Dan Taylor

Macro product photography with the Fujifilm X-T1

My original intention was to take my Fujifilm X-T1 and Nikon 50mm f/1.8 over to the Augarten today and see what happened. But since the flat was warm and the outside air cold, I decided to call it a lazy Sunday and see what other challenges I could cook up for the Fuji. I absolutely love my Fuji+Nikon combo, perhaps most importantly because of the depth of field f/1.8 can produce, and the fact that I have to manually focus the Nikon lens. That's not to say I'm going to be manual focusing only any time soon, I just love the challenge of capturing razor sharp focus in a very small plane without the aid of the camera.

But since I've used the 50mm, a wide aperture, and natural light combination so often, I thought it might be fun to try the reverse and add some artificial light, and a different lens. Heading over to the lens shelf, the first one my eye fell upon was the Sigma 18-55mm f/2.8-4.5 macro lens. And since I've just recently acquired a new ring...the Sunday afternoon project was born.

Now I really do like working with manual lenses on the X-T1, as it's brought an entire range of my tools back to life. However, because of the need for an adaptor ring between the camera and the lens, all electronic data (e.g. auto-focus, metering, etc.) is lost. What this means is that the photographer has to manually calculate ISO (film speed), Aperture (how open the blades inside the camera are - those that control how much light hits the sensor), and shutter speed (how slow or fast the shutter stays open, thus effecting how much light gets to the sensor). This is just like the old days, and I love this challenge, in natural light.

When you start adding artificial light, e.g. flash units, you want to start working with low ISO, a large(r) aperture (f/8 - f11), and and the shutter speed depends on how much ambient or back lighting you want coming into the image. The problem here is this combination of speed and size. Because of the way a mirrorless camera is constructed, you see through the viewfinder exactly what the sensor will see. All fine and dandy...when you're calculating for 1/32 and 1/64 powered flashes. These flashes will light up your subject, and you'll have a perfectly lit scene with proper lighting balance.

Have you figured out the conundrum yet? The primary culprit here is the aperture. Because the camera is set up to receive a large amount of light when the shutter is opened, it's calibrated for this blast. When the flashes are not on, the viewfinder registers a dark image.

In order to combat this loss of light, what I ended up doing was opening the lens up as wide as it would go, in this case f/4.5, doing my manual focus with peak focusing (and using the zoom in focus assist tool), and then gradually closing the aperture back down to what I would guess is around f8. There are more expensive adaptors on the market today that will provide more accurate readings and stop indicators, but honestly, I kind of like the whole guestimation process. Almost like the old days of watching your film develop in the basin.

After a number of test shots, I found the angle and lighting setup that I liked, and started dialing in the focus/aperture twist settings and ended up with the work presented above.

Tools used for this project:

Source: http://www.dan-taylor.com/wp-content/uploa...

Retro Sunday with the Fuji X-T1

If I haven't said it enough already, I absolutely love my Fuji X-T1. Ever since picking it up earlier this year in New York, it's seen more use on the street than any other camera I've ever owned. Gone are the days when I have to lug my DSLR around with me just to get a level of quality that meets my standards. And since Fuji's got this whole retro styling going on, I thought it might be interesting to throw a retro lens on it via an adaptor and seen what might happen.

I have a 1969 135mm Nikkor Q f/2.8 that I've used with the X-T1, but it's not optimal for street shooting. So what better than the classic street lens, a vintage 1986 Nikkor 50mm f/1.8? A great lens in it's day, this 50mm was in production for almost 20 years before being replaced.

Using the no-name adaptor that came with my original X-Pro1, I'm able to use all of my existing nikon and nikon compatible lenses. For today's outing I packed the X-T1, X-Pro1, D610, adaptor ring, 50mm Nikkor prime, 8mm Walimex fisheye prime, xf18-55mm fujinon zoom, and 24-70mm Nikkor zoom.

Although I do have a Fuji X-Mount lens that covers the 50mm range, if bottoms out at f/4. as this zoom, and let's be honest...who doesn't love a good depth of field and the patience and accuracy of manual focus? From time to time? So here's what I did today. How about you?

And because I'm a big fan of music AND art, this is what I was listening to while shooting this afternoon. I highly recommend you press play while viewing these images:

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/171506139" params="auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="150" iframe="true" /]

The Fuji X-T1 and Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 combo

Shots with the X-T1+8mm f/4 fisheye combo

Shots with the X-T1+18-55mm f/2.8-4 combo

Shots with the Nikon D610+24-70mm f/2.8 combo

Source: http://www.dan-taylor.com/wp-content/uploa...

What's in my bag

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As a professional photographer, I spend a lot of time on the road. While I live in Vienna, Austria, within the past six months alone, I've travelled to 8 different cities on both sides of the Atlantic, and will be travelling again in the very near future. While I'd love to take every camera and every lens and every piece of gear I own out on the road with me, it's simply not a possibility (or practicality). So I have a standard travel kit that I work with and thought I'd share it with you.

