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Review: Wacom Intuos Pro


Dallas

A few days ago I was supplied with a demo sample of the new Wacom Intuos Pro tablet (medium size) to review. I already own a very old, but faithfully still working Wacom CTE-640 (a.k.a. Graphire 5) which I only use when I am working in Lightroom or Photoshop. I use it mainly to do dodging and burning but every now and then I will also do a bit of the dreaded deep etching via clipping path in Photoshop that is sometimes needed for my product photography where clients want to drop the photo onto a different background. It’s a mind-numbingly boring job, but having a Wacom makes it a little bit less taxing.

 

For the rest of the time while I am working on my Mac I use my Magic Trackpad, which has made a huge difference to my efficiency on the computer, mainly because of the numerous gestures it offers – things like swiping backwards and forwards between web pages, triple tapping to define words, swiping up to see open apps, etc. I love my Magic Trackpad. I also love that it sits beside the Wacom and I can chose to use either of them on the same computer without having to do any reconfigurations on the Mac.

 

So, what if the functionality of my Magic Trackpad and Wacom tablet could be combined into one product? Well, this is exactly what the people at Wacom have managed to do with this new range of Intuos Pro tablets. They are pen and touch sensitive PLUS you also get even more functionality in terms of swiping and gesture customisation than a Magic trackpad offers. In fact, the customisation available on the Intuos Pro I have is quite mind boggling. You can customise just about everything to a degree that would most definitely leave an OCD sufferer unable to ever leave their computer.
EM1B8732.jpg
Reviewing a graphics tablet is very subjective, depending on what you use it for, so as a photographer who’s usage is pretty limited, what I have decided to do for the purpose of this review is explain how I have integrated the demo unit into my computer setup and explain how it has improved my productivity in a typical workday.

 

The version of the tablet I have for review, while only the medium option, is still pretty large. It’s called an A5 size because that’s roughly the size of the “active area” (which is also customisable) that you can use for regular touch and pen use. But the actual surface area of the tablet is just a tad smaller than an A4 size of paper. The size of the medium is actually way too big for my needs, as you can see by the amount of real estate it uses up on my desk in a photo down the page. This one is 38cm wide and 25cm tall. The large version is a massive 48cm wide and the small one is a more manageable, but still somewhat wide 32cm. People with smaller workspaces may need to think the size options over very carefully before deciding which one to get. Photographers will probably be quite well served by the small version.

 

If you use the tablet in mouse mode you will only be able to use the active area that is shown between the illuminated brackets that show up on the tablet surface. However, if you use the tablet in pen mode, you can decide how much of the surface area you want to map for use with the pen, and also, if you use more than one monitor, whether your pen will cover both or only one of the monitors. Or if you wish, only a portion of both the tablet and the monitor. The screen grab below shows you how you are able to customise this to your liking.

 

ScreenMapping.png
Screen mapping options for the Wacom Intuos Pro

 

Look, Feel & Layout Customisations

 

The Intuos Pro is a very handsome looking piece of hardware. It’s finished in a dark, graphite finish and it has 8 touch sensitive Express Keys on the side, as well as a Touch Ring in-between the 8 Express Keys. When you lightly touch over any of the Express Keys a translucent menu pops up on your display showing what each of the keys is assigned to do (in case you forget, which is not impossible given the staggering array of functions that can be programmed into them).

 

Each of the keys and the touch ring can be customised to perform everything from emulating a keystroke to opening an app to copying to the clipboard, etc, etc, etc. These functions can be customised per application. So say for instance you want the Express keys to do certain things on your OS when you are working generally you can program them to behave in a certain way, but then when you have an app like Photoshop open they can be programmed to do different things. Example, I have the top key set to toggle the touch functionality on or off in all other apps except Photoshop, where it is set to the Save command. If I wanted that button to do something else in Lightroom I could change it easily to have a different behaviour when that app is active.

 

TouchOn-Off.png
Touch On/Off on screen display

 

The Touch Ring also has 4 customisable functions which you toggle through by pushing the button in the centre of it. These can be set to perform any keystroke you want, such as adjusting brush sizes in Photoshop, zooming into or out of a photo/drawing, rotating something, and so on. And of course you can set it to do different things in every app too.

 

TouchRing_Preferences.png
Touch Ring Preferences

 

Did I mention how complex this can get? Fortunately it is possible to store, import and export all your saved settings using the Wacom Desktop Centre software that comes on a Cd or can be downloaded from the Wacom site. It’s highly advisable to back these settings up if you plan on buying a new computer and using the same Wacom on it.

 

One of the setup options that you can modify using that Wacom Desktop Centre app is whether you are using it left-handed or right-handed. It’s expected that lefty’s (like me) will have the Express Keys on the right side of the tablet and everyone else will have them on the left. However, if you want you can use it left-handed with the keys on the left too.

 

WacomDesktopCentre.png
Wacom Desktop Centre screenshot

 

This is one customisation that depends on how you expect to use the tablet in relation to your workspace. As you can see in the photo of my workspace below, I have it over on the left side of the desk with my keyboard to the right. This means that if I have the Express keys on the right I will probably need to use my right hand to use them efficiently, BUT only if I move the keyboard out of the way and have the tablet directly between myself and the big 27” monitor in the middle of the desk (that’s the one I use for editing). Alternatively I could set it up with the Express Keys on the left, using my left hand to push them and leaving my keyboard where it always is.

 

I did try this for a while but it wasn’t very practical because I had to move my hand way over to the other side of the desk to use something stored on one of those keys. Because the Wacom isn’t surface clickable like my Magic Trackpad is I have set the bottom Express Key to perform the function of a regular mouse click for when I want to click and drag to highlight text (there is a 2 finger gesture that does the same thing but my muscle memory is so ingrained with the click and drag method that temporarily changing that behaviour will cause me issues when I have to give the demo unit back).

 

EM1B8748.jpg
My desk with the Wacom on the left.

 

One problem I do foresee me having over time should I eventually upgrade to this size Wacom is that I will have to remove my watch when working with it, or use some kind of a protective pad to rest my wrist on. Although I am left-handed, I wear my watch on the left wrist and have done so since I was a kid. It has something to do with my multi-dextrousness (I am not entirely left-handed, I eat right-handed, play guitar right-handed and kick a ball with the right leg). Working With The Intuos Pro
As I said at the start of the review, as a photographer my use of a Wacom tablet is purely to do a very small set of brush strokes on images that require dodging and burning in Lightroom, or sometimes Photoshop to draw clipping paths around products I have photographed for clients. The Wacom Intuos Pro is actually way too much tablet for me. A professional graphic designer will undoubtedly find a considerably larger scope of utility with this device than I ever could, especially when it comes to the pressure sensitivity (2048 levels of it) that is available with the Intuos Pro. You are also able to calibrate the sensitivity of the pen so that it feels either soft or firm on the surface when translating to an app, as well as how sensitive it is to the tilt of the pen. Artists will love it.

 

So, I decided to try out some deep etching in Photoshop to see how it feels with the Pen. I still use the Wacom in “mouse” mode when doing this because the Pen mode is going to take a whole lot of getting used to and I really don’t have this thing for too long. I suppose I should explain what the difference is between the modes for those of you who have never used a Wacom before. Basically in Mouse mode it acts exactly like a trackpad does. In Pen mode wherever you touch the trackpad on its surface it moves to the mapped area on the screen, so you have to develop strong hand-to-eye coordination between the tablet and screen otherwise you will frustrate yourself quickly. Using that method does help to locate the cursor quickly though, but I couldn’t see myself using the tablet that way, so I have it set to mouse mode permanently. Strangely toggling between these two modes doesn’t seem to be possible via Express Key customisation (although it is possible via application preference). I suppose you either use one or the other permanently.

 

Anyway, getting back to the use of the pen in Photoshop for my typical purposes of deep etching, I most definitely can see how much easier it is to use the Intuos Pro for something like this, especially by having one of the Express Keys assigned to the Undo command. On my old tablet I have to use the keyboard shortcut, which slows me down a bit. This way is much faster.

 

Here’s a partially finished bit of deep etching that took me a few minutes to do (pros will probably do this in seconds).

 

DeepEtchingSample-1024x576.png
Partially finished deep etch

 

Apart from the convenience of having an Express Key setup to step backwards as I am working (and cursing about dragging the pen handles too wide when tracing around curves), having the Touch Ring functions where I can zoom in and out and also being able to easily adjust the size of a brush when erasing the background, is seriously helpful. Also, if I am zoomed right in on a complex part of the image while deep etching I am also able to pan around just by using two free fingers on the suface of the tablet. I can’t tell you just how useful that is compared to the way I have to work with my old Wacom.

 

The Wacom surface feels a lot different when using the touch functions compared to Apple’s Magic Trackpad. It’s not as smooth, which is I suppose the way it needs to be to provide the right amount of friction when using the pen. The Magic Trackpad does have a glass finish to it, so that accounts for it being easier on your fingers, but in saying that, the Wacom isn’t all that bad and after a while of using it you probably won’t even notice this.

 

Using the pen on the tablet is a lot nicer feel wise compared to my old Graphire. It actually feels like a real felt-tip pen on a piece of paper, which is wonderful. Graphic artists will absolutely love this aspect of the Intuos Pro. Also, Wacom have cleverly hidden in the base of the pen stand some 10 extra nibs, a few extras of the default nib plus a few other types of nibs that are bound to suit just about any users preferences. Also found in the base of the stand is a steel ring that you can use to remove the nibs from the pen. A very nice design touch.
EM1B8739-1024x683.jpg

 

EM1B8741-1024x746.jpg
Removing a nib with the steel ring provided

 

Other Features Of The Intuos Pro

 

One really cool aspect of the Intuos Pro is that you can get a wireless kit for it that consists of a rechargeable Lithuim Ion battery and a USB dongle so that you can dispense with the USB cable that normally sends power to the device. In the setup preferences you can also determine how long you want the Intuos to stay awake for when you are using battery mode, so that battery life is maximised. It looks as if the battery will last about 2 or 3 days with all day use, so make sure you keep the USB cable handy to recharge it when needed.

 

Getting back to the customisability, there is an area of customisation that I think Apple people would like to hear about and that is the ability to customise what happens when you tap and swipe with 3, 4 or 5 fingers. A three finger tap can be set to bring up another feature I haven’t yet touched on and that is an on-screen control menu. There are a whole bunch of these that you can create that will pop up a translucent menu wherever you want to position in on the screen. Or you could just use the 3 or 5 finger tap to open an app. You decide.

