were visually arresting.  I thought my clients would have appreciated such footage, and would have wanted to share it with their friends and family as they had been doing with their still images on Flickr for quite some time. The great irony here is that I usually do not shoot weddings.  That was about a week before the Nikon D90 announcement was made.  My only experience with motion capture up to that point had been relegated to my cell phone camera.

Since the arrival of the  Nikon D90 and the  Canon 5D MarkII, video camera accessory makers from Zacuto and Redrock Micro to independent image makers like Bruce Dorn have developed products to enhance the “still to  motion” capture experience.  There are a growing number of products targeting hslr users with items ranging from focus follow and sliders, to mounting rigs and screen enhancers, some reasonably priced and some extremely expensive.  The effort to produce accessories at every price point suggests that still and video convergence is a growing segment of the imaging industry and that there will be a demand for tools to exploit the combined capability by amateurs, enthusiasts, and working image makers.  The fact that many products have lengthy waiting lists or are back-ordered, suggests that the manufacturers simply cannot keep up with demand.  Perhaps, those embracing motion are not as vocal  on Internet forums as those who do not.  And perhaps the term “silent majority” is being re-defined.

The number of camera model specific sites which provide information on motion capture or celebrate the capability is growing and is both surprising and impressive.  Additionally, there are plenty of people posting samples and instructions on-line of their DYI accessories for motion capture.  You might argue about whether a still camera with motion can be used to record a box office hit, but clearly they are very capable for many of the Web-based multimedia and monitor/television-viewed applications that are growing in popularity and becoming a more important part of the entertainment and knowledge acquisition processes. 

The area that there has been surprisingly slow to respond to the convergence of motion and stills is lighting, and this remains one of the biggest areas of concern and challenge for photographers.  While the camera makers continue to provide either built in and/or supplemental flash solutions, none market a continuous lighting option as part of the available accessories.  Additionally some of the more popular names in flash photography continue to release new studio and location powered flash units, but have been silent with respect to continuous lighting products.  Between small flashes, small video light solutions, studio flashes and larger continuous lighting sources, the prospects of having four different brands and solutions is mind-numbing, and potentially expensive.

Perhaps no individual early on had a greater impact on getting dslr users to consider the potential of motion capabilities than Vincent Laforet.  Laforet’s self-produced and self-financed short “Reverie” which was shot with a Canon 5d MarkII and has become the centerpiece of the camera’s print marketing campaign, generated a tremendous amount of interest and activity.  In less than four weeks after Canon announced the camera and nearly two months before the camera hit the stores, Laforet and his blog became a “real-time experience” resource for many.  Over a 10 day period, between late September and early October 2008, “Reverie” was reported to have been viewed over 1.5 million times.

With recent firmware changes which have given users greater manual control over the 5D MarkII, along with stir caused by “Reverie,” I cannot help but wonder if Canon was even remotely aware of the possibilities that people would see for the motion enabled dslr beyond the “quick grab.”  I am sure this has caught the attention of the other camera manufacturers as well.  It is just a matter of time before HD motion capture becomes as common as auto focus in every dslr. 

One of the arguments that I hear often with respect to still vs. motion capture is that they are such different disciplines.  But in the stills arena, I could make the case that shooting weddings and shooting landscapes are different disciplines; or in the motion arena that shooting shorts and shooting full length features are also different disciplines.  There are some substantial differences in stills and motion work, and I don’t want to minimize them – sound, lighting and processing are three of the more obvious ones.  But in purely visual terms, I think that the response to how different they are, may be “it depends.”  It really does depend on one’s frame of reference.  A photographer who is used to shooting against gray paper or muslin backdrops with posed subjects, may find the transition from stills to motion a different experience from a photographer who works from story boards, on sets or in rooms and locations, where the environment is key and the lighting considerations and needs are different; and/or from the photographer who actively directs his or her subjects; or the photo-journalist.  It should be noted that photographers have been moving between stills and motion for quite some time.  Three photographers who come immediately to mind who made the transition are Stanley Kubrick, Gordon Parks and Herb Ritt. 

I asked New York based photographer Mike Kobal, who has embraced the motion capabilities of the first generation of hslrs/hdcds in a big way, to describe the differences he finds between capturing stills and motion.  Mike says that “Shooting stills is a subtractive process:  I choose the moment to press the button and hopefully capture the essence of what I want to say and what I saw; whereas shooting video is more of an additive process, anticipating the flow of things and editing to complete the story.”  Mike has been shooting with the Nikon d90 and Canon 5DMarkII, and recently began working with the Panasonic Lumix GH1. 

While some photographers may continue to debate still vs. motion or motion vs. still and often with great passion, there are three things that are not debatable: 

  1. We live in a multi-media age
  2. The Web continues to evolve and grow; and
  3. There is a there is a demand for content.

The people who are looking for content don’t care what camera is used:  They just want to see the end product.  You do not need a $50,000 camera or for that matter even a $1,000 camera to shoot content.  But hopefully better tools will lead to better visual quality.