Cameras

By and large, my Nikon D610 and D600 are the workhorses. A lot of you have seen me in action, and have asked why I carry two cameras (sometimes 3), and the answer is simple - speed. When it comes to shooting an event, conference, or wedding, moments are fleeting, and I've got to have the right lens for the right shot. I normally keep the 70-200mm zoom coupled to the D610, with the D600 holding tight to the 24-70mm. With this combination, I can go anywhere from moderately wide, to counting eyelashes, all within a matter of seconds.

Earlier this year in New York City, I picked up the Fuji X-T1 and it's become an essential part of my setup. Normally I use this camera to capture mood and atmosphere shots, and always make my first round of an event with this camera in hand. I've found the results it delivers to be nothing short of spectacular, and it also gives me the advantage of being able to walk through a crowd and not get the, "Oh, the photographer is here..." reaction that allows some great candids. Day-to-day, this camera kicks around in my sidebag and is fantastic for street photography.

Lenses

As mentioned above, the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8 are the two lenses in my arsenal that see the most work. However, there are occasions where a few specialty lenses come in pretty handy. To augment the standard lineup, I also carry a Nikon 50mm f/1.8 for super low light situations where a flash isn't desired, and a Walimex 8mm f/3.5 fisheye for ultra-wide, dramatic shots, or a whole lot of distortion fun.

Paired to the Fuji X-T1, I have the 18-55mm f/2.8-4 that came with my X-Pro1. I've used a few of the prime lenses Fuji offers for this camera, and love them, but I often find that a zoom serves me best for the type of photography that I do. However, I do carry a Nikon to Fuji lens adaptor that allows me to use my Nikon lenses. You lose the autofocus, but still retain the ability to control the aperture. My current favorite combination is the fisheye for the X-T1.

And just for fun and creativity, I carry an Oloclip in my bag for some on-the-fly iPhonography.

Flashes

Whether it's a poorly lit conference room, or an impromptu portrait session, flash is essential. And not just one. Since I carry two camera bodies with me, I've got to have two flash units ready to go. This also comes in very handy for portrait shoots as one flash serves as the might light, while the second unit is used as a fill.

I carry the Nikon SB-900 and SB-800 in my bag, powered by eneloop pro batteries. I also carry a duo of Pocketwizard Plus III's that I use as transceivers to trigger the lights. In order to position these lights, I carry two Manfrotto light stands and adaptors, as well as two Elinchrom umbrellas in a separate bag (that I often shove into the tripod section).

Rounding out the lighting section, I always carry a TTL sync cable an Ezybox Speed-Lite collapsible softbox from Lastolite. This comes in very handy when photographing people in extremely dark environments, such as a nightclub. By being able to position the light any where I want, while still retaining the TTL capabilities (and laser focus emitted by the flash unit itself), I have complete creative freedom.

The Laptop

I carry a MacBook Pro with me, and having recently upgraded stepped up to the retina display, a 512 GB SSD, and 16GB of ram. This is arguably the heaviest piece of gear that I have to carry, but it's absolutely necessary. I'd love to say that a MacBook Air would cut it, as the weight saving would be welcome, but the simple truth is that I can't. In the area of photography that I work in, speed counts. Before purchasing, I tested a MacBook Air, and it did run everything that I needed, however, I found it a bit sluggish when applying changes in Lightroom, and export times seemed a bit too long for my taste.

Staps, chargers, and others

A lot of you have come up to me at an event asking about my camera strap. I use the BlackRapid Double, as it's a great solution to support and protect my two camera bodies. By having both cameras are arms length, I'm able to quickly switch between the two, and have the piece of mind that they're securely fastened and aren't going anywhere.

The Fuji has a Tamrac padded leather strap that feels great and keeps me in incognito mode.

Power is essential, and I've always got to stay topped up. I carry the charger for the MacBook, the Nikons (including two extra batteries), the Fuji (battery life is great, but you never know), and the eneloop quick charger for the flash batteries. And speaking of batteries, the PocketWizards don't play nicely with rechargeable batteries, and I therefor carry a spare set of four Duracell Ultra Lithiums.

After power, memory is key, and in addition to the 5 memory cards in the 3 cameras, I also keep a two extra 8GB SanDisk ExtremePro SD cards in my bag. My rule of thumb is to have small, but fast cards. There's a number of reasons for this, but a big one is price.

In the front section of my bag, I've got the standard collection of pens, a lens pen, iPhone charging cable (including the outlet adaptor), passport, sunglasses, earbud headphones, an umbrella (I shoot in London quite a lot), and business cards. An invaluable tool that always rides in the front pocket is a small LED flashlight. This can come in handy as a light for night shots when a flash won't work, and/or finding you way through the dark of night.

Ziplock bags. A dry camera is a happy camera. I've not had too many occasions to use them, but they're watertight, and can be used to store and protect the wide variety of electronics stuffed into this bag.