 

SwipingGestures_Pshop.png

 

SwipingPrefs.png

 

Swiping preferences THE BOTTOM LINE
Wacom tablets are a must for anybody who takes digital imagery seriously, be they professionals or amateurs. This particular model is chock full of really useful features and customisations. Once you get it set up the way you want it will most definitely improve your efficiency around the digital workspaces you use it in. I’m not looking forward to going back to using my old tablet after my loan period is up, so I will certainly be looking to upgrade to one of these very soon, most likely the smaller version.

 


The combination of pen and touch is a masterstroke by Wacom. Mind the pun. :)


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Something I have noticed with the wireless option running on my Mac is that if I let the tablet go to sleep, when it wakes up I lose all the Expresskey functionality. Looking into the Wacom status bar menu it tells me that there is no Wacom present. Plug it back in and viola, the full functionality is back. 

 

Must be a bug. 

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I have the latest drivers installed for this tablet. Still waiting for drivers for the older one. I don't think they are going to post any, which means that piece of hardware is another that has fallen victim to OSX upgrades. :( 

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    • By Dallas
      A few days ago I was supplied with a demo sample of the new Wacom Intuos Pro tablet (medium size) to review. I already own a very old, but faithfully still working Wacom CTE-640 (a.k.a. Graphire 5) which I only use when I am working in Lightroom or Photoshop. I use it mainly to do dodging and burning but every now and then I will also do a bit of the dreaded deep etching via clipping path in Photoshop that is sometimes needed for my product photography where clients want to drop the photo onto a different background. It’s a mind-numbingly boring job, but having a Wacom makes it a little bit less taxing.
       
      For the rest of the time while I am working on my Mac I use my Magic Trackpad, which has made a huge difference to my efficiency on the computer, mainly because of the numerous gestures it offers – things like swiping backwards and forwards between web pages, triple tapping to define words, swiping up to see open apps, etc. I love my Magic Trackpad. I also love that it sits beside the Wacom and I can chose to use either of them on the same computer without having to do any reconfigurations on the Mac.
       
      So, what if the functionality of my Magic Trackpad and Wacom tablet could be combined into one product? Well, this is exactly what the people at Wacom have managed to do with this new range of Intuos Pro tablets. They are pen and touch sensitive PLUS you also get even more functionality in terms of swiping and gesture customisation than a Magic trackpad offers. In fact, the customisation available on the Intuos Pro I have is quite mind boggling. You can customise just about everything to a degree that would most definitely leave an OCD sufferer unable to ever leave their computer.

      Reviewing a graphics tablet is very subjective, depending on what you use it for, so as a photographer who’s usage is pretty limited, what I have decided to do for the purpose of this review is explain how I have integrated the demo unit into my computer setup and explain how it has improved my productivity in a typical workday.
       
      The version of the tablet I have for review, while only the medium option, is still pretty large. It’s called an A5 size because that’s roughly the size of the “active area” (which is also customisable) that you can use for regular touch and pen use. But the actual surface area of the tablet is just a tad smaller than an A4 size of paper. The size of the medium is actually way too big for my needs, as you can see by the amount of real estate it uses up on my desk in a photo down the page. This one is 38cm wide and 25cm tall. The large version is a massive 48cm wide and the small one is a more manageable, but still somewhat wide 32cm. People with smaller workspaces may need to think the size options over very carefully before deciding which one to get. Photographers will probably be quite well served by the small version.
       
      If you use the tablet in mouse mode you will only be able to use the active area that is shown between the illuminated brackets that show up on the tablet surface. However, if you use the tablet in pen mode, you can decide how much of the surface area you want to map for use with the pen, and also, if you use more than one monitor, whether your pen will cover both or only one of the monitors. Or if you wish, only a portion of both the tablet and the monitor. The screen grab below shows you how you are able to customise this to your liking.
       

      Screen mapping options for the Wacom Intuos Pro
       
      Look, Feel & Layout Customisations
       
      The Intuos Pro is a very handsome looking piece of hardware. It’s finished in a dark, graphite finish and it has 8 touch sensitive Express Keys on the side, as well as a Touch Ring in-between the 8 Express Keys. When you lightly touch over any of the Express Keys a translucent menu pops up on your display showing what each of the keys is assigned to do (in case you forget, which is not impossible given the staggering array of functions that can be programmed into them).
       
      Each of the keys and the touch ring can be customised to perform everything from emulating a keystroke to opening an app to copying to the clipboard, etc, etc, etc. These functions can be customised per application. So say for instance you want the Express keys to do certain things on your OS when you are working generally you can program them to behave in a certain way, but then when you have an app like Photoshop open they can be programmed to do different things. Example, I have the top key set to toggle the touch functionality on or off in all other apps except Photoshop, where it is set to the Save command. If I wanted that button to do something else in Lightroom I could change it easily to have a different behaviour when that app is active.
       

      Touch On/Off on screen display
       
      The Touch Ring also has 4 customisable functions which you toggle through by pushing the button in the centre of it. These can be set to perform any keystroke you want, such as adjusting brush sizes in Photoshop, zooming into or out of a photo/drawing, rotating something, and so on. And of course you can set it to do different things in every app too.
       

      Touch Ring Preferences
       
      Did I mention how complex this can get? Fortunately it is possible to store, import and export all your saved settings using the Wacom Desktop Centre software that comes on a Cd or can be downloaded from the Wacom site. It’s highly advisable to back these settings up if you plan on buying a new computer and using the same Wacom on it.
       
      One of the setup options that you can modify using that Wacom Desktop Centre app is whether you are using it left-handed or right-handed. It’s expected that lefty’s (like me) will have the Express Keys on the right side of the tablet and everyone else will have them on the left. However, if you want you can use it left-handed with the keys on the left too.
       

      Wacom Desktop Centre screenshot
       
      This is one customisation that depends on how you expect to use the tablet in relation to your workspace. As you can see in the photo of my workspace below, I have it over on the left side of the desk with my keyboard to the right. This means that if I have the Express keys on the right I will probably need to use my right hand to use them efficiently, BUT only if I move the keyboard out of the way and have the tablet directly between myself and the big 27” monitor in the middle of the desk (that’s the one I use for editing). Alternatively I could set it up with the Express Keys on the left, using my left hand to push them and leaving my keyboard where it always is.
       
      I did try this for a while but it wasn’t very practical because I had to move my hand way over to the other side of the desk to use something stored on one of those keys. Because the Wacom isn’t surface clickable like my Magic Trackpad is I have set the bottom Express Key to perform the function of a regular mouse click for when I want to click and drag to highlight text (there is a 2 finger gesture that does the same thing but my muscle memory is so ingrained with the click and drag method that temporarily changing that behaviour will cause me issues when I have to give the demo unit back).
       

      My desk with the Wacom on the left.
       
      One problem I do foresee me having over time should I eventually upgrade to this size Wacom is that I will have to remove my watch when working with it, or use some kind of a protective pad to rest my wrist on. Although I am left-handed, I wear my watch on the left wrist and have done so since I was a kid. It has something to do with my multi-dextrousness (I am not entirely left-handed, I eat right-handed, play guitar right-handed and kick a ball with the right leg). Working With The Intuos Pro
      As I said at the start of the review, as a photographer my use of a Wacom tablet is purely to do a very small set of brush strokes on images that require dodging and burning in Lightroom, or sometimes Photoshop to draw clipping paths around products I have photographed for clients. The Wacom Intuos Pro is actually way too much tablet for me. A professional graphic designer will undoubtedly find a considerably larger scope of utility with this device than I ever could, especially when it comes to the pressure sensitivity (2048 levels of it) that is available with the Intuos Pro. You are also able to calibrate the sensitivity of the pen so that it feels either soft or firm on the surface when translating to an app, as well as how sensitive it is to the tilt of the pen. Artists will love it.
       
      So, I decided to try out some deep etching in Photoshop to see how it feels with the Pen. I still use the Wacom in “mouse” mode when doing this because the Pen mode is going to take a whole lot of getting used to and I really don’t have this thing for too long. I suppose I should explain what the difference is between the modes for those of you who have never used a Wacom before. Basically in Mouse mode it acts exactly like a trackpad does. In Pen mode wherever you touch the trackpad on its surface it moves to the mapped area on the screen, so you have to develop strong hand-to-eye coordination between the tablet and screen otherwise you will frustrate yourself quickly. Using that method does help to locate the cursor quickly though, but I couldn’t see myself using the tablet that way, so I have it set to mouse mode permanently. Strangely toggling between these two modes doesn’t seem to be possible via Express Key customisation (although it is possible via application preference). I suppose you either use one or the other permanently.
       
      Anyway, getting back to the use of the pen in Photoshop for my typical purposes of deep etching, I most definitely can see how much easier it is to use the Intuos Pro for something like this, especially by having one of the Express Keys assigned to the Undo command. On my old tablet I have to use the keyboard shortcut, which slows me down a bit. This way is much faster.
       
      Here’s a partially finished bit of deep etching that took me a few minutes to do (pros will probably do this in seconds).
       

      Partially finished deep etch
       
      Apart from the convenience of having an Express Key setup to step backwards as I am working (and cursing about dragging the pen handles too wide when tracing around curves), having the Touch Ring functions where I can zoom in and out and also being able to easily adjust the size of a brush when erasing the background, is seriously helpful. Also, if I am zoomed right in on a complex part of the image while deep etching I am also able to pan around just by using two free fingers on the suface of the tablet. I can’t tell you just how useful that is compared to the way I have to work with my old Wacom.
       
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      Using the pen on the tablet is a lot nicer feel wise compared to my old Graphire. It actually feels like a real felt-tip pen on a piece of paper, which is wonderful. Graphic artists will absolutely love this aspect of the Intuos Pro. Also, Wacom have cleverly hidden in the base of the pen stand some 10 extra nibs, a few extras of the default nib plus a few other types of nibs that are bound to suit just about any users preferences. Also found in the base of the stand is a steel ring that you can use to remove the nibs from the pen. A very nice design touch.