Without getting emotional, let’s look at a few facts related to the U.S.A:

 

  • In April 2009, nearly 79% of the total U.S. Internet audience viewed online video.
  • The average online video viewer watched nearly 6.4 hours of video.
  • Over 107 million viewers watched 6.8 billion videos on YouTube.com which equates to almost 64 videos per viewer.
  • 49 million viewers watched 387 million videos on MySpace.com which equates to nearly 8 videos per viewer.
  • The duration of the average online video was 3.5 minutes.

Source: comScore Inc.

 The growth in the video trend is not just an American phenomenon:

  • The total number of videos viewed online in the U.K. in April 2009 grew to 4.7 billion videos, a 47%increase over the same period in 2008.
  • Google sites were the most popular U.K. online video property in April 2009.  2.4 billion Videos were viewed, which represents a 58% increase over the same period in 2008.
  • YouTube accounted for 99% of all videos viewed on the Google sites.

Source:  comScore Inc.

Sites such as Flickr (Yahoo), SmugMug, and Photobucket (Fox Interactive Media) that were built around the business of photo sharing offer video sharing options to their members:  Stills and motion, side by side.  Now at this point at least one reader is thinking that a lot of those 5 billion or so videos that were watched are mediocre; but then so are a lot of television shows and movies, not to mention many of the still images that end up on stock sites or are posted on the Web.  But there are also plenty of gems out there.  It is up to the viewers to choose the wheat or the chaff.

How we image makers define ourselves may have a lot to do with whether and how we embrace the convergence of stills and motion or motion and stills. Even though technology has marched on, we may be saddled with legacy baggage from the film days.  Call yourself a photographer and you may be confining yourself to one camp; call yourself a videographer and you may be confining yourself to a different camp.  Consider yourself something else like an image maker, or a “stil-mo-tographer,”  be open to trying and doing new things, and you may just find that it frees you from the perceived constraints of one discipline versus the other, gives you an advantage and/or opens up new avenues or perhaps keeps you competitive.

I just realized something:  As a child the one thing I never did was go to camp. 

 Glossary:

Hslrs – hybrid single lens reflex cameras

Hdcds – hybrid digital capture devices

DMSC – digital motion and still camera – the Red designation

Rotflmao – you can Google this one!

Note:  The hyperlinks that appear throughout this article and site have been included with the consent of the respective product and site owners.  Their company names and their respective products names are in many cases registered trademarks /service marks and are the property of the company.  I thank them for allowing us to link to their content.  This site has no affiliation with any product manufacturer or retailer and its owner receives no consideration, financial or otherwise, from any company or retailer.  The entries and images on this site are copyrighted and should not be reproduced with out permission.

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Whether you want to learn about new products, learn how to use your existing equipment, explore some aspect of photography, or be inspired by the works of others, there are wonderful opportunities to do so this month and every month here in New York, and it won’t cost you a king’s ransom.  Two of the premier photo specialty retailers here in New York, Foto Care and  B&H Photo Video Pro-Audio, offer some incredible opportunities for photographers to build our skill sets and expand our knowledge base, through a series of manufacturer sponsored and store sponsored events, and inspirational lectures and discussions.  I wanted to share with you a few of my event picks for July, all of which are free.

 

Foto Care 

41 West 22nd Street  New York, NY  212-741-2990

July 13:           

12pm – 5pm:  Preview of the Leica S2. 

An up close and personal look at the 37mp, medium format dslr with a 30x45mm sensor.  Reservation Required

 

1pm:  The Shape of Light by Broncolor

The seminar covers using the Broncolor light shapers as well as techniques for using various modifiers including the Para umbrella, Mini Satellite, Lightbars, lightstick and ringflash C and P.  Limited seating:  Reservation Required

 

4:30pm – 5:30pm:  Rinze Van Brugg, photographer and graphic artist on imaging with the Leica M8.  Limited seating:  Reservation Required

July 14:

2pm:  Splash by Brian Bryns and Broncolor:

The seminar focuses on techniques for lighting and capturing liquids.  Limited seating:  Reservation Required

 

6pm:  Airborne:  An evening with Lois Greenfield  Limited seating:  Reservation Required

 

July 15:

 1pm:  Location lighting with Broncolor  Limited seating:  Reservation Required

 

 6pm:  No Guts, No Glory an evening with Sarah Silver  Limited seating:  Reservation Required

 

For a complete listing of seminars and events at Foto Care including details on “Hasselblad Week” which begins July 20,and/or to reserve your space click here , or call 212-741-2990

 

B&H – Event Space

420 9th Avenue (@34th Street  New York, NY  212-444-6615

 

July 9

1pm-5pm:  Lighting for Portraiture: a Special Extended Workshop presented by Westcott.  This is a 4 hour seminar that mixes theory and discussion on lighting options and control with practical application.

         

July 12:

7:30pm-9:30pm:  Manhattanenge.  Flickr personality Jennifer Diamond leads a group of photographers to capture images of  the twice yearly phenomena known as “Manhattanenge” where the setting sun is perfectly aligned with the Manhattan street grid.  The group will be meeting at 5th Ave and 34th Street between 7:30 and 7:45 pm.

July 26:

1pm-3pm:  Media Empowerment & the Developing World presented by Barefoot Workshops.  The bicoastal not for profit Barefoot Workshops offers short, intensive workshops around the world in narrative and documentary filmmaking.  Led by Chandler Griffin, this seminar sheds light on the media tools and formats that Barefoot uses to motivate people and bring about change in communities in need.