And the bag itself...is a LowePro ProRunner 250. I've had this bag for over 4 years now, and it's only just beginning to show signs of wear. It more than fits airline overhead and security regulations, and has been configured and reconfigured more times than I can count.

The other others

This is the main rundown of what I'm toting on my back on any given day on a shoot, but as situations and jobs change, I'm always adjusting what's in my bag.

Source: http://www.dan-taylor.com/wp-content/uploa...

10 Interesting Facts about Labor Day

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How much do you know about the origins of Labor Day? Here are ten interesting facts that just might help you out on Jeopardy or the next family Trivial Pursuit game night. 1. Labour Day originates from our neighbours to the north

Most Americans consider Labor Day a uniquely American experience, but in all reality, Labor Day has it’s origins in Canada. Stemming from 1870’s labor disputes in Toronto, in 1872 a parade was held in support of a strike against the 58 hour workweek. As a result, 24 union leaders who were responsible for organizing the event were arrested under anti-union laws. 2. First US Labor Day observance was in the form of a parade

labordayThe first US observance of Labor Day came in the form of a parade. Sponsored by the Central Labor Union, On September 5th, 1882 ten thousand workers paraded through New York City. This is commonly considered the first observance of Labor Day in America.

3. The 12 hour work day norm

What’s outrageous enough to spur ten thousand people to parade through NYC? A 12 hour workweek! In the late 19th century, the average working day consisted of 12 hours. Held on a Tuesday, the first Labor Day rally was held in order to gain support for the 8 hour workday.

4. Oregon first to declare Labor Day an official holiday

In February of 1887, the great state of Oregon was the first in the Union to pass law making Labor Day and officially recognized holiday.

5. Grover Cleveland makes Labor Day a national holiday

Making Labor Day an official national holiday as part of his political campaign, in 1894, President Grover Cleveland made good on his promise, and signed a law making Labor Day an officially recognized US holiday.

6. Not just in the US

Although Labor Day hails from Canada and the US, a large number of industrialized nations around the world celebrate Labor Day as a time to respect and reflect upon workers around the world. While not all celebrate it at the end of summer, the concept is similar, and is sometimes celebrated in combination with May Day.

7. First Waffle House opens on Labor Day

In 1955, in Avondale Estates, Georgia, the very first Waffle House opened it’s doors to the public. 25 states and 50 years later, Waffle House now counts over 1500 establishments. Yay waffles!

8. The White border

Labor Day has been traditionally the unofficial “pack up the whites” border, and was often considered a fashion faux pas, if worn post-Labor Day. This tradition has been steadily decreasing over the past decade(s), and is often now just remembered as the “something that once was.”

9. 150 million working Americans

As of 2008, there were 154.4 million people over the age of 16 in the US with jobs. Around ¾ of these workers receive paid vacation time, but an extra day off is certainly nothing to sneeze at.

10. Unofficial NFL season kickoff

99.44 percent of the time, the NFL plays its first official season game the Thursday after Labor Day.

So there we have it. Perhaps a few things you already knew about Labor Day, but hopefully a few that you didn’t. Have fun, enjoy, and remember to drink responsibly.

Image provided by The North Carolina Digital Heritage Center under a Creative Commons license

Source: http://www.dan-taylor.com/wp-content/uploa...

The Plex Media Server for Mac

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The Plex Media Server is the absolute best solution to connect your mac with your home theatre system. I’m a proud PlayStation 3 owner, and prior to this project, was using it as my main media server. The drawback of using a PS3 as media server comes down to two things: format and size. Meaning, currently the PS3 will not decode Matroska format files, nor, because of its FAT32 format, accept any files on it’s internal hard drive over 4GB. To get around the file size limitation, I’d been streaming media to the PlayStation via the excellent PS3 Media Server. To skirt the .mkv issue, I’d been using ps3 muxer, converting to .m2ts files, and then watching via a memory stick. Working…but not exactly ideal.

The Plex solution

The day after Christmas, some call it boxing day, I was digging through some bookshelves only to be reminded that I’ve got an old (and I do mean old – circa 2006) MacBook that’s just collecting dust. Hmmm…well, I didn’t get a mac mini for Christmas, but let’s see what the old black beauty can do.

After checking to make sure that I had all the cables and adaptors needed, I blindly started assembling my media chain. First and foremost, just to give everybody the best possible chance, I reformatted and applied all the updates to the MacBook. I then added the fresh Snow Leopard installed machine to my local network. Personally, I use a NetGear WNHDEB111 5Ghz N-wireless bridge from my Netgear WNDR3700 router, so I left airport off. A quick click on the sharing options from my main iMac, and the new MediaCenter (the black MacBook) can now see and access the files that I’ve designated within the sharing properties.

Great. I’ve installed VLC, and should be ready to go. Yes, but let’s be honest, VLC plays just about everything, but isn’t the snazziest of players to look at. I was on the hunt for something a bit nicer. After a short internet search, I stumbled upon Plex, and let me just say…this app has completely changed the way I view media in my living room.