       

      Removing a nib with the steel ring provided
       
      Other Features Of The Intuos Pro
       
      One really cool aspect of the Intuos Pro is that you can get a wireless kit for it that consists of a rechargeable Lithuim Ion battery and a USB dongle so that you can dispense with the USB cable that normally sends power to the device. In the setup preferences you can also determine how long you want the Intuos to stay awake for when you are using battery mode, so that battery life is maximised. It looks as if the battery will last about 2 or 3 days with all day use, so make sure you keep the USB cable handy to recharge it when needed.
       
      Getting back to the customisability, there is an area of customisation that I think Apple people would like to hear about and that is the ability to customise what happens when you tap and swipe with 3, 4 or 5 fingers. A three finger tap can be set to bring up another feature I haven’t yet touched on and that is an on-screen control menu. There are a whole bunch of these that you can create that will pop up a translucent menu wherever you want to position in on the screen. Or you could just use the 3 or 5 finger tap to open an app. You decide.
       

       

       
      Swiping preferences THE BOTTOM LINE
      Wacom tablets are a must for anybody who takes digital imagery seriously, be they professionals or amateurs. This particular model is chock full of really useful features and customisations. Once you get it set up the way you want it will most definitely improve your efficiency around the digital workspaces you use it in. I’m not looking forward to going back to using my old tablet after my loan period is up, so I will certainly be looking to upgrade to one of these very soon, most likely the smaller version.
       

      The combination of pen and touch is a masterstroke by Wacom. Mind the pun.

      View full article
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      Mongo’s analysis of the MTF charts lead him to believe that the Nikon is most closely aligned to the Sigma Sport.
       
      It would be unfair for Mongo (in these circumstances) to attempt to draw some comparison between the various lenses. So, he will comment on the Nikon more directly.
       
      The image quality is surprisingly good, indeed, very good. Even wide open at f5.6, the lens delivers sharp images with good contrast. As a habit , Mongo now largely shoots at f5.6, f6.3 and f7.1 averaging f6.3 most of the time. Even so, he finds that you may need to stop down a little more but largely for extra DOF and not for want of sharpness. This lens is small enough to fool you into forgetting it is 500mm and that you may be too close to the subject unless you add more DOF. Funny but you never seem to forget this when lugging the 600mm f4 around. It is something you will get used to quickly when using the 200-500mm.
       
      Having owned and used a Nikon 200-400 f4 VR for a few years, Mongo can say he can not tell the difference in the image quality produced by both lenses. If there is any, it could not justify 4 times the price and more than 30% more weight. The extra stop is not enough to faze Mongo either.
       
      Teleconverters
       
      Mongo must admit that, due to the other initial issues to try and get the lens right, there has been some delay in testing the teleconverters properly. Mongo had an initial try with the teleconverters before the lens was firmware updated and calibrated. Therefore, those old results are not reliable. Nonetheless, Mongo can tell you that the 1.4EII. 1.7EII and 20EIII all work with this lens although, not necessarily the AF.
       
      To break those results down, on the D800E, you get AF with the 1.4EII only but you can manually focus the other converters and the shutter releases and it all works etc. On the D4s, you get AF with the 1.4EII and the 1.7EII (which is very surprising becuase the latter combo is f9.3 wide open i.e more than f8 and theoretically the AF should not be capable of working …..but it does !).
       
      Neither body auto focus with the 20EIII. The images Mongo got from all these combos were all good to very good but read further below.
      While having the firmware update carried out on the lens, Mongo also asked that it also be calibrated (together with calibration of his D4s and D800E). Since getting the gear back about 10days ago, Mongo has been flat out trying to AF fine tune the lens to the camera bodies. At present , despite all having been calibrated and theoretically no AF fine tune should be needed, Mongo has found that the D800E and the lens are best at +4 AF fine tune. Accordingly, Mongo will have to calibrate each of the teleconverters with the lens and redo all the test with them. It may well be that he will get even better results than before the lens was firmware updated and calibrated. This remains to be seen.
       
      Commentary
       
      There is a thread in this forum started on 4 August. There is much speculation in it because the lens was not really around at that time to gain a real impression and feel for it. Mongo hopes his thread (here) helps clarify some of the lens’ mystery. Certainly, if Mongo were ever to go on one of those safaris he reads about, he would not hesitate to take this lens.
       
      Conclusion
       
      Nikon 200-500mm f5.6E ED VR is clearly aimed at the Tamron and Sigma competitors and despite its unfortunate troubled birth, it will make a serious indent into their market share of this approximate zoom range. Mongo would now recommend this lens.
      a quick sample image (view large):
       
      D800E , 200-500 @500mm, f6.3, 1/800th, ISO 2000, -0.3EV, +4 AF fine tune, monopod


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    • By nfoto
      This will be a day-to-day summary of working with the new Nikon Df camera. I will report on whatever finding observed large or small, plus my thoughts on the entire Df concept. Thus, has Nikon gone crazy or are there underlying plans to this 'retro' design? Or is the Df pure nostalgia for its own sake? I aim to penetrate these enigmas over the coming days of actual usage of the Df.
      There is no strict schedule, just rambling along with the Df inserted as the main camera in my usual workflow (in visible light).
      For now I'll use a review camera, randomly pulled out of the production series. So the sample is in no way cherry-picked for the occasion. Later I probably purchase one for my own use (or abuse depending on whether I conclude stuff must be rearranged or readjusted with the camera itself).
      This is an 'all blacks' model, not the silver 'panda' version of this Df. Nikon Nordic plans on only selling Df kits with the redesigned AFS 50 m f/1.8 Nikkor G included and thus I also got a new lens to test. Common sense dictates you should never test two new items in combination unless you are able to split them up and combine with items of previously known features and quality. Thus for now I'm only using the 50 G to get an insight in the speed and precision of autofocus of the Df, and later of course will verify with known standards such as the 24-70/2.8 AFS or 200/2 AFS.
      However, the overall design of Nikon Df indicates it is made to cater for manual lenses, new or old. That in itself is highly interesting and shed light on how the makers' cameras have gradually precipitated towards a world of AF dominance, to the disadvantage of manual lenses. A tell-tale sign has been the evolution of the viewfinders to make them (overly) bright and virtually devoid of any grain structure, so you no longer can rely on them to focus fast lenses manually. The finder aerial image simply isn't broken up sufficiently to indicate precise focus. An overlooked side effect of this is that you cannot really trust the impression of depth of field given by these finders.
      The finder of the Df, however, is made to be useful with manual lenses. The screen is a type B, matte adorned with an outline of focus points, and while the entire finder gives a clear, crisp and bright impression as you lift the camera and look into the finder, the view is no longer overly bright. Instead, the focused plane of the image snaps in and out of focus as it should do. Exactly how the Nikon engineers managed this feat of redesign is unclear to me, but the finder surely works well with say 50/1.2 Nikkor or the 58 mm f/1.2 Noct, to name but a few I tested so far. This focusability extends to wide fast lenses such as 24/2 or 35/1.4 as well, and fast and long lenses now is a breeze. It remains to be seen whether the slower lenses are equally well handled. I had no issues with the 25-50/4 zoom though and this has been problematic on the DSLRs earlier. Later I hook up the Df to some of my über-long cannons such as the 800/8 ED, 1000/11 Reflex, or the king of them all, the 360-1200/11. However, on my current trip the longest lens travelling with me is the Voigtländer 180/4 APO again chosen because it has been a difficult-to-focus item.
      The finder itself makes a prominent 'hump' on the outline of the Df and reminds eerily of an FM2 or suchlike models. The entire finder image is easily seen corner to corner even with spectacles on. Among the many (flawed) speculations on the finder before actual samples started to appear, is that the finder specified to have an eyepoint of just 15 mm, must give problems in viewing and would vignette for people using prescription glasses. Several undocumented assertions claimed it would be equal to or even worse than the finder of say the D800 (the finder of which has 18 mm eyepoint). Now, with the Df in hand, it is easy to see where errors arose. The finder indeed has an eyepoint of 15 mm, but the bezel around the ocular is much lower than on the other models so the eye sits closer to the rear glass of the finder. That is why Nikon refrained from incorporating an ocular shutter because this would necessitate a higher eyepoint leading in turn to a bigger finder head or lower magnification. Always compare commensurable variables, as my professor in statistics tried to make us mere mortal students understand.
      Time for some breakfast coffee so sign off for now.

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    • By Dallas
      Everybody who has read my articles about our 2013 Namibia safari will have heard me waxing lyrical about the awesomeness of the ThinkTank Retrospective 5 bag that accompanied me throughout that trip and how I could carry my Olympus E-M5 and 6 lenses without any problems everywhere I went. It’s been a love affair from the first moment I first got it.
       
      However, as I have continued along with my transformation to the micro four thirds system I have acquired more kit and my little Retro5, as magical as it is, simply can’t swallow all the new bits that have come its way. A new love affair was on the cards.
       

       
      Most important to me in my search for a new bag and carrying solution was that I needed something that could take both my OM-D cameras with lenses attached to them, plus of course the grips I am using on those bodies. I do have a Lowepro Nova 200AW that I used once or twice when I was shooting Nikon, but that bag is not suitable for micro four thirds stuff. The compartments are too big for the lenses and it also makes me stick out like a … photographer carrying a lot of expensive equipment. Not my aim.
       
      I had a chat on Facebook with Simon Pollock who runs social media for ThinkTank and told him what I was looking for and what it would need to carry. He suggested the Retrospective 7, which is the same as the Retro 5, just a bit bigger. That was all I needed to hear. Nothing is cooler than the Retrospective series bags in my opinion, so if I could have the same degree of cool in a slightly bigger bag without giving away my photographer status I would be a happy Fonzie.
       
      So the Retro 7 is what I decided on and it has come to me all the way from California. Just as Simon suggested it is about perfect for what I need it to carry. It’s almost exactly the same design as the Retro 5, with the only real difference being that it has a zippered and padded sleeve in the back that can accommodate a full size iPad or an 11” MacBook Air. I have neither, so I dumped the raincoat in there for now and come safari time later this year will probably put my 13” MacBook Pro in there sideways (inside its protective Thule shell) for my flights. I don’t foresee a problem with this as my carry-on for the flight because I can take out the MBP when I put the bag in the overhead and then put it in the seat pocket in front of me to keep it safe - I will just have to remember to take it with me when I disembark! Of course being a micro four thirds user now means I will have no bag weight stress either, which has been the cause of much angst over the past few years whenever I have been on safari.
       