 

July 27:

2pm-5pm:  FACEBOOK VS. FACE TO FACE: Using Social Media and SEO to Drive More Business to your Door. presented by liveBooks.  J Sandifer and Lou Manna draw from their personal experiences with social media and viral marketing. Lou will discuss how he uses Facebook as his international business hub by promoting his work and driving traffic to his site. J, who has used social media and viral marketing to grow his photography business in Portland, ME, will cover the best social media available to photographers and how to utilize their benefits.

 

July 28:

11am-1pm and 3pm-5pmNikon Wireless Flash Hands-on Workshop with Shooting Stations.  Navigate the Nikon flash system with Nikon training specialist Paul Van Allen.  After an introduction to button, menus and functionalities, participants will have the opportunity to apply what they have learned at shooting stations.  There are two session

 

For a complete list of B&H Event Space events and seminars as well as for more information and on-line registration, visit the Event Space page on the B&H website.  Please note that even if the seminar or event is shown as being booked to capacity, there is a good chance you can still get a seat if you show up as there are often quite a few “no shows.”

 

In closing this entry, I do want to underscore one point:  If you register for a free event and something comes up which precludes you from participating, let the organizers know as soon as possible so that someone else may have the opportunity to fill that seat.

we're off to see the wizard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When LPA Design announced the new Pocket Wizard MiniTT1 transmitter and FlexTT5 transceiver earlier this year, there was a tremendous amount of buzz and excitement.  The makers of the best known and probably most widely used flash triggering devices, was coming to market with products capable of communicating Canon’s E-TTL-II and Nikon’s I-TTL protocols wirelessly via radio signals.  While Leap Devices with their Radio Poppers line and Quantum Industries with their Trio line brought radio TTL products to market before LPA, neither of these brands have the user base that PocketWizards has.  The good news was and is that users of Canon and Nikon flash systems now have 3 wireless radio system alternatives, all of which work differently, to the Nikon and Canon “line of sight” wireless solutions.

 

As reports surfaced over range limitations with respect to several Canon Speedlites including the flagship, 580EX II, and some initial operational incompatibility with the very popular 5D Mark II camera, some of the excitement gave way to disappointment.  Add to that product shortages at release, and the new generation of PocketWizard products was off to a less that auspicious start here in the USA.

 

To its credit, LPA Design was quick to acknowledge and address issues.  While the radio interference issues with certain Canon flashes will be addressed by a soon to be announced “supplemental” product, many of the performance related issues and bugs have been addressed via firmware updates.  They have also demonstrated the ability to enhance performance via firmware.  I have been impressed with the firmware updates which LPA has made, as well as by the customer service and technical assistance which both the MAC Group (the U.S distributor of PocketWizards) and LPA Design have rendered.

 

My interest in the new generation of PocketWizard products was fueled by several factors:

  • I wanted to carry a light weight lighting kit that would afford me reliable wireless triggering without having to rely on line of sight.
  • I liked the idea of having a small transmitter atop the camera as opposed to a flash acting as transmitter, or the MultiMax.
  • I wanted one wireless triggering system that could be used with my studio strobes, light meter and Speedlites.
  • I wanted E-TTL II functionality

 

The new PocketWizard products appeared to address all of my desires.  I was less concerned about being able to trigger an E-TTL II controlled flash 800 to 900 feet away as my outdoor shooting on the streets of New York City would preclude that anyway.  When I thought about it further, I decided that I needed some context as to how long 900 feet really is.  Thanks to Google, I now know that 900 feet is the length of the USS Intrepid, three times the length of a football field and a tad under 2/3 the height of the Empire State Building.

 

Now I have to admit, that I did feel a bit like Dorothy, the Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow on the way to “OZ” as the journey down this wireless road was fraught with obstacles:  For starters, only one of the two Flex units I ordered came in.  While waiting for the second Flex to arrive I discovered that with the 580EX II/Flex combination mounted on my 1DS Mark III  there were extreme fluctuations in  shutter speed.  At this point I was questioning my heart, my brain and my courage and wondering could the “Wizard” deliver!  There was a little voice screaming “send the Flex back!”  Had it not been for the excellent technical support and assurances that the issues were noted and would be addressed, coupled with my longstanding experience and satisfaction with PocketWizard products, I probably would have sent it back.   My decision was made, I would press on.  So what’s a guy to do with one FlexTT5?  In my case it was read and re-read the manual, as there is a lot there to digest, and then learn how to integrate using my one Flex into my existing PocketWizard/MultiMax workflow. 

 

The MiniTT1 and the additional FlexTT5 arrived between the two firmware updates.  The Wicked Witch of the West clearly had put a hex on the Mini! With the Mini mounted to either of my cameras, any button I touched on the camera resulted in the triggering of the remote mounted flashes. A call to tech support resulted in a preliminary diagnosis of a contact problem with the Mini.  The next morning I took the Mini back to Foto Care where they exchanged it for another unit. No random firing with the new Mini.  There were noticeable performance improvements with the first firmware update, but with the second update, the Mini and Flex became a joy to use:  No more erratic behavior, reliable triggering and perfect execution of E-TTL II.  