Plex is a stand alone app that functions as a media interface for your mac. Initially, I started out with it only on the MediaCenter, but have quickly added it to all of my Macs, as well as my iOS devices. At it’s core, Plex does the exact same thing that Apple’s FrontRow will do, but does not limit you to the iTunes (read: .mp4 format), and…looks a whole lot better to boot.

Setup of Plex was fairly easy. Since the MediaCenter was already a member of the network, and I could freely trade files back and forth between the two, I only had to tell Plex where to look for my media. A quick setting here and there, and a library refresh, and boom – the best looking media server I’ve ever seen.

Not only will Plex keep your files organized in an easy to find and watch format, but will add value to the entire experience. If you’re familiar with how the Sony PlayStation handles media, you’ll know that it’s extremely basic: a folder and a thumbnail (if you’re lucky). It seems as though the development team behind Plex was just as disappointed in this interface, as they’ve gone in the complete opposite direction. In the Plex Media Server interface, you’ll find the option to update show, film, and music information as pulled from various sources around the internet. So instead of getting a thumbnail and a file name (PS3), I now get an overall synopsis of the show, and if I drill down further, specific information about the episode of Lost I’m about to watch. Pretty snazzy.

But the fun doesn’t end with just your own media. Thanks to the Plex Online feature built into the app, you can search hundreds of streaming media apps to install on your version of Plex. For example, I normally download the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams video podcast. Or, I should say…did download, as Plex has an MSNBC app that will stream Mr. Williams smiling face right to my MacBook – no podcast needed. And better yet…with the Plex MSNBC app, I’ve got episodes on demand. Meaning, if I’d had the podcast, I probably would delete it the minute a new episode arrives, but what if there was something I want to show a friend from last week? I’m outta luck via iTunes, but with Plex…click, click….and streaming. Awesome.

Sadly, because I live in Europe, I’m forced to crumble under the laws of Geolocation, and can’t view everything I’d like. NBC (not MSNBC) for example is a no go, as is Hulu (that was the one I really wanted). During the setup phase there were also streams that I could hear but not see. As it turns out, this is a Flash problem, and not a Plex problem, with a very simple fix to be found here.

The Plex group even goes above and beyond in this highly detailed tutorial (and tool) regarding tuning your DVI-out display to perfectly fit your monitor. If you’ve ever experienced the dreaded Overscan option, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about and how to fix it. With that said, this calibration isn’t 100% necessary, as the app offers it’s own overscan compensation tool. But let’s be honest…if you’re reading this, chances are, you’re a Geek-Like-Me, and are going to tune it anyway.

The Plex media server for mac app is completely free, and available via plexapp.com. Sadly, I couldn’t find a “Donate” button, so I did the next best thing – I bought the iOS app. In addition to supporting an awesome group of developers, I now have the added benefit of being able to keep on watching Lost while I’m on my way downstairs to pick up the post. I know…I know…perhaps a bit “Do you really need that?”, but hey, at a total cost of $4.99, go ahead – live a little.

Plex for Mac – it changed my media viewing experience; what can it do for you?

Source: http://www.dan-taylor.com/wp-content/uploa...

AKG Perception 220 Microphone Review

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Today I'm taking a look at the AKG Perception 220 microphone. Priced around $50 more than the Audio Technica AT2020, the AKG packs a number of features into an agreeable (approximately) $200 microphone that are often found on much pricier microphones. Similar to the Audio Technica, the P220 is a cardioid condenser microphone, featuring AKG's renowned 1-inch large-diaphragm true condenser transducer. [youtube id="7RZg_ALqUeE" align="center" mode="lazyload" maxwidth="610"]

Both microphones feature a 20 - 20k hz response, with the AKG just edging out the AT2020 in the signal-to-noise ration department. The AKG clocks in at 78db while the Audio Technica scores only 4 db lower at 74 db. When it comes to miking up some amps or percussion, the AT2020 is capable of handling 144 dB SPL, 1 kHz at 1% T.H.D. while the AKG P220 will handle 155 dB SPL, at .5% T.H.D. One unique advantage that the AKG has over the Audio Technica is it's -20db pad. What this means is that users can simply flip a switch on the P220 if they're going to be miking big amplifier cabinets, and don't want to run the risk of distortion.

Another one of the AKG's fancy switches will apply a bass roll-off filter. This is meant to filter out any unwanted low bass tones in your recording. For example, if used in a home studio, as I suspect many owners of the P220 do, in quiet passages, someone walking seemingly silent across the room, can sometimes register with a highly sensitive microphone such as the P220. To combat this, flip the roll-off switch and record low-end-rumble-free.

Overall, as you can see in the video above, I decided to go with the AKG. The Audio Technica AT2020 in it's own right is a very strong microphone, and I would have no problems using it again. However, if given the choice, I just found the vocals to have a bit more sparkle on the high end, as well as some nice warm tones in the middle and lower end of my voice.  Also noteworthy, the Audio Technica ships as mic only, whereas the AKG included a nice matte-black spider shock mount, as well as an aluminum padded carrying case.  Certainly not deal breakers, but a further sign of AKG's commitment to quality.