       
      The supplied dividers of the Retro 7 are the same as the Retro 5 - they divide the bag into three big sections with a few short and thin dividers you can optionally add in. Unfortunately those supplied dividers were inadequate for what I wanted to put into this bag, so I pilfered more of the stiffer dividers I had left over from my ThinkTank Airport Security roller and had my own way with the innards of the Retro 7. The roller dividers are just right for this bag and have allowed me to divide it up into 6 or 7 sections, depending on what I’m carrying with me.
       
      Here’s a look at the way I have configured it (empty). On the right hand side I have used a thinner divider that connects to a loose inner pouch and can easily shift its size to accommodate my biggest lens, the Olympus 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 when I need to carry it, or become 2 smaller sections for my other stuff (flash units, more smaller lenses, etc).
       

       
      When I want to take a lot of stuff and 2 bodies it looks something like this before I put the cameras in. The two compartments in the middle are deep enough for two shorter m43 lenses to "bunk" together, so there's space for 4 of them there.
       

       
      In this shot above you’ll see how the E-M5 slots into the vacant spot together with the Olympus 7-14/4 (four thirds mount) or Olympus 12-40/2.8. The E-M1 will attach to the 50-200mm and everything fits perfectly. Unfortunately I had to use the E-M1 to take these photos so until I get a third body (heaven forbid!) you’ll have to use your imagination, or just take my word for it that it all fits well. I should mention that I have the hood and the tripod mount of the 50-200 still attached here, which brings me to some criticisms I have of the Retrospective 7. I don’t like those little bits of material that are sewn into the corners of the inside. They just get in my way when I'm removing things from that part of the bag. I am very tempted to take a box cutter to them. All that stops me is the fear that they may in some way be the glue that binds the whole bag together and butchering them could result in the entire thing coming apart at the seams. Unlikely, but for now I will endure their presence.
       
      I’d also really like the bag even more if ThinkTank could incorporate the raincoat into a bottom sleeve as this would not add much bulk and could free up useful space in the pouches. They could probably design a little pocket in the main flap for this. It would certainly make it easier to get to in a sudden downpour.
       
      The pockets on the external sides of the Retro 7 are useful to store slim articles but perhaps they could be a little looser so that you could put a water bottle in them?
       
      Apart from those minor criticisms I have no complaints about the Retro 7. Some cool features that are carried up from the Retro 5 are the business card sleeve on the inside of the main cover flap, plus you can also silence the velco on that flap using the ingenious ThinkTank fold-over bits. The same internal pockets that are on the Retro 5 can be found in the 7, so you can store memory cards, paper clips or any number of other things that you might need to carry with you while you're out shooting. I use the front pouch to carry my wallet and phone. I could also probably slip that third OM-D body in there should it ever come to that for me.
       
      On the whole it is a really nice solution for when I need to take along a bit more kit than I can get into the Retro 5. I’m looking forward to this being the only camera bag I take with me to Botswana and Sabi Sabi this year for our Photographers.travel group safaris.
       

       
      The above shows the Retro 5 in front of the 7 to give you an idea of the size difference. All I need now are some more rock n' roll badges to make it look even less like a camera bag.
       
      If you’d like to order a Retrospective 7 directly from ThinkTank please use this link and you will get a free gift with your order. They retail at $162.75 and are also available in black and blue slate.

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    • By Dallas
      If you’re like me you will probably skip to the end of any product review and read the summary before delving into the parts that are important to you. I’ll save you the bother and tell you upfront that if you’re looking for a well designed, well equipped, excellent piece of photographic equipment you can stop reading right now and click this link to buy it. It’s a work of art. Just go get one. It’s everything a camera should be. There, I said it - are you back from buying it yet?
      You haven't bought it yet? Wanna know more about it? OK, well, I guess you ought to read on a bit then. Grab a beverage because this review is about 4000 words long and there are quite a few images to look at too. It's a slightly different approach to the way I normally write a review, but I am sure you will find the information useful if you're planning on getting one.
      Ergonomics
      Camera ergonomics is one of the most important elements of photography. If you’re not comfortable with finding your way around your kit, you’re not going to be happy and at the end of the day your images will reflect that. The E-M1 has been very well thought out in as much as button position is concerned.
      Buttons, Dials & Levers
      At the most basic level there are 3 variables involved in photography that the photographer needs to be able to adjust quickly. These are the lens aperture, the shutter speed and the ISO. Those are the fundamentals and you need to be able to get to them quickly and without impediment, which is why older cameras had aperture rings and a dial on the top to select the shutter speed. Easy. Happily I can report that the E-M1 lets the photographer change all of those variables very quickly and much easier than an old retro SLR could.

      On the E-M1 there are a pair of dials on the body that you can assign to shift the value of each of these variables. The main dial is directly under your right thumb when holding the camera and the sub-command dial is integrated with the shutter release, so it’s easy to get to. Olympus have allowed these dials to be customised for each mode that the camera is in. So for instance, if you are in A mode and you want the rear dial to adjust aperture and the front dial to set compensation you can do that, or you can have them reversed. If you are in S mode you can set it up to work the same way, or if you have some kind of twisted brain you can make it work differently to A mode. You can also set the direction of the dials, which is quite a handy feature if you are coming from a brand of camera that works a certain way.
      So as far as the two main variables (aperture & shutter speed) are concerned, adjusting them is real simple and you can compensate easily without having to press any other button on the camera. What about ISO? On the other OM-D model I have, the E-M5, getting to the ISO was a bit of a fiddle. You had to set it using the Super Control Panel. This was pretty easy to do, but if the last item you adjusted on the SCP was (say) the image quality, you’d have to navigate through the other options on the screen to adjust ISO. This involved several button pushes. On the E-M1 there is a lever integrated with the AE-L button on the rear of the camera that you can flip up or down. If you flip it down the two dials I already mentioned can be used to adjust something else on the camera, like ISO and white balance, for instance. So if I want to quickly change from auto ISO to a low value, all I do is flip down the lever with my right thumb and then use either of the dials to adjust it. How cool is that?
      There are 5 different modes you can set this lever to, each of them re-assigns either the dials or a couple of the custom function buttons. It’s not as complicated as it sounds and I know that some of the reviews I read before I got the camera had me scratching my head as to what they were on about with the 2x2 system. All you have to do is choose which of the modes will work best for you in the menu and then remember what you’ve decided to use the lever for. I’ve set mine to Mode 2 which lets me use the main dial for ISO adjustments and the sub-dial for White Balance adjustments. Couldn’t do that with my Nikon D700.
      The custom functions buttons are much easier to reach on the E-M1 compared to the E-M5 and they have a much nicer tactility than those of the E-M5. There are also quite a few of them compared to the older camera. If you have the HLD-7 grip for the camera there are 7 buttons you can assign just about any camera setting to. The trick is remembering what you’ve set, because in addition to these buttons you can also assign a function to each of the 4 navigation buttons surrounding the OK button and the AE-L button too!
      This is where most people get scared off from the OM-D but really, there’s nothing to be afraid of. My advice is to write down the most important functions you usually use and then assign each button as you’d like. Having come from Nikon I have tried to keep my function buttons as similar to the Nikon layout as possible. I also haven’t assigned specific functions to all the buttons I am able to. This is how I have mine set up:
      Fn-1 - focus peaking
      Fn-2 - multi-function (this adjusts the highlight and shadows of the image using a tone curve)
      Rec - I have left this to start the video when needed
      AEL/AFL - left as is, it locks the AE value but could be set to drive AF if you like to shoot that way
      Front top - set as DOF preview
      Front bottom - set AF target to Home
      B-Fn1 - DOF preview (it’s not easy to reach the other button when holding on the grip)
      B-Fn2 - focus peaking
      Up/Down/Left/Right - I have left these to select the AF area
      OK, so you can assign a crap house full of functions into the buttons, but there is also a couple of buttons on the top of the camera that let you adjust the drive (FPS and self timer), HDR, AF method and metering method when held down and shifting either of the dials. This is very similar to the way many of the top-end Nikon bodies worked, so it’s a feature I am quite happy with.
      Another cool feature is that you can lock the mode dial to prevent accidentally shifting from A mode to (say) P mode. I used to do this on the E-M5 quite often as it was easy to shift that dial. This one is a lot stiffer and now obviously with the locking function it’s a lot better.
      I have read much squealing from other reviewers about the position of the on/off lever now being on the top of the camera, with the associated misery that it now requires you to switch it on with your left hand as opposed to your right. So what? Are you Lucky Luke or Billy The Kid that you have to be able to flick the camera on in a split second and take a shot? Why not leave it on if being ready quickly is that important? I think it’s in a better position now than it is on the E-M5.
      So on the whole the ergonomics are great. Provided you can remember what you’ve programmed each button and dial to do you should be able to adjust camera settings very easily. I like the feel of the buttons and I especially like their positions. Much better than the E-M5.
      Performance
      There are a couple of areas that I demand performance from in my cameras. The main one is obviously image quality, which I will get to later on in the review, but close on its heels is auto focus performance. How does the camera work with the lenses I have?
      Auto Focus
      The E-M1 has both CDAF and PDAF sensors so it’s able to use the latter when using lenses for the 4/3rds system. Apparently it works very well, but as of the time of this review I don’t have any 4/3rds lenses so I can’t comment on that. What I can comment on is that when using a m43 lens there doesn’t seem to be any way of using PDAF instead of CDAF. The camera will only use CDAF with a m43 lens mounted.
      The CDAF is very fast on every m43 lens I have used when in AF-S mode, but it does tend to be somewhat iffy when I switch to AF-C mode. There’s a C-AF-Tracking mode that pops up an on-screen target that looks just like something you see in the movie Top Gun when the F-14 Tomcat is about to blast the hell out of those Russian Migs. It moves around your EVF in exactly the same way and looks very cool.
      I took a few shots of my niece giving her border collies a run on the beach (see image below) and most of them were in focus. I did battle a bit with keeping the subject on the AF target when shooting at 10fps, mainly because you lose the proper live view in machine gun mode, so with a telephoto lens it is very easy to lose your subject - this is about the only benefit of an optical view finder that miss. I must say though that the refresh rate of the E-M1 when shooting at high fps is a gazillion times better than the E-M5.
      I haven’t played around enough with a live moving subject to be able to form an opinion on whether this tracking feature has improved since the E-M5 or not, so I will reserve judgement for now and address this in a separate article once I have had time to test it a little more, hopefully using a 4/3rds lens too.