Indoors I have shot with the both the 580EX II and 430EX II flashes mounted to the Flex units behind me, in two different rooms lighting a hallway, in dimly lit rooms at relatively slow shutter speeds and in sun dappled bright environments with fast shutter speeds and the units have fired without any issues.  Outdoors with either a Flex or the Mini on camera, I have gotten the 580EX II mounted on a Flex to fire at a distance of 80 feet away from the camera.  I stopped testing at 80 feet simply because I realized that this distance is substantially in excess of where I would typically place my flashes.  To put some context to it, 80 feet is a tad under a 1/3 of the length of a North -South block in Manhattan.  I do not want to minimize the concern that some have over range.  Based on venue, subject matter and location, as well as focal length of lens, there are those shooters for whom greater range latitude is critical.  There is information and suggestions for increasing the range of affected flashes when used in combination with the FlexTT5 on the Pocket Wizard site which may prove helpful.  For some photographers however, the necessity of having to take some of these  extra steps in order to get the performance they need, significantly reduces the attractiveness of the system.

 

Given the feedback of people getting more or less range with the same model of flash, there may be some credence to the anecdotal accounts that the degree of radio interference attributable to the 580 II may vary by production run.  It is not uncommon during the lifecycle of a product for components to be substituted based on changes in availability for example.  In most instances these changes are not apparent to end users as the overall performance as the manufacturer originally specified remains the same.  While production changes could be a possibility which helps to explain some of the range differentials 580EX II users are reporting, there is no evidence that indicates this is the case.  For those who have criticized Canon with respect to the radio frequency and shielding issue, it should be remembered that few to none of us would be having this discussion about radio frequency interference if we were talking about using the wireless protocol as designed by Canon for use with Canon products.

 

If there is anything that I’m not wild about with the Mini and the Flex it is the fact that the with the latest firmware update, in order to enjoy the new 5D Mark II functionalities, one needs to specify the camera model in the PocketWizard Utility.  This can be a problem for people like me who shoot with multiple Canon models.  Prior to the update I had the model selection set to auto and used the units with either camera.

 

The other area of concern has to do with changing the Mini and Flex settings in the field:  If you have a PocketWizard product such as a Multi-Max or one of the Plus models, you can at least use the learn process to change the channels on the Mini and the Flex should it be necessary.  Without a MultiMax or Plus, or access to the PocketWizard Utility, the only option you have if you need to change settings is a reset to the defaults.  For me this is less of an issue as I rarely am shooting in an area with other photographers, but for those shooting in venues with other photographers or who discover while on location the need to adjust the offset, disable Control TL, change to a channel other than the defaults or make other changes, this may indeed be an issue.

 

Now, I have decided to take a slow and deliberate approach in unlocking the full power of the new PocketWizards.  The first steps included getting my arms around E-TTL functionality as well as getting the new units to function in a more “traditional” PocketWizard role in the studio.  There is a lot of capability packed in these units and a lot of complexity with regards to the settings, and performance.  There are things that can be done with one flash that cannot be done with another, so it is imperative that you read the manual very carefully.  The truth is that there is more capability in these new PocketWizard products than I will probably ever need or use. 

 

My benchmark for evaluating the Mini and Flex was how they stacked up against the “line of sight” Canon system as I have used and would use it.  For my shooting and lighting needs and desires, the Mini and Flex work extremely well.  In real world usage, I have not experienced the same reliability issues and frustrations that I have had from time to time with the camera mounted St-e2 controlling flash activity and I have certainly not gotten the range  and versatility from the St-e2 as master that I am seeing with the Mini or Flex. 

 

While one would hope for a seamless and smooth product launch, the Mini and Flex introduction for use with Canon products was not; it is unfortunate because a lot of the focus as to what these tool can do has taken a back seat to what they can’t do at this time.  It is clear from talking with the folks at LPA that they are committed to addressing both current issues as well as those that may surface, and refining and enhancing performance. 

 

The newest generation of PocketWizards for me is a reminder that much of the technology that we purchase and use today, are works in progress.  Our computer software, printers and digital media devices are routinely updated though patches and firmware which fix bugs, address problems and enhance operations.  And this is how I have come to regard the new PocketWizards-“Functional Works in Progress” that will evolve as we use them and just keep getting better.

 

And as far as this trip to “see the Wizard” is concerned, it looks like the USB cable gets the coveted role of the ruby red slippers!

 

Note:  I have been told that an official update on the availability of the Nikon compatible products will be released soon. Check the news on the PocketWizard Site.

Update –  July 13:  PocketWizard has released a firmware update for the Mini and Flex.  For details,  follow the link below:  http://www.pocketwizard.com/news_events/news/firmware_v4.300_press_release/

wireless-1I have been intending to write about the new PocketWizard products for the past several weeks, but every time I’ve scheduled an outdoor shoot, we’ve been rained out. Hopefully the weather will cooperate this weekend and I will be able to finally shoot the project that has been thrice postponed and put the MiniTT1 and FlexTT5s through their paces as I normally would use them and share my experience. I’ll warn you now since I will be shooting on the streets of New York, that I won’t be going for distance records with respect to flash placement.