Overall conclusion

If you've got the extra $50 or so to spend, have a serious look at the AKG Perception 220 over the Audio Technica AT2020. Again, both good in their own right - but in my humble opinion, the AKG is a better piece of equipment.  And as an added bonus, I also know that I'm supporting my local economy, as AKG has their headquarters not very far away from where I live.

AKG Perception 220 specifications:

    AKG Perception 220 Microphone Review

  • Type 1" Large Diaphragm True Condenser
  • Polar pattern cardioid
  • Frequency range 20 to 20,000 Hz
  • Sensitivity 18 mV/Pa (-35 dBV)
  • Max. SPL 135 dB/155 dB (0/-20 dB) for 0.5% THD
  • Equivalent noise level 16 dB-A (IEC 60268-4)
  • Signal/noise ratio (A-weighted) 78 dB
  • Preattenuation pad 0 dB, -20 dB
  • Bass filter 12 dB/octave at 300 Hz
  • Impedance <200 ohms Recommended load impedance >=1000 ohms
  • Powering <2 mA
  • Power requirement 48 V phantom power to DIN/IEC
  • Connector 3-pin XLR
  • Finish metallic blue/nickel grille
  • Dimensions 53 dia. x 165 mm (2.1 dia. x 6.5 in.)
  • Net weight 525 g (18.5 oz.)
  • Shipping weight 1,970 g (4.3 lb.)
Source: http://www.dan-taylor.com/wp-content/uploa...

Camera Recommendations

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Cameras. There’s certainly no lack of options on the market today. Whether it’s compact, mirrorless, or DSLR, consumers have a wide variety of choices, features, and even colors. But in this sea of sensors, which cameras stand out amongst the crowd? The Next Web recently published an article I penned titled, “Why every office needs a decent camera,” in which I made my case for just about every industry to have a good quality camera in the office. I incorporated a number of Facebook statistics backing up this statement, and offered up a breakdown on the different camera formats and their benefits. Needless to say, I left large and medium format cameras out of the mix, as these are generally considered the realm (and price range) of “pros only”.

In less than 24 hours of the article being published, I’ve received over 50 emails, each asking for my advice on which camera to purchase, and who offers the best price. As with any inquiry, I try to respond as fast as possible, but after email number 12, I started copy/pasting my responses, and thought it might be time to simply start directing folks towards a much more thorough explanation of my recommendations.

Compact Cameras

This was the most common request, and it’s easy to see why. With the rapid advancements in technology, specifically imaging sensors, just about everyone can afford a quality compact camera, that, in the right hands, can take you pretty far. Here are my top three recommendations when it comes to compact cameras.

Canon PowerShot SX260 HS

Canon PowerShot SX260 HSIf you’re looking for a great price, do-it-all, compact camera, the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS is your ticket. Clocking in at just under $300 USD, the PowerShot SX260 features more shooting modes than you can shake a stick at, including one of my personal favorites, Aperture Priority Mode.

This ultra-compact includes a 20x f/3.5-6.8, 25-500mm (35mm equivalent) lens, a BSI-CMOS sensor, a12.1 megapixel resolution, GPS, and shoots both .jpeg’s and .mp4 video.

While I’ve not personally used this camera, I am an owner of it’s predecessor, the SX230, and am very happy to see that they updated a number of product designs, making this not only one of the best cameras in it’s price range, but one of the best in it’s class.

What I’ve always found particularly amazing about my SX230 is the low light performance. Even with only an f/3.5, this unit from Canon has never given me any blurred images, or have I had to push the ISO through the roof.

Being a Nikon fan, getting used to Canon’s menu configuration took me some time, but if you’re a virgin to the menu experience, or never really had a need to access one in the past, learning the ins-and-outs of the Canon menu should only take a few shoots to master.

Verdict: If you’re a budget conscious shopper who’s looking to get the best bang-for-the-buck, do not wait on the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20

LUMIX DMC-ZS20I often think that Panasonic gets filed in the, “Oh yeah,” section of my mind, which is a shame, as their incorporation of Leica lenses, should make them jump to the top of my list. And generally, this is the case, save for the ZS20.

The ZS20 features a 24-480mm (35mm equivalent) f/3.3-8 Leica made lens, MOS sensor, with a 14.1 megapixel resolution, and shoots video in both .MTS and .MP4 format at 1920x1080 (full HD). Hang on…let’s take a look at that lens again. 24mm-480mm? Ok, yes, that’s the 35mm equivalent, but that kind of range in a camera that’s only just over an inch (3.5cm) thick? That’s outstanding!

Due to this outstanding lens, as well as it’s ability to record full HD at 60fps, I’m willing to sacrifice a bit on the overall image quality with this camera. If you’re planning on making any enlargements over 8.5x11 (A4), stay clear of this camera, as it only shoots in jpeg (no RAW) more, and Panasonic’s never been known for it’s superior in-camera processing.