      Image Quality
      Superb. Do I need to say more? Really?? OK, it’s really superb. Best IQ of any camera I have ever owned. Better than the Nikon D700, definitely. The dynamic range and tonality is awesome, but what sets the E-M1 apart from other cameras is the colour it gives you. Skin tones are excellent and truly life-like. I haven’t photographed anyone with dark skin tones yet, but so far the caucasian skin tones I’ve shot under natural light and flash are spot on. I’m very happy to report that I don’t touch colour at all when I am editing the E-M1 files and I have the white balance properly set. This is a shot of my son, the chef. Only adjustment made here was to the background.

      A lot has been written about the JPG’s that the Olympus cameras produce. I’m not wild about shooting in JPG, but I did try it out and they seem pretty good. I have tested a few of the Art Filters, which if you have the camera set to RAW will give you a funky processed JPG and a RAW file even if you haven’t asked the camera to produce a JPG. The only one of these filters I find interesting is the grainy B&W. The rest seem quite gimmicky in an Instagram kind of way.
      High ISO performance is excellent. I am quite comfortable shooting this camera at 12800 ISO, which is a full two stops more than I am comfortable shooting the E-M5 at. Yes, it looks a bit grainy, but if you run a noise reduction filter over it, you get a very usable image, which is useful for when I am in reportage mode in a darkened conference room and I don’t want to fire a flash. Actually the grain is decidedly film like in character. I kind of like it at 12800 more than at 6400 for some reason.
      EVF
      There has been a lot said about the EVF improvements in the E-M1 over the E-M5. It’s a lot bigger and the rendered image is a lot better too, thanks to many more pixels being jammed in there. As I mentioned in the AF performance part of this review, the refresh rate when shooting at 10fps is significantly improved over the E-M5, but you still don’t see a live view image when you’re bursting frames at that rate, so it can be hard to keep track of something that is moving fast when you’re using a telephoto lens. I don’t see this camera being used effectively for action sports, but I do think I would like to go and try some surfing photography with it, mainly because of the huge advantage of the smaller sensor on telephoto lenses.
      Overall I prefer an EVF over an OVF. The advantages by far outweigh the negatives, especially as you gain so many shooting aids, like live highlight and shadow clipping, axis levelling, histogram, and not forgetting that you can see the image you just shot in the EVF without having to deal with outdoor reflections on the LCD screen.
      Features
      There are more features on this camera than I am probably ever going to use. However, there are a few that I would like to mention, simply because they are so cool and actually something that I can use.
      Wifi Remote Control
      If you carry around a smartphone you have a very handy remote control for your E-M1 that works on wifi. It is surprisingly easy to set up, even I managed it (my Lexmark wifi printer still sits plugged into my Mac some 3.5 years after I first bought it, simply because I can’t figure it out). What’s extra cool about this remote control feature is that the E-M1 transmits the live view image to your phone, so as far as making selfies goes, this is truly da bomb when used in conjunction with the self-timer. It’s also a neat party trick to confuse the hell out of your friends with. Over Christmas I got some peeps to hold my iPhone as if they were taking a shot while I held the E-M1 just behind them. It all looks fine until I point the camera at the back of their heads and they start to think I’m pulling an epic Dynamo Magician Impossible illusion on them. Much scratching of heads.
      The Olympus Remote Image app can also be used to do other cool things, like transfer images directly to your smartphone from the camera, which can then be shared to Facebook. It can also use the phone’s GPS feature to geo-tag your images, which is pretty neat, although to be honest I’d have much preferred it if they put a GPS feature directly in the camera. I have also used my iPad Mini to connect to the camera and do some product photography. This is a very useful feature because I can see on a larger screen exactly where I might need to make adjustments.
      I tried connecting to my desktop Mac using the SSID that the E-M1 creates but it doesn’t connect and simply times out. It would be nice to be able to shoot wirelessly directly to the Mac. I also hope that Adobe will start to give better support to Olympus products in Lightroom for tethered shooting because currently it doesn’t recognise the camera when it is plugged in via USB. This is a pity because I did enjoy shooting tethered to Lightroom.
      Live Time Exposure
      This is a very neat little feature that I’m sure I will put to great use the next time we are at Sabi Sabi doing night photography. When the camera is in manual mode you can set the shutter speed one notch beyond BULB to get to this feature. What it does is show you your image “developing” while the shutter is open during long time exposures. There is also a live histogram that you can use to gauge when to close the shutter. Very cool.
      Focus Peaking
      I really love this! It's so well implemented on the E-M1 and I am now quite confident to use any lens on the body with manual focus. It works so well. If you don't know what it is, basically when you have it on the camera detects the strength of edge contrast while you are manually focusing and shows up a bright white outline when that contrast is at its maximum. This allows you to get a good indication of when something is in sharp focus (provided it has discernible edges, obviously).
      The Feel Of It
      When I took it out of the box for the first time I was quite surprised by how small it still looks when compared to a DSLR. Yes, it is now slightly bigger than the E-M5, but not by all that much, especially if you have been using the HLD-6 grip with the E-M5. Having said that though, the changes Olympus have made by including the hand grip on the main body this time have made a big difference to the way the camera feels in your hands. I don’t have either huge or small hands, but it feels really good when I hold it. Solid.
      I do have the HLD-7 grip for it, which makes it feel even better, but then it does start to take on small DSLR proportions. I am using an old Canon wrist strap I still had from my early days and this allows me to get rid of the need for a neck strap. Olympus do make their own wrist straps for the OM-D range (Olympus GS-5) and I will most likely be ordering one as soon as they get the stock in locally.
      The materials used on the body are high quality alloys and plastics. The rubber coating feels good too. It’s not quite as grippy as that found on the likes of the top end Nikon bodies, but I prefer it because the Nikons tend to get very grubby looking in a short time.
      I like that the eyepiece now protrudes away from the rear screen more than it did with the E-M5. This has made a difference to the eye sensor sensitivity (the sensor detects when your eye is at the EVF and switches off the LCD) - it now doesn't pick up your hand movements when you are using the touch screen.
      Quirky Stuff
      AF-Illumination Beam
      The AF-illumination light has moved from the left side of the body to the right side and is very close to the hand grip. It doesn’t get blocked by this at all and is probably the reason why Olympus decided to move it there instead of keeping it on the left (although that area is now used by the PC-sync port).
      However, this is not the ideal spot for my own purposes, reason being that when I am using the E-M5 to take candid stuff of delegates at conferences, I cover the beam with my thumb so that it doesn’t give me away. You simply can’t do this effectively with the E-M1, so I have had to switch it off in the custom settings. It’s not ideal because there are times that I would like to have it work because the Olympus FL-600R doesn’t have a nice AF assist function at all (it does double duty as an LED light for video so it’s really bright and makes people squint terribly). I guess I will have to make use of the MySet presets that Olympus use and have one with it on and another with it off.
      AF-C Focus Confirmation Beep & Locking
      Another setting that you need to look into under the AF settings is that when you are in AF-C mode, you can set the AF to lock based on how much activity it detects in the focus zone. The options are High, Normal, Low and Off. Setting this to Off means that your camera will try to re-acquire focus faster for whatever the AF target is looking at. I suppose this setting is to help with slower moving subjects in case you accidentally move the AF point off the subject and the camera then adjusts AF slower.
      You’ll hear the focus confirmation beep in AF-C too, which is a behaviour that I don’t normally associate with AF-C focusing.
      Home AF Position
      One of the functions you can assign to any of the Fn buttons on the camera is the […] Set Home option. This is a very tricky thing to set up properly and it took me quite a while to figure out just how it works.
      Say you are using the small AF target and you have it set to somewhere near the edge of the frame. To get it back to the middle of the screen you could press the direction buttons on the back of the camera repeatedly, but by using […] Set Home you can get it back there with a single button (whichever one you have assigned the function to).
      So I set this up using one of the buttons but every time I pressed it all the AF points would illuminate and the camera would then randomly select any point based on wherever it could focus quickest. It drove me nuts.
      Then I saw in the AF settings menu that there is also a bit about […] Set Home position for the AF target. It shows four options, the default of which is the entire AF target grid. There are also options to set the home position for the large single AF point and the small single AF point, as well as a grouped cluster of AF points. But the twist here is that you don’t have to select the central point as the home point, it can be any of the 81 AF points!
      So you have to choose which of these options would work for you before setting the Fn button up to get back to wherever you want home to be. I found that very weird, but hey, even weirder is that you can calibrate the front and back focus for 37 of those AF points for every lens you have and the camera will remember them the next time the lens is attached. This is I believe for use with the PDAF system. God save the poor soul who is anal enough to want to do that. I’d rather slit my wrists.
      Conclusion
      The E-M1 is everything I need it to be for the kind of photography I do. It combines cutting edge technology with well thought out controls and it all comes in a small, lightweight package that is capable of doing everything and doing it well.
      There are a lot of settings that you have to look at before you can go out and start shooting with this camera. Because it is so highly customisable I would suggest spending at least an entire day (or two) familiarising yourself with the options available and then go practise shooting at least a dozen times before you use it for a serious shoot. I have tried to set mine up as close as possible to the way I had my Nikons set up and so far apart from the odd issue I have had understanding the settings (like […]Set Home for example) it has been an absolute joy to use.
      For the asking price of $1400 I don’t think you could ask for anything more. I don’t have any nits to pick. This is the bees knees for me. I will be adding some more shorter material related to my use of the E-M1 throughout the year and you can find those articles under the tag E-M1dD (I will apply this tag to all articles I write that are related to this camera).
      Go get it. You won’t be sorry.
      Here are a few more images (click to enlarge):
      Shot at a live theatre show



      My other son, the aspiring musician

      My guitar is similar to this (not my Dad in case you were wondering!)

      Scrat, the Meerkat!

      Scrat's Mom

      More Sample Images Here
      If you have any questions about the E-M1 please use the comments section below and I will be happy to answer you as best I can.
      Footnote: please help me to make this website work financially by purchasing your E-M1 from Amazon.com if you are in the USA using this link. It won’t cost you anything more but I will get a sales commission if you do use the link. For South African readers you can order an E-M1 directly from me as I have a dealer account with the supplier (Tudortech). Just send me an email and I will advise you of the current price.