All has not been lost during this wet spell: LPA Design has been busy updating firmware which addresses issues and enhances the performance of the new PocketWizard products; and I added the Profoto D1 Air 500s to my lighting arsenal. The very favorable impression I had of the D1 Airs when the MAC Group made them available for my review in March continues.

Over the past week I was assessing my lighting equipment – Profoto packs with built in PocketWizards, a couple of MultiMax units, a MiniTT1, a couple of FlexTT5 units , a couple of current generation Canon Speedlites, the D1 Air 500 units and last but not least, a Sekonic 758 meter. I found myself trying to make sense of all this stuff and how I could get it all to work best together.

Since I like the low profile of the MiniTT1, it has become my PW apparatus of choice on top of the camera. I set configuration 1 in the PocketWizard utility to allow for Control TL and triggering my MultiMax units and Profoto packs on the Standard/Legacy Channels. For configuration 2, I disabled ControlTL, and set the receiving channel on the Flex units to match the receiving channel for MultiMax units and the Profoto packs.

I hooked up a couple of speedlites to the FlexTT5s put the Mini on the camera and ControlTL worked flawlessly–in the same room, down the hallway and two rooms away. I then hooked up my Profoto packs and in configuration 1, they fired along with the Canon Speedlites. This served as  confirmation that I had set the ControlTL and Standard/Legacy Channels up correctly.

I decided to add a single D1 Air 500 to the mix. I placed the Air Remote in the shoe of the camera mounted Mini, turned the Mini on, then the Air Remote and last the camera.  I took a shot. In configuration 1, with the Air Remote seated on the Mini, the D1 Air fired along with the Canon flashes and the Profoto packs.  I got adventurous and added the Sekonic 758 Light Meter to the equation. One of the perceived drawbacks of the Profoto Air System is the lack of wireless triggering compatibility with their products with Built-in PocketWizards as well as with the PW equipped Sekonic meters. I already knew from earlier experimentation that ControlTL had to be disabled and the Speedlites had to be in manual mode in order to be metered with the Sekonic. So I changed the Flex units setting to configuration 2, and left the Air Remote seated on the Mini on board the camera.  When I triggered the Sekonic meter,  everything fired except the D1 Air!  As I was getting ready to take the setup down, it occurred to me that since the Mini TT1 was a transmitter, it was not receiving the signal from the Sekonic, whereas the Flex units as transceivers were getting the signal. So I mounted the Air Remote on a Flex unit and triggered the Sekonic meter. Yes, the D1 Air fired with the other lights. I then removed the Mini from atop the camera, and placed the “Air Remote /FlexTT5” combo on camera and triggered the Sekonic: the D1 Air fired again. And this photographer became one very happy camper because I discovered that I can have  the  contol capability of the Profoto Air system and full PocketWizard triggering functionality right on the hot shoe of my camera.

Footnote: I was about to hook the Air Remote up to a MultiMax to check whether that combination would work with the Sekonic meter, when I realized that my two dogs who had been exceedingly well behaved during my testing session, were having a good time chewing up the miniplug connector cable!

dollars-and-sense-1With the availability of full frame dslrs from Canon, Nikon and Sony, there has been a lot of discussion, both on Internet forum boards and in print about camera pricing and in particular, the pricing of “professional” dslrs.  John Rettie in an article called  “The Pricing Controversy on High-End DSLRS” which is in the current copy of Rangefinder Magazine commented that in his opinion, only the “top of the line” (in marketing speak – professional designated models) of Canon and Nikon cameras are overpriced and shares his take on where he believes these cameras should be priced. 

 

It seems that a fair amount of disappointment with respect to the announced $8,000 price of the 24mp D3X, Nikons flagship camera was the result of Internet speculation and guesses, as well as Sony’s pricing of the A900, as opposed to any real indication from Nikon as to what the price would be.  I have never regarded the professional designated cameras from Nikon or Canon, even though objects of desire in photo publications and on Internet forums, as the sales volume leaders for either company relative to their consumer-oriented entry and mid range products.

 

Rettie’s article got me thinking:  “How much longer can companies charge a premium for their professional designated camera products?”  It took a while but I had an epiphany:  The answer is “as long as there are photographers who feel that the product will add value to their work flow and have the level of business to justify the expenditure.”  There will also be a home for these expensive dslrs in many of the same rental houses that have $30,000 digital backs and $15,000 lighting systems available.  And like the high end lighting products, the cache and halo of marquee dslrs often spills onto the less expensive, more mass consumer-oriented product lines.

 

As I consider the number of working photographers I know and/or am acquainted with, their specialties, clients, and billings vary tremendously.  I wondered whether their decision making practices as it relates to equipment varies in the same manner.

Dave Black is a world class sports photographer, and Nikon shooter.  Dave recently shared his rationale for buying the Nikon flagship in an article entitled “The Nikon D3x…Part 1” on his site.   Dave’s analysis led him to conclude, that the addition of the D3X will open up new opportunities for him.  Whether you agree with him or not, isn’t the point or an issue:  Dave has made his decision based on the analysis of his business and market evaluation.  This is a vastly different decision making process from the enthusiast who bases his or her purchase decision on the availability of discretionary income; or the person who lust for it but finds the price is too big a stretch for him or her, and expresses discontent.