The ZS20 includes 17 scene modes, enough to cover just about any situation you could find yourself in, but it’s the inclusion of in-camera HDR multiexposure imaging and a pan-and-shoot panorama mode that seal the deal.

Verdict: At around $245 USD, if you’re looking for a quality camera that can deliver a variety of shooting modes as well as some up and coming technology, all the while shooting fantastic video, the Lumix DMC-ZS20 is right up your alley.

Fujifilm FinePix X100

finepix x100The crème-de-la-crème when it comes to compact cameras. With an average price of around $1200 USD, this camera is by no means cheap, but it is, by definition, a compact camera, and therefor takes the top spot in terms of image quality.

The X100 is the closest I’ve ever seen a compact camera come to “full featured,” and delivers remarkable imaging quality in such a small format. The X100 includes an APS-C sized CMOS sensor, at 12.3 megapixels. What this means is that with a larger sensor, but lower megapixel count, the X100 is capable of producing some incredibly sharp and detailed images. Throw the f/2 fixed lens in there (35mm equivalent), and this camera can bring the bacon home all day long.

The X100 does shoot video, at a mere 720/24fps, but it’s clearly not it’s forte, and should be saved for either another dedicated video camera, or for a quick recording of an event. It’s web video ready, but there are many cameras out there for far less money that will deliver superior video results.

But for all the joy that the X100 delivers, there are a number of disturbing reports of dreadfully slow performance with this little unit. If this lag in performance was limited strictly to shooting in RAW mode, I could understand, but I’ve also heard rumors of the autofocus system taking it’s sweet time. Now, chances are, if you’ve arrived here looking for a recommendation for a compact camera, I’ll bet that you’ll be shooting just about everything with it. With a lagging performance indicator, even though the image quality is superb, I cannot recommend the X100 as a top choice. Add the astronomical (comparatively) price in there, and the X100 quickly falls from grace.

Verdict: If you’re looking for outstanding image quality from a compact camera, and can sacrifice speed and have funds to play with, the Fujifulm FinePix X100 is your winner.

Mirrorless Cameras

The relative newcomer to the field, mirrorless cameras are something of a hybrid between the convenience of a compact camera, and the flexibility of a DSLR. I personally do not own a mirrorless camera, but have had the chance to use a few either in a shop or at a photo convention. As I may have pushed the limits on budget with the FujiFilm X100 (and will for sure do so with the DSLR category), I’ll limit my mirrorless camera recommendations to those that cost under $1000 USD.

Sony Alpha NEX-5N

Sony Alpha NEX-5NFor the longest time, I avoided Sony cameras, preferring to keep the brand relegated to my video gaming and TV watching, however with the introduction of their mirrorless line, I sat up and took notice. The interchangeable lens lineup is quite impressive, and I’ve yet to see a poor video made with the NEX-5N.

Equipped with an Exmor APS HD CMOS sensor, and a resolution of 16.1 megapixels, the NEX-5N can be had from B&H for $698 USD. With mirrorless and DSLR models, lenses are freely interchangeable, and the 18-55mm f/3.5-56 kit lens should serve well in just about every shooting situation (save for low light). Upon arrival on the market, users began reporting a strange clicking sound coming from the camera. Apparently this click click only happens when moving the camera about, thus if you’re using a tripod to shoot video, you should be just fine. Engadget got the scoop, and Sony has confirmed the clickity click, but to date, has offered no fix.

The images I’ve seen from this camera are quite good, especially considering the price, but what really made my jaw hit the floor was the video quality. My friend Johnny Behiri did a video report for the BBC using this little gem, and I think you’ll agree, the results are outstanding

Verdict: For those looking to step up from a compact camera, and don’t want the bulkiness of a full DSLR, at $689 USD, the Sony Alpha NEX-5N is a steal and shouldn’t be missed.

Olympus PEN E-PL3

Olympus-PEN-E-PL3Olympus is yet another camera maker that doesn’t show up on my radar so often, but I attribute that to my devotion to all things Nikon. And speaking of Nikon, when it comes to the second slot in my mirrorless camera recommendations, I tossed and turned when it came down to the Olympus PEN E-PL3 vs. the Nikon J1. I very much wanted to give Nikon the nod, but pouring over spec sheets, user reviews and opinions, and what I would judge to be the superior machine, sorry Nikon, Olympus takes the cake on this one.

The E-PL3 takes many features from it’s more expensive brother, the E-P3, and at $599 USD from B&H with a 14-24mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, this could be the steal of the category. The E-PL3 boasts 12.3 megapixels combined with a Live MOS sensor.