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    • By Dallas
      The genre of photography that excites me the most these days is landscapes. I can’t think of anything I enjoy shooting more than a drama filled natural landscape. I feel at peace doing this type of photography, truly content. In preparing for our recent photo safari to Namibia I was looking at getting a filter system to help me make the most of the landscape photo opportunities that we were going to encounter.
      So why use filters when a lot of the effects they offer can be replicated in post production software like Photoshop or Lightroom? Well, firstly I don’t like to do things in post when they can be done in the camera. If there’s a recipe for making me fed up it involves me sitting behind a computer screen for hours tweaking pixels with masks and layers in software that requires a great deal of expertise to get the best results from (besides, I’m not playing the Adobe rent-a-shop game these days). Secondly, the sensors on digital cameras these days have pretty good dynamic range, but if you want to make the most of the digital information captured on those sensors, it’s probably best to avoid working with the extremes of DR. If you’re on the edge of blowing out the sky while lifting the foreground, why not just play it safe and protect the sky with a neutral density graduated filter?
      Neutral density filters that block light in the same way that sunglasses do have long been used by photographers to slow down exposure times when using wider apertures in bright outdoor conditions, or to selectively reduce glare in parts of the frame. Doing this not only helps to minimise depth of field in situations where your shutter speed is hitting the limits of your camera’s ability, but it also helps to create drama in skies with moving clouds, or to give moving water the dreamy silk-like effect that we see so often in seascapes and photos of rivers and waterfalls. You can’t replicate those effects easily in Photoshop or any other image manipulation software.
      So, now that I have convinced you to use filters to enhance your landscape photography, you have a couple of options if, like me, you are chasing down exciting landscape photography:
      1) you can buy filters that screw onto your lens, which gets expensive if you have quite a few lenses with different filter thread sizes, or…
      2) you can buy into a system of filters that can be used on any lens with an adapter.
      I decided to look into the latter and the LEE filters Seven5 filter system that has been designed specifically for smaller mirrorless cameras like micro four thirds popped up on my radar.
      The Lee Seven5 system is much like their well known bigger system of resin based rectangular filters that can be slotted into a holder, which is then attached to a lens by means of a lens adapter. The only real difference is that the Seven5 filters are smaller (they are 75mm wide whereas the bigger filters used on DSLR’s are 100mm wide). Assuming you are using a ND grad, once the filter is in position you can easily rotate the holder around your lens to darken certain parts of the frame. You can also slide the filter up or down inside the holder to adjust the part of the frame you need to darken. This can’t be done with a traditional screw-in filter.
      I got a LEE Seven5 filter system that comprised the following bits:
      LEE Seven5 filter holder (dual slots for filters)
      46mm, 52mm & 58mm adapter rings
      0.3, 0.6 & 0.9 ND hard grad filters
      0.9 ND filter
      The filter numbers indicate the number of stops of light that they cut out. For example, 0.3 is 1 stop and 0.9 is 3 stops.
      These hand made filters come in handy micro-fibre pockets that can double as cleaning cloths, but they are also wrapped in a fine tissue like paper that I have often used to clean lenses with in the past. Unfortunately the tissue paper didn't make it out of the desert intact...
      The adapter rings are made of a black anodised metal and the filter holder simply snaps onto these, allowing you to easily rotate the holder with the filters in place. It’s a very neat, uncomplicated system.
      So how does it work in the field?
      Prior to this Namibian safari I had never used filters like this, so you could call me a complete filter system newbie. Fortunately there is a lot of information on the LEE Filters website, as well as guides on how to use their products, so before I went on the trip I spent some time reading up how to use them and it seemed to be a fairly straight forward process.
      The first time I tried to use them was at Bloubergstrand in Cape Town where you get some amazing sunsets over the ocean. Initially I found it a little difficult to figure out where exactly the ND grad line was appearing on the Olympus E-M5 because even if you press the depth of field preview, the EVF automatically brightens itself. This is a setting somewhere that I simply didn’t have the time to go looking for, so I guessed where to place the filter. The results were interesting, but as I was still learning how to use the system, I needed to experiment a bit more.

      click to enlarge
      Above is a shot showing the sun setting over Robin Island with a bit of the shoreline in the frame. If I remember correctly I was using the 0.6 ND graduated filter here, but I might be wrong. The overall exposure between land, sea and sky seems to be nicely balanced, but there is a spot of flare from the sun in the frame. This is not a train smash as you can always clone it out, but because you’re using what is essentially an external element to your lens, the quality of the filter will affect the severity of flare if you have the sun in the frame, so keep this in mind if you get the notion of buying cheaper filters.
      The next time I got to use the filters was a couple of weeks later when we found ourselves photographing landscapes inside the Sossussvlei, which is a spectacular dune reserve in the south western part of Namibia. This is a place where landscape photographers die and go to heaven. Wherever you turn there is majestic landscape waiting for you to capture it. On our second day in the area we stayed inside the reserve in one of the exclusive Namibia Wildlife Resorts which enabled us to stay in the reserve at the most important photographic times of the day, sunrise and sunset. We made the most of this and did a session near dune 42 in the fading light of late afternoon and then again the next morning before sunrise at the Deadvlei, which is about 60km from the lodge, right at the end of the asphalt road that runs through the reserve.
      The afternoon session gave me some much needed time to play around with the ND grads using my Olympus OM-D E-M5 and 9-18mm lens. While our group were mostly photographing the massive dune in front of us, I turned around and looked at the landscape behind us. The sun was setting and the light was amazing, so I found some foreground interest and proceeded to experiment with the LEE Seven5 ND grad filters, trying them all, before finally finding my stride with the 0.6.
      This first shot shows the landscape as the E-M5 captured it under evaluative metering without any filters. You can see that the sky is a little washed out and there isn’t much in the way of contrast.

      click to enlarge
      Then using the 0.6 ND grad to cover the sky, I exposed for the foreground and got something decidedly more interesting.

      click to enlarge
      The next shot shows what happens to the foreground when I exposed to retain detail in the sky without the ND grad. Very underexposed. Yes, you could probably bring this up in Lightroom or Photoshop, but by doing that you’re also going to amplify any noise you might have in the shadows.

      click to enlarge
      I then went looking for something a little more interesting than stones in the foreground and found this. This is a relatively un-touched image, only minor toning and the “punch” preset in Lightroom were used. I’m very happy with this one.

      click to enlarge
      The next morning three of us arose before the dawn and headed for a sunrise at the Deadvlei. This gave me yet more opportunities to try out the ND grads. Again the results were great!

      click to enlarge
      Here’s the set up as captured by my iPhone.

      The next time I got to try out the filters was in Swakopmund, but the sky was very washed out there and there weren’t any clouds, so for this particular shot I went with the 0.3 ND grad and positioned it just below the horizon to give some more definition to the tops of the dunes.

      click to enlarge
      I think that this little system of filters is indispensable to landscape photography. It’s been downsized for use with the smaller mirrorless systems, such as micro four thirds and Fuji X-trans, so it’s easy to carry around in a camera bag. I managed to find a $20 slimline Lowepro GPS case that fits the filters and adapter rings I have perfectly. The filter holder comes with a drawstring pouch that fits nicely into the side of my ThinkTank Retrospective 5 bag, which means I can bring along my entire m43 kit and a filter set without having to resort to a bigger bag.
      There are quite a few filter options available for the Seven5 system, ranging from sunset, B&W, tobacco, chocolate and sepia grads to polarisers and even a lens hood to help minimise the flaring from light hitting the filters at oblique angles. All in all it’s fairly comprehensive as a system and should keep landscape shooters using smaller systems quite well prepared for many eventualities.
      Price wise it’s not cheap, but it should be remembered that each filter is hand made, so you're getting the very best it can be. For the set of 3 ND grads, a single 0.9 ND filter, holder and 3 adapter rings you’re looking at approximately US$396 excluding shipping. There are now also Singh-Ray filters that will fit the LEE Seven5 holder, but those cost even more than the LEE filters.
      In my opinion if you’re into outdoor photography, especially if you want to keep weight down by using a small mirrorless system, you can’t beat this Seven5 system for convenience. Go get it if you can, it's a worthwhile investment in your photography.

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    • By Dallas
      As a photographer who organises wildlife safaris fairly often, the biggest elephant in the room I usually have to deal with is transporting my camera gear on airplanes between cities in South Africa. The issue is that if you are flying on a domestic airline within South Africa the rule for carry on luggage is that it can't exceed a certain dimension or weight. This happens to be either 7 or 8kgs, depending on which flavour airline you're on. Not a hell of a lot, is it? Put a couple of pro cameras with big lenses and a laptop into the mix and you'll be over the limit very quickly. The domestic airlines here also restrict you to one piece of checked luggage that cannot exceed 20kgs. On my last safari to Namibia I think my camera bag was pretty close to 20kgs on its own. I'll elaborate a bit more on what was in it later in this article.
      The volume side of the carry-on restrictions is not usually a problem, provided the bag you're using fits into the little aluminium scaffolding apparatus they use to determine maximum proportions at the check-in counter. Smaller planes don't always have overhead stowage so your bag has to fit under the seat in front of you which is not always a possibility, especially if it's a really small plane and also if you find yourself sitting next to an emergency exit.
      When you are at the check in counter at South African airports that are run by ACSA (Airports Company South Africa) you will also notice that there are signs behind the attendants clearly indicating that you are prohibited from checking in any valuable electronics, including cameras, computers, etc. So, it's a conundrum alright. How do you get yourself and your equipment from one city to the next without going through the stress of possibly being charged additional luggage fees for being overweight, or perhaps being forced to check your equipment in with your regular luggage and running the risk of it being stolen or damaged by the handlers? The answer is simple: you don't. The stress is just something you have to deal with. Fortunately there are a few strategies you can employ to minimise the issue.
      1) You can wear your equipment using one of those photographer vests with numerous and large pockets. These work quite well, but you will attract the attention of airport security as well as raise the anxiety levels of nervous flyers who may mistake you for a terrorist. You're also not going to have the most comfortable flight if you're thinking of wearing it in your seat.
      2) You can upgrade your ticket to Business Class which allows you more hand luggage, but this is not always available, especially not on regional routes. I haven't seen any business class on any flight to the Kruger Park.
      3) You can choose the right bag, one that is unobtrusive, versatile and in the worst case scenario where you have to check it in, will provide your gear with adequate protection. You may also need to be a little devious in this regard.
      The ThinkTank Airport roller series are such bags (or cases if you're a stickler for details). On the two safaris I have led this year I evaluated two different types of Airport rollers, namely the Airport International V2.0 and the Airport Security V2.0. This article is about the smaller one, the Airport International V2.0 which I used on our Big 5 Safari. I will write a separate article about the Airport Security, which is the one I used on our Namibian safari shortly after the Big 5 trip.
      So, at the beginning of August this year we did our annual Ultimate Big 5 Safari to the Sabi Sands which is a private game reserve adjacent to the Kruger National Park. I had to fly from Durban to Johannesburg and then once we had all our guests with us we flew from Johannesburg to Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA). I decided to use the Airport International roller because the Security, while only slightly bigger than the International, does appear a lot bigger than it on the outside. When I first received the Security I thought there is no ways that thing is going to be allowed as a carry on - it looks more like a suitcase than anything else, so I got the International just to be safe.
      We normally fly on SAA to KMIA from Jo'burg and they use a 4 engine jet plane (can't remember the name, so I have a photo of it below this paragraph). This plane has adequate overhead stowage capacity, but sometimes they might change the plane depending on the number of passengers booked on the flight, so prudence is advisable when going to KMIA on SAA. For this trip I had to fly back to Durban on Kulula from Johannesburg and I hadn't flown with them before, so I had to be extra prudent in the light of not knowing how strict they were with hand luggage, or the type of plane they operated.