 

Photographers who use the Canon 1DS series cameras have been making similar analyses for longer, as Canon has been offering a full frame professional designated model since 2002.  John Pinderhughes, a premier commercial and fine arts photographer,  and Canon Explorer of Light, shoots with a Canon 1DS Mark II and a 5D Mark II.  When I asked John why he is still shooting with the 1DS Mark II and not the more current 1DS Mark III, he said that he felt “no need to rush” to change bodies sixteen months ago when the Mark III was introduced.   He felt that he was still getting so much “amazing output” from the 1DS Mark II.  His stance runs counter to the prevailing but unsubstantiated belief that every time a new body is released the working photographer automatically upgrades.  As for his reason for shooting with a 5D Mark II:  John cites the size, weight and output as major factors.  When asked is the camera good enough for professional use, John’s response was “absolutely.”  He did however say that under some circumstances and shooting conditions, he would opt to use the more robust 1 series camera.  Additionally, he is considering adding a new 1 series camera to the fold “sometime in the not too distant future.”

 

Today, the high mp count is no longer limited to the top of the line.  Both Sony and Canon have twenty-something mp cameras for under $3,000.  So do they have all the bells and whistles of the Canon and Nikon flagships?  No, but for many shooters who need and/or want the resolution advantages, all the bells and whistles of the flagships may not be necessary. 

 

New York based photographer and studio owner Rod Goodman recently made the decision to replace his cropped sensor Canon camera with the 5D Mark II.  Goodman felt that a 21mp camera at under $2,700 was a business expense he could justify; the $8000 1DS Mark III was not.  As for Goodman’s reasons for shooting with the mid-level Canon consumer/prosumer cropped sensor models until recently; the driving factor in that decision was economics:  1) because he had opened a studio which was a major investment, 2) he primarily shoots head shots where the margins are smaller; and 3) the fact that his clients rarely need prints larger than 8×10.  Goodman is quick to admit that he drooled over full frame dslrs for some time, but points out that running a business is about knowing how to allocate resources.  His decision to stick with mid-level cameras and the “non-professional” designated 5D Mark II has not been a stumbling block in building his business.

 

Three working photographers, three different specialties and clients, and yet, all have made their camera equipment choices around their business needs, sometimes opting for the top of the line, sometimes not; sometimes opting for the new, and sometimes holding the line.

 

From a photographer’s vantage point and even that of product reviewers, it is dangerous to get into the camera company’s business model and workings.  While it might be interesting, I know that personally, I am better off not ruminating on what their production costs and the like should be as there are too many unknowns and it sets a dangerous precedent:  How long will it be before my customers or yours start telling us what the cost our product/services should be and how much profit we should be able to make? Or how long before readers tell publishing entities how much their magazines should sell for based on their analysis of ad sales, ink and printing costs and circulation?   As photographers, we are consumers of camera company products, not Wall Street analysts, not investors or shareholders. We run our business and the camera companies run theirs.  We should be making our decisions to spend our dollars based on good business sense.

 

I’d like to thank Dave Black, John Pinderhughes, and Rod Goodman for their willingness to be resources for this entry.

To learn more about Dave, John and Rod or view their work, or view referenced articles, scroll over or click on the blue highlighted text in the entry.

One of the most significant products that I have come across in my examination of stabilizers for hslrs is the U-Boat Commander.  The Commander, as I will refer to it, is an innovative product developed by photographer/director Bruce Dorn, a Canon Explorer of Light, writer, and gadgeteer extraordinaire.  I call him a gadgeteer because Bruce has a wonderful ability to craft solutions to meet his shooting needs.  A visit to his site www.idcphotography.com/blog/  is extremely enlightening.

 

I consider the Commander significant because it is, to my knowledge, the first stabilizing rig developed from scratch to accommodate the Canon 5D Mark II for video capture.  The other rigs which I looked at were existing products.  I have had use of the Commander for the last five days, and I will admit that as I boxed it up this morning to send it back to Arizona, there was a bit of mist in my eyes.  Nikon D90 users do not feel slighted:  I encourage you to read on.

Canon 5D Mark II mounted on the U-Boat Commander

Canon 5D Mark II mounted on the U-Boat Commander

 

The Commander offers something for lots of people due to its modular nature:  In its most basic form it is a two-handled platform; the intermediate configuration adds a plate on top (bridge) as well as a handle and cold shoes, which allows you to mount a microphone and/or lights, as well as facilitating low angle shooting; and in its most complete form it adds a shoulder stabilizer, which can also aid in table top stabilization and or panning and tilting movements.)  The anodized aluminum plates and bars are beautifully finished.  I do want to note that the knurled handle grips come without handle pads:  They will take standard bike handle grips (I used weightlifting grips.)