Having read a bunch about this model, but never experiencing it first hand, I headed down to my local camera retailer and took this puppy for a showroom test drive. Naturally, I also asked t see the Nikon J1, and put the two to the test in a mini-showdown. As much as it pains me to say it, startup time, and time to first shot saw the Olympus as the clear winner. Now you might not think that this is such a big deal, but the milliseconds between the Olympus being read to fire and the Nikon, could mean the difference between that, “Holy cow!” shot vs. that, “So what exactly happened?” moment.

Of the three mirrorless cameras I’m discussing here, the Olympus had the worst video quality of the bunch. In fact, I was quite surprised at just how, well…shit it was. Rolling shutter abounds (ouch), and interlaced video combined with low bit rates makes for a rather disappointing video experience. Upping to 720p did help a few things, but overall, I was quite surprised that video quality this poor is/was still being shipped in 2012.

On the upside, I found the speed and accuracy of the photo component of this camera to be excellent. Autofocus was razor sharp and landed nine times out of ten on my intended subject. I wasn’t able to view the shot images on a full sized monitor, but zooming all the way in via the camera’s screen did reveal some overly soft edges, but I’m assuming this has to due with a build in noise reduction filter.

Verdict: If you’re skipping or not interested in video, the Olympus PEN E-PL3 makes for a great interchangeable lens camera, at a fantastic price!

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2

Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-GH2Wah, wah, wee wah! If someone held me at gunpoint and told me I could never have another DSLR, and that I could only choose a mirrorless camera, this would be it (until it’s update arrives, of course). The GH2 is decidedly more focused on video enthusiasts, but from a photographic point of view, this camera might not be the best in it’s class, but it still holds it’s own.

A Live MOS sensor counts a 16.05 megapixel resolution, and the kit lens is a 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 standard. Certainly not the cheapest of the bunch, but still under $1k, the GH2 can be snagged from B&H for $899 USD.

What can I say about this camera that didn’t convince you in the opening line? Just shy of being a DSLR, this mirrorless isn’t exactly compact, but should fit easily into a larger pocket. The GH2 does offer a feature I’m still baffled by, Touch Screen Control, which, as far as I’m concerned is simply a battery waster. If you’re jumping on a camera at this level, and are impressed by it’s features, a touch screen should remain with your phone, and not your camera.

This one huh? aside, I did a few test shots at the camera shop with this one, and then compared them to similar shots done with my trusty D7000. I shot in both RAW and jpeg mode and wasn’t too happy with the results. While my DSLR is technically a superior camera, that still doesn’t make up for the erroneous white balance and color accuracy I found from the Panasonic. Oddly enough, when pointing at the same subject in video mode, white balance was greatly improved.

Verdict: If you need a top performing video AND photo camera, this GH2 is a no brainer. It’s clearly more focused on video, with still images taking the back seat, however if you stay away from the jpeg compression and shoot in RAW format, many fault of the GH2 can easily be fixed.

DSLR Cameras

Huzzah, my favorite category of cameras! For the purpose of this section, I want to break things out into entry level, midrange, and pro. As I mentioned in the The Next Web article, DSLRs are really the way to go if you want full flexibility, top quality images, and a wide range of (sometimes expensive) lenses. Before I dive into my favorite DSLR’s let me make this disclaimer: I'm a Nikon owner, but have used Canon bodies and lenses in the past.

Canon EOS Rebel T3i

Canon t3iHands down, the best entry level DSLR on the market today (sorry Nikon). Available from B&H (including an 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 kit lens) for the rock bottom price of only $749, you can’t really go wrong with this technical wonder.

Admittedly, I’ve found the video generated from the T3i to be it’s strong suit, and if you’re getting in the game for work (i.e. marketing, social media, etc.), you’ll be quite impressed with the video capabilities of the T3i. Images are also top notch, as one would expect from Canon, but after using this camera for 2 days, I found it a bit slow in the sports/fast motion capture department.

One of the beauties of shooting with a DSLR is the predictability, and the T3i held it’s ground. I prefer to shoot at low ISO’s, and in typical Canon fashion, the T3i’s color profiles, saturation, and metering are all rock solid. This predictability is sponsored in party by Canon’s Digic 4 Image processor, and 18 megapixel CMOS sensor.

From a video perspective, I did find switching between video and photo modes to be a bit cumbersome, particularly if you find yourself switching back and forth between the two. Once in video mode, it’s all Canon. If there’s shutter roll happening in this baby, I'd be hard pressed to find it. And even with the kit lens, I found video to be crisp and clear, all the way up to the edges of the frame, a technical ability not always accomplished by lesser cameras, especially in this price class.

At such a low cost with a bevy of features and lenses available, the Canon EOS Rebel T3i should be on just about every “I want a DSLR” shopper’s list.

Verdict: Low cost, high quality images via a leader in the imaging field. You can’t go wrong with the Canon EOS Rebel T3i.

Nikon D7000

Nikon D7000What can I say about this camera? This is my main workhorse, and I couldn’t be happier with it. Available from B&H for $1096.95 (body only), the D7000 is the top of the line prosumer, and a very valid backup or triggered camera for professionals.