      Our guests shown leaving our SAA plane in 2010
      I had managed to keep the weight of the Airport International V2.0 down to about 15kgs. Inside I had my Nikon D700 with MB-D10 grip, Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 OS, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 OS, a couple of teleconverters, a Nikon D3100, Olympus OM-D E-M5, Olympus 75mm f/1.8, Samyang 7.5mm fisheye, Panasonic 14-45mm, 45-175mm and Olympus 9-18mm lenses, MacBook Pro 13", iPad Mini. A fair amount of kit for a week in the bush! I was also using the low dividers set for this case which is an absolute must in my opinion. This lets you put your laptop inside the case for extra protection. There is a sleeve on the outside of the roller you could put one into, but it's not advisable. When you open the lid of the roller the laptop will slide out of the sleeve. Trust me, I've done this - it's the making of a movie with a very sad ending.

      iPhone photo of the roller packed for Big 5 Safari - only the TC's were added to the empty space later.
      Getting to Jo'burg from Durban on SAA was easy. I have never been asked to weigh my carry-on luggage by SAA and this time was no different. I checked in my main suitcase and they didn't even ask about the ThinkTank roller which I had strategically positioned directly in front of the check in desk so that the attendant didn't really see it. I also draped my jacket over the top of it to camouflage its dimensions a little. No questions were asked. I went through security and on the other side I found the gate I needed to be at, making sure I was the first in line to board. This is important as it assures you of a space in the overhead bin - the last thing you want to have happen if you can't find any space in those overhead bins is for the flight attendants to have to place your bag for you, because the weight will be a major concern and then they will most likely gate check it if they haven't already compressed their vertebrae trying to hoist it somewhere themselves. Get on the plane first and secure a space in the overhead bin.
      Going back the other way from this year's Big 5 safari required me to make two flights; one from KMIA to Johannesburg, and then from Johannesburg back to Durban. In the past I have flown directly back to Durban from KMIA, but this is where I encountered the small plane problems that I knew I would not be able to take a big carry-on like the ThinkTank rollers onboard. On that flight there was no overhead bin and there was very little space under the seat, so I decided to fly back via Johannesburg this time. Longer and more expensive, but I'd rather pay more for the flights and get all my gear home safely than check it at the gate and possibly lose everything.
      One of our guests on this safari had brought his gear over from the US in the bigger ThinkTank Airport Security V2.0 roller. While we were waiting to board the plane back to JHB from KMIA after the safari we were both approached by a ground personnel individual and asked to gate check the rollers as we walked out to the plane from the gate. She seemed a little unassertive, so we both refused, citing the contents as being too valuable to check. She relented easily enough and we boarded the aircraft with our rollers ahead of everyone else, found our seats, stowed them above us and sat down to enjoy the flight. I also had no problem getting the roller onboard the Kulula flight back to my home city, Durban. Job done. Thank you ThinkTank!
      If you're thinking about getting this case, I can highly recommend it. You'll fit a decent amount of kit into it and it has some pretty neat features, including a raincoat, lockable zippers, external pockets and also a system for attaching your monopod or tripod to the outside of it. There's also a combination lock you can use to secure your case to a pole or something immovable if you need to be away from it for a short while. I can see this coming in handy when shooting on location. The build quality is also top notch.
      If I can offer some criticism of the case it's that I found some of the dividers a little too stiff to configure nicely. I think if they could make them a bit more flexible it would be a whole lot more awesome as a solution for your camera travels. Also, the telescopic handle of this model seems very thin and flimsy compared to its bigger brother's handle. Speaking of handles, ThinkTank have placed one on three of the cases edges, which makes it very easy to hoist from any angle. That's clever design.
      The inside also zips out completely so you can wash it out thoroughly, especially if you're in the habit of dragging your roller into dusty locations, which we tend to do a lot on safari! My associate Pepe is now using this roller permanently and I have opted to use the larger one, the Airport Security V2.0 which I will discuss in my next article.
      If you are in the USA you can buy this bag directly from ThinkTank and get a free gift when you use this link.

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    • By Dallas
      A few weeks after our Ultimate Big 5 Safari in August, I found myself packing to fly to Cape Town where we had a 32 day adventure lined up, namely the Namaqualand to Namibia Safari. This time there was a lot more to pack, so I decided to put the ThinkTank Airport Security V2.0 to the task, seeing as I already knew it would fit on a smaller plane (one of our guests used it without drama on the flight from Kruger Airport to Jo'burg) and the plane to CT would certainly be a lot larger than that other one.
      I had planned to do a lot of landscape work on this trip so while I was going to bring along my Nikons and the Sigma 120-300/2.8, I also needed to find space for my entire mirrorless kit. Configuring the roller with the low divider set was challenging for the m43 stuff, mainly because the lenses are so much smaller and the dividers are designed for much bigger partitions. But I managed and here's a shot from my iPhone of everything that fit inside the Security V2.0 roller.
       

       
      Lot of stuff, huh? Here's a full list:
      Nikon D700
      Nikon D3100
      Olympus OM-D E-M5
      Olympus 9-18mm
      Olympus 75mm f/1.8
      Panasonic 14-45mm
      Panasonic 45-175mm
      Samyang 7.5mm fisheye
      Sigma 120-300/2.8 OS
      Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art lens (review is in the works)
      Sigma 12-24mm f/4-5.6
      13" MacBook Pro
      iPad Mini
      Back-up hard drive (WD 1TB)
      Lee Filters Seven5 system (to be reviewed soon!)
      Chargers
       
      In the pocket shown as empty here I later added my sunglasses cases. I had a pair of polarised driving glasses and a regular pair.
       
      So on the day of the flight I got to the airport (early as usual) and there was a very large queue of people waiting to check into the Kukula.com flights. I was somewhere near the front of the queue when I heard this announcement being made that went something along these lines: "Kulula.com advises all passengers travelling with them that hand luggage is restricted to one item only and that it may not exceed 7kgs. It will be weighed at the check-in counter and also again at the gate. If any hand luggage is found to be over the limit at the gate you will be sent back to the check-in counter and additional check-in charges will be incurred." Oh. What could I do? My carry on weighed close to 20kgs!
       
      Well, I could only do one thing: plead ignorance. I got to the counter, hoisted my big red suitcase onto the conveyor and would you believe it, the scale read 20.8kgs. The attendant looks at me and says I am over the 20kg limit and I will have to pay in R250 (about $25) for additional baggage. I look back at her and I smile. "That can't be possible. I weighed this suitcase at home and it was 19.5kgs. There must be something wrong with your scale. Can we try it on another scale?" Now at this point the queue had gotten longer and there were no additional free counters for us to check the weight at. She looked at me, half-smiled and said, "OK, I'll let you go through without extra charges, but next time you'll have to pay the R250..."
       
      Phew.
       
      All this timethe ThinkTank Security roller was parked right in front of the desk with my jacket over it. "What's that bag?" she asked, somehow managing to catch sight of it. I told her that it's just my camera bag. She handed me my boarding pass and ID and wished me a pleasant flight.
      At the gate I was looking for these hand luggage weight police but I saw no scales or scaffolding apparatus that could possibly be used to measure bags, so I relaxed a little and waited to be let on board. Fortunately the bag fit perfectly in the overhead stowage of the plane and I got to Cape Town without any further drama.
       
      Flying back from Cape Town to Durban my big red suitcase had somehow lost a bit of weight and only tipped the scales at 19.1kgs. No questions about anything else. Onboard I found myself sitting right at the back of a very full Boeing 737-800 which also had slightly different overhead bins to the plane I had flown down on, the kind that hang down and are then clipped up during the flight. I managed to get the roller into the one directly over my seat, but it was a bit of a struggle as somebody else had already put stuff in it (I wasn't the first to board because Cape Town airport has to buck convention and their gates are illogically designed when it comes to figuring out how to queue up). Just prior to touch down in Durban we hit a bit of turbulence and the overhead bin with my roller in it popped open. Thankfully nothing fell out and the passenger on the aisle was able to simply pop it closed by reaching up his arm.
       
      Phew, once again.
       
      OK, so about the case... the ThinkTank Airport Security rolling case is awesome. Compared to the ThinkTank Airport International V2.0 version it has a few additional features, such as a set of backpack straps that hide away in a compartment in the back. You can wear it on your back but don't expect it to be very comfortable when fully laden. I guess this feature is handy to have if you have to take the case across terrain that isn't exactly roller-friendly (like muddy patches, or grass, etc).
       

       
      Showing the straps that fold into a flap on the back
       
      There's an extra pocket that flips open on the side of the case and inside it there are some stretchy divisions that are handy to store things like keys, wallets, etc. It also has a buckle that you use to attach the tripod/monopod straps to secure such things to your case. It is a bit tricky to figure out if you don't use the instructions sheet, but once you know how it's a doddle.
       