 

In many respects, the Commander reminded me of shooting with the Fig Rig, in that the unit is held out in front of you and the body acts as a shock absorber when moving. I also found that there was tremendous mobility although the Fig Rig does enjoy an edge here due to the circular frame.  Unlike the Fig Rig, since the bottom plate of the Commander is flat, the camera can be safely placed on a flat surface when not in use.  The 5D Mark II can be mounted directly to the commander base or attachment can be achieved via an optional quick release assembly.  Either way, you have access to the 5D Mark II battery door.  u-d90For those shooting with the Nikon D90, the battery door of the camera is also fully accessible when it is mounted to the Commander base.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The modular nature of the Commander brings together the best aspects of many of the other products I own/have used and/or considered, both less expensive and more expensive.  It offers good range of motion, and shoulder stabilization on demand, the ability to mount accessories such as lights, microphones and monitors.  The low angle shooting ability is a functionality that can be very costly with other systems.

Low angle shooting with the Commander

Low angle shooting with the Commander

 I found setting up the Commander pretty intuitive.  There is, however, an excellent video demonstration on Bruce’s site for those who want an understanding of how all the pieces fit and work together.  While I spent most of the time with the Commander in the intermediate configuration (Kit 2) with the bridge and handle attached, there is a lot to be said for attaching the shoulder stabilizer.  I found it much easier to access camera controls while moving around with the shoulder stabilizer than without it.  I liked the option of being able to use the stabilizer either over my shoulder or pressed into my shoulder.  I also “pimped” the Commander and discovered that with the addition of small furniture gliders on the bottom of the base plate that I could achieve similar action to a dolly and track system on flat surfaces.

 

As I was mulling over my thoughts, I realized that most equipment reviews/commentary are written by men.  I asked my sister to try the stabilizers out and share her reactions.  Of the three pieces of equipment, her hands down favorite was the Commander.  For her use, the Commander offered the best balance, was lighter than it looked and than she thought it would be, and she liked the over the shoulder stabilization option as opposed to the into the shoulder bracing.

 

The Commander kits are not inexpensive:  While the intermediate configuration (Kit 2) exceeded the $300 budget I set by $69, the basic configuration (Kit 1) at $239 would have been within the parameters.  The Works (Kit 3) would have been way out of range.  The good news is that very soon there will be upgrade modules available for purchasers of Kits 1 and 2 so that you can add on as you need to and/or grow.

 

In looking at the options for products, I always suggest to the extent possible that consumers not only look at how they think they are going to use a product, but to try to look at the versatility and the range of applications for which a particular product can be adapted or used.  I think that this is the most appropriate way to consider a tool like the U-Boat Commander.  When I look at its functionality, and modular nature relative to the universe of available tools and add ons, the U-Boat Commander looks very, very good. 

 

Don’t be surprised if you see one of my cameras mounted to my own Commander in the near future!

If you want to seriously stabilize your Canon 5d Mark II or Nikon D90 (referred to as “hslrs,”) a tripod and/or monopod along with a fluid head are, at a  bare minimum, essentials. They are available in different configurations and at various price points.  A critical consideration is making sure the tripod/monopod and the head can support the camera and lenses that you are going to mount.  Be sure to check the load capacity of the equipment you are considering.  While tripods and monopods address relatively stationary shooting where you may primarily be interested in panning and tilting movements and you have the space to use them, they do not address dynamic shooting conditions or shooting in tight spaces.  And that’s when you need to look at the portable stabilizing solutions.

 

Just like with tripods/monopods and fluids heads, there are portable stabilizing options to fit every budget.  Personally, I did not want to wear a belt, vest or any contraption which made me look like I was in traction while trying to stabilize my hslr.  In addition to keeping the camera steady, I also wanted to keep my wallet steady.  After giving the matter serious consideration, I arbitrarily set my budget for a portable stabilizing solution at $300 maximum:  Too much over that amount and I felt that the solution would be overkill since my primary usage for both cameras is  still work.  The solution had to be easy to transport; easy to set up and break down; and just as importantly, easy to use.  The stabilizer also had to be able to support the camera body and substantial telephoto lenses.  I was aware that this last consideration might knock out some of the support products aimed at the palm sized camcorders.  My last requirement was that I had to be able to physically handle the product before purchase.  The “video virgin” in me was driving this requirement.

 

After doing a lot of research, I found two products that piqued my interest, and were readily available here in New York for purchase.  The Manfrotto Fig Rig which I found at Calumet Photographic and the BushHawk 320D camera support which I picked up the next day at Adorama.  These are two very different solutions, but two products with impressive lineage:  The Fig Rig being the brainchild of writer/director Mike Figgis in conjunction with Manfrotto, and  BushHawk offering stabilization products for many  nature and wildlife photographers.

 

The Fig Rig

 

fig-rig1What do you get when you mount a camera inside a steering wheel?  You get a Fig Rig!! I keep hearing the Joni Mitchell song “Big Yellow Taxi” every time I think about the Fig Rig!  People may find the concept of walking around holding a “steering wheel” in front of you, strange but I have to tell you it works.  The Fig Rig offers incredible freedom of movement.  The two handed navigation if you will, results in tremendous stability and smooth shooting.  The body acts as the shock absorber and does not transfer the jarring movement to the Fig Rig.  The wheel itself can accommodate add on’s such as video lights or a microphone using the optional Fig Rig clamp.

 

The Fig Rig is made of aluminum with padded hand grips.  You attach the supplied quick release mounting assembly to the frame and plate to the camera and you are essentially ready to roll.  Also supplied are 4 cable clips which allow you to manage any wires for accessories you might attach to the frame.  You are looking at somewhere in the vicinity of 2 pounds before you add the camera.

 

The biggest drawback with the Fig Rig is the fact that it is impossible to place the camera down in a stable position when it is mounted.  I find myself removing the camera from the cross bar when it is not in use (perhaps some sort of surface brace or stand can address this.)  The other possible drawback is that you do look a bit weird walking down the street with one.  But to those worried about how they look, I say get over it!  The price of admission:  $299.

 

The BushHawk 320D

bushhawk1The other product that I found myself very excited about is the BushHawk 320D Shoulder Support System.  If you think steering wheel with the Fig Rig, think shotgun with the BushHawk!  This shoulder based stabilizing system is what is called gun mount with a trigger which with the appropriate cable release will “fire” the shutter.  Now one of my big concerns about taking this thing out and using it on the streets of New York is that someone is going shout “gun” (as Clint Eastwood in “In the Line of Fire” does in a crowd) and wrestle me to the ground!! 

 

 

The 320D Pro Kit (one of two Canon versions and there is a Nikon version as well) I purchased included:

 The 320D double handle stabilizer with trigger and shoulder pad; Canon shutter release cord; Quick   release assembly and wrenches; Window Pod;  Strap; Release cord case; and Storage bag.

 

bushhawk2The 320D is a modular thermoplastic frame which is extremely light and strong.  An adjustable arm, which has a shoulder pad at the end slides into the main frame, and is locked into place by tightening a knob.  While BushHawk advertises the product with both hand grips in the same plane, I  loosened the front hand grip and rotated it 90 degrees (as pictured to the left,) which gave me   better balance and  greater stability while shooting video. 

 

 

 

 

One of the biggest plusses for the BushHawk 320D is that with the cable release cord attached, you can effortlessly capture stills while shooting video with the 5D MarkII via the trigger button. I also found the BushHawk worked well for normal viewfinder shooting, live view shooting or video.  If there is a negative associated with the 320D, for some people it will undoubtedly be  having the shoulder pad braced against them.  It does take a little getting use to. The price for all this at Adorama was $212.

 

Whether you go with either of these systems, or with another, the stabilizer is only part of the equation.  The other part of the success of any of these systems depends on you and your ability to hold and move with  the product of your choice.  For me, a heel toe combination seems to work best for removing variability from my stride under most circumstances when moving with either of these stabilizers.  I urge anyone buying a stabilizer to practice moving and finding their own “right” stride.  And don’t forget about picking up a light set of weights to get your shoulders and arms into shape.  You will thank me for this advice!

 

In Part 3 of this series, I will be looking at  the Bruce Dorn U Boat Commander.  I have elected to talk about this system independently because unlike the Fig Rig and the BushHawk, both of which I purchased, the U-Boat commander is on loan for evaluation purposes. Also unlike many of the available solutions, the U Boad commander was developed specifically for use with the 5D Mark II.

 

 

Early last August, I had an opportunity to shoot wedding pictures for a couple in New York’s Central Park.  As my assistant and I were walking a few hundred feet behind the happy couple, and I looked at them leaning into each other as we moved to another location, I remarked how we were witnessing a video moment!  The problem was that I had no video camera:  Just two dslrs, one a Nikon and the other a Canon.  Just a few short weeks later,  Nikon and Canon announced the D90 and the 5D Mark ll respectively, both of which would have high definition video capability, and in many respects will alter the feature set of still cameras going forward.

 

Now the reaction to video in dslrs has been mixed to say the least.  Some people both professional and enthusiast, embrace it, and others call it a gimmick.  Funny, I think back to only a few short years ago when Olympus put a dust shake system, and live view in their cameras.  Features which many marginalized then have become the expected norm today.

 

After experiencing that “Ah Ha” moment in Central Park last August, I am happy that I now have the option to shoot a little video and stills in a single package.  We do live in a multimedia age.  With the rise of YouTube, Vimeo, social networking and image sharing sites such as My Space and Flicker, as well as commercial product advertisement and news sites, the importance of video capture capability in any imaging device, should not be lost or minimized.

 

These hybrid cameras, as I refer to them, are not meant to replace dedicated hi def video cameras nor are they intended to shoot a box office blockbuster; but for clips and  even shorts, they are indeed valuable and intriguing tools.  I can tell you in shooting with both available options, that there are things I like about both and things which I don’t care for!  Each manufacturer could learn a thing or two from how the other has incorporated the video feature for future refinement.  The most important thing for those of us who are embracing the feature is to learn how the system of our choice operates and to exploit it to the fullest. What is clear is that the technology will develop and develop rapidly. A year or two from now the amount of control and flexibility in shooting speed will make today’s groundbreakers seem crude.  But for now I encourage all who have purchased them to enjoy the feature.

Coming next week – Part 2:  Mounting the Hybrid Camera for Movement

 

Resources for learning more on shooting video with dslrs:

http://www.usa.canon.com/dlc/controller?act=GetArticleAct&articleID=2186
 
http://cpn.canon-europe.com/content/masterclass/eos_5d_mark_II_masterclass.do
 

 

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