       
      Side pocket with buckle for tripod attachment bits
       
      At the top of the case there is a place to put your business cards in. I cannot stress enough how important it is to keep a good supply of these in all your camera bags. It's great that all the ThinkTank bags I have used have dedicated space for these to be easily accessible. I also used this roller on the ICANN47 meeting here in Durban and I was constantly dishing out cards to people throughout the conference.
       
      Just below the business card holder is another zippered pocket with enough room to store your plane tickets and passport which makes them very easy to get to.
       

       
      The rest of the case is very similar to the International, just a bit roomier. This case is ideal for photographers who need to carry big lenses like 400mm f/2.8's and while I don't have one to try, I reckon you might even get a 600mm f/4 into it too.
      As with the International I would strongly advise getting the low divider set so that you can store your laptop on the inside of the case while travelling. Speaking of the inside, once you have it open the lid has 4 zippered pockets that you can store things like memory cards, AA batteries, cleaning kits and whatever else you need to store that is slim line. ThinkTank have also very cleverly sewn in little stretchy pockets for the zip ends to slip snugly into. This ensures that they are not exposed to your gear where friction could cause unsightly abrasions.
       
      The reason why I decided to keep the larger version of the ThinkTank rollers and not the International is because of the additional room. When I was shooting the ICANN47 conference I had my Nikon and micro four thirds kit inside it, but what I did with the m43 kit is put the whole lot into my amazing little ThinkTank Retrospective 5 shoulder bag and then put that bag right into the roller. It was a perfect fit and it gave me the versatility I needed to be mobile as well as have as much gear as necessary securely placed nearby. Being able to lock the roller's lid zipper with the combination is probably the cleverest thing I have ever seen on any camera case. Love it.
       
      On the rolling side the wheels used on the Airport series of rollers are excellent. They roll super-smoothly and are practically silent. I believe they use the same wheels that you get on roller blades, but I'll need to confirm that.
       
      So, now that I have established that it is in fact possible to travel on most domestic flights between big cities in South Africa that are relevant to our safari operations, this roller will become my go-to companion on those trips. It will also be very useful for when I am covering conferences and other shoots that require a fair amount of gear to be brought along. The Airport Security V2.0 is pretty rugged. While we were in Namibia there were 3 of us using these cases and they all came through with flying colours. They kept the dust out (and boy, did we have a lot of dust!) plus they rolled everywhere. They are easy to load and unload into vehicles because of the extra handles on the top, bottom and side. Plus, all these ThinkTank rollers have a metal plate riveted onto the top rear section with your serial number printed onto it. You can register your case with them and if it is ever lost and then found by a good samaritan it can be returned to you.
       

       
      A ThinkTank dominated Land Rover Freelander in Damaraland, Namibia.
       
      Many thanks to ThinkTank for not only designing this awesome piece of kit storage, but also for sponsoring evaluation copies for me to review and put to the test in the harshest conditions (which is why the product shots shown here look a bit scruffy - they were taken after the case had travelled more than 10,000kms with me by road and air - I'll get around to cleaning it someday soon).
       
      If you're in the USA you can buy your ThinkTank Airport Security V2.0 directly from the company, plus you will also get a free gift from them when you do so using this link!

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    • By Dallas
      Quite a few years ago I reviewed the original Alien Skin Exposure Photoshop plugin for Nikongear.com. It was probably one of the first reviews I ever wrote. I used Exposure film simulations in almost every bit of processing I did back then to the point where it was almost like it become an extension of my editing signature. I was especially fond of the Velvia and Kodachrome 64, as well as the Konica 750 IR and Ilford B&W film simulations.
      Over the years I stopped using Photoshop and with it went my extensive use of Exposure. Somehow it stayed off my radar until just the other day when I saw on my Facebook Photography List that they have now released Exposure 5 which also operates as a stand alone program. I thought I would give it a try.
      You know that song from the Rocky Horror? The one where they all stand around with their hands on their hips, doing pelvic thrusts and jumping to the left? Yeah, they called it the "Time Warp". Well, there should be a warning label on this software to let users know that they may just find themselves going through the time warp once they start playing with it. Let me explain.
      There are so many film simulations and other customisable bits to this piece of software that if you're not careful you'll find yourself totally losing all track of time. I opened up an image at lunchtime on my first day of trying it out and before I knew it dinner time had arrived and I was nowhere near done with checking out all the cool things I could do to this very mundane image of mine.
      There are not only a myriad of film simulations available, but now you can also customise them in terms of the amount of grain you want on them, the size of the grain, whether you want to push the process by up to three stops, the roughness of the grain, the amounts of it there are in the shadows, mid-tones and highlights and even its relative size to the film format you're simulating.
      If that's not enough to send you off into a form of semi-lucid wonder there are also customisable settings for the tone curve, focus (think sharpening settings), colour, Infra-Red, vignettes and borders & textures to play with. You can save any of your settings under these parameters as a preset too. That's just in case you don't find the ones Alien Skin have already loaded for you to be enough. The borders and textures are pretty funky, but I suspect they are only there for those people who like to make art out of what would normally be rejected images. They certainly do lend an air of credibility to some of my less inspired moments behind the viewfinder.
      OK, with that said, let me walk you through some of the features and the interface.
      User Interface

      click to enlarge
      If you're a Lightroom user you're going to recognise the interface immediately. It looks and (almost) behaves exactly as Lightroom does. There's a couple of collapsible panels on either side of the screen. The one on the left shows you a whole bunch of presets together with a small preview of what you can expect them to do to your image.
      This is actually a very cool way of doing things because there is also a search box in there, so if you want to find any of the presets that emulate Ilford, just type it in and they will appear in the panel. You can also set up the preset panel to show two or three columns of previews, which is great if you are working on a small screen. I have this installed on my 13" MacBook, so when I am away from the 27" extended monitor things get a bit tiny. Nice touch from Alien Skin.
      On the right side of the screen is the Time Warp panel. OK, sorry, let's call it the "Customisation Panel" just in case it scares those of you with attention deficit issues off. This panel has a Navigator window with a little square you can drag around to focus on any part of the image if your view is zoomed in a bit. Speaking of zoomed in views, you can choose from a myriad of different presets for the zoom level as there isn't a slider for setting that.
      Just below the Navigator you will see a slider for "Overall Intensity". What this does is exactly what it says, but it doesn't affect only one of the customisations, it affects them all. You can adjust the intensity of any of the individual customisations from within their own interface panels.
      The customisations you can play with are as follows:
      Colour
      There's a lot of sliders and stuff in here that look kind of intimidating to me. Things like Density, Luminosity, Colour Sensitivity, etc, etc... There are also presets in here and you can save your own settings as a new preset if you're not as daunted as I am when it comes to messing around with colour.
      Tone Curve
      This is something I am not that afraid to play with and the interface will be quite familiar to anyone who's used an Adobe product in the past 5 or 10 years. There's a curves graph you can twist and bend to your liking, as well as eyedropper icons you can click on to select the areas of your image that you want to make pure black, white or set at the mid grey point, as well as sliders for the contrast, shadows, midtones and highlights.
      Another cool aspect of this customisation parameter is that you can set up a split tone between two colours for duo-toned images, choosing from just about any of the colours in the gamut of your image to play with.
      Focus
      This is not dissimilar to the Photoshop Unsharp Mask settings where you can sharpen or blur images using a series of three sliders for the amount, radius and threshold.
      Grain
      The grain customisation settings are very cool. You can select from a number of presets that Alien Skin have put in there as a starting point, then work out what looks best to your eye by playing with the sliders as mentioned earlier on in this review.
      IR
      If you're looking to make things glow in the light, this is the place for it! The IR purists will cry foul. Whether you chose to cry with them or not is entirely up to you.
      Vignette
      The settings to control the amount of vignetting you want range from the size of it right down to the ominously named "Lump Size". Go crazy.
      Border & Textures
      This is where it all began to fall apart for my sense of reality. After you've gone through the customisations above, you reach the bottom of the list and suddenly you find yourself being able to choose from a multitude of borders, light effects and dust & scratch simulations. There are truckloads of them that can be selected and manipulated in terms of their orientation and brightness inversions (black or white). The Instagram crowd will be in their element with this.
      How To Work With Exposure 5
      As I said at the beginning, you can run this program as a stand alone application, or as a plugin to Photoshop and/or Lightroom to suit your particular workflow. As a plugin the options are exactly the same as the stand-alone.
      You can also set it up to run batches of filters if you're that way inclined. Very simple. Just tell it where the images are and once you've selected the ones you want to process it adds them to a development queue. Hit the Save button and it will ask you for a destination folder. The next step sends a processed image to the desired location.
      File types
      When you're working with Exposure 5 in its stand alone guise, the file output will match what you feed into it. So, for instance if you bring in a JPG, you're going to take out a JPG, or if you bring in a TIFF you'll get back a new TIFF. It doesn't overwrite your original file.
      In Lightroom you right-click on an image, select Edit In>Exposure 5 and it will ask you what format you want to edit that RAW file in, whether you want to do it with existing Lr edits or not, plus a few other options. Once you're done in Exposure 5 the treated file is brought directly into your catalogue in the format you specified at the beginning. Neat.
      I'm not sure how it works in Photoshop, but if memory serves me it used to create a new layer with the adjustments on it, which you could then save as a PSD or flatten and save in a different way.
      Examples
      Here's some examples of my bad photos with an "artsy" twist.

      Vignette with big blobs and border (Fuji 1600 Neopan, I think?)

      Can't remember the film type, but the border is cool!
      Some Before & After Samples


      I went a bit nuts on this one, using a light leak filter and a grunge border.


      With this shot I opted for a Tri-X400 pushed 2 stops B&W conversion with a plain border.
      Conclusion
      Exposure 5 has definitely come of age and it offers users a lot of different ways to fiddle with images to get more sparkle out of them. It's not a cheap plugin, weighing in at $200 (more than Lightroom itself), but if you have an existing license from any of the previous versions you get the upgrade at $99, which I think is entirely fair considering the quality of the app.
      You can get a demo or buy the plugin from Alien Skin's website.
      If you've tried it yourself, please leave your own comments and sample images as replies here. I will add more samples as I go.

      View full article
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