Locking down images with a 16.2 megapixel CMOS sensor with an Expeed 2 processor, when combined with a high read/write speed SDXC card, the D7000 will be displaying your images almost as fast as you can shoot them. And speaking of memory cards, the D7000 features dual slots, which you might not think would be a big deal, until you head off to Greece for a week and fill up one 16gb card in three days. I use my second slot as a backup, but you also have the option of shooting RAW files to one card and jpegs to the other.

As far as video goes, the D7000 is/was Nikon’s first foray into the 1080p world, although “only” available at 24 frames per second (fps). Personally, I always try to work with 24 fps, so the lack of 30fps or 60 fps really isn’t a problem for me. Nikon packaged the D7000 with it’s “full time auto focus” tracking feature, which, to be honest, it pretty much useless. The camera often tracks objects that aren’t faces, and if and when it does lock onto a face, it quickly gets confused and refocuses, sometimes landing on your subject, sometimes the tree branch behind them. If you’re shooting video with the D7000, you’ll need to do it like all the others, the old school, turn the rings way.

Nikon’s always been a bit heavy handed with the bells and whistles, particularly in this class of camera, and while the video auto focus is crap, the second SD card slot is quite welcome, as is the two-frame under/over bracketing feature, which comes in pretty handy if you’re planning on jumping into the HDR field. Otherwise, Nikon’s saved the extras for other models, and focused on delivering rock solid performance in an incredibly easy-to-shoot-with-all-day camera.

The price isn’t for everyone, especially considering that you’ll need to pick up at least 1 lens, and let’s be honest, you’ll eprobably want a few more. If you’re aiming for the best quality camera in this price class, the only other that rivals the D7000’s performance specs is the Canon 60D.

For those of us who aren’t quite ready to drop the serious shekels, but still want the very best in imaging quality and speed, the Nikon D7000 is where it’s at.

Verdict: The best camera I have ever owned. If you’re shooting a bit higher than the stars, but not quite to the stratosphere, the Nikon D7000 delivers in every way.

To see images shot on my Nikon D7000, please visit DanTaylorPhotography.com

Nikon D4 vs. D800 vs. Canon EOS 5D Mark III vs. EOS-1D X

Nikon D4Ok friends, if you’ve read this far, you’re obviously as passionate about camera gear as I am, and I’m sure you’ll understand why I simply couldn’t choose a winner in the top-of-class category.

Each one of these cameras deserves it’s own spot in the hall of fame, and each has it’s own particular niche. Now the D4 and the 1D X are true competitors, both pulling down some unbelievable stats. The D4’s full frame CMOS sensor at 16.2 megapixels and an expeed3 image processor is one of the sharpest and fastest on the market today. The 1D X bumps that figure to 18.1 megapixels (but remember, more isn’t always better), and uses the DIGIC 4 image processor.

Wow!

Now, to be fair, each of these cameras is a bit out of my (and probably your) price range, and are generally used by those that make a living from photos and/or video. I won’t even scare you off with the prices, but let’s just say I’ve seen a few used cars go for less than these objects of desire.

You might notice that I’ve included the Nikon D800 and the Canon EOS 5D Mark III in this top-of-the-tops, and while these two are not considered flagship models, they both include a number of features of the aforementioned models, and speed. In fact, the D800 has been award the prestigious honor of having the best sensor ever reviewed by DxOMark (an industry benchmarking tool).

Canon 5D Mark IIILikewise, the 5D Mark II is the go-to shooter for just about every serious indie or budget filmmaker, having won praise for being used to shoot the season finale for the television show House. The Mark III is the successor to the Mark II, and includes a number of feature upgrades as well as some well thought out changes to accommodate the growing number of filmmakers using this camera.

Unfortunately, I can only say that I’ve used one of the cameras in this category, the Nikon D800, but if the other three are anything like the D800, I’d be hard pressed to choose just one to have with me for the next 5-7 years. Each has it’s own remarkable feature set, and each should be selected and used based around the primary purpose.

Verdict: Too close of a call to separate any of these models. Each has it’s own strengths, with very little weaknesses. From a financial point-of-view, the Nikon D800 is the lowest priced of the bunch, and therefor would get a nod of approval at the cash register.

And there we have it. This has been an incredibly long, but hopefully informative post about my favorite cameras in their class. Each have their own unique advantages and feature sets, and before you dash off to B&H to purchase any of these recommended models, I’d encourage you to head down to your local camera and/or electronics retailer and try them out for yourself. Reviews and opinions can only take you so far, as at the end of the day, it really comes down to what feels best in your hands, is in your price range, and truly inspires you to capture some awesome images.

Thanks for reading, and until next time – keep on shooting, and off the auto mode!

Image Credits: Canon USA, Panasonic, Jordi@photos, Sony USA, Olympus UK, Panasonic Global

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Rode NT1-A Microphone Review

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Building on the Audio Technica AT2020 and AKG P220 entry level studio condenser microphone reviews, this time up we're taking a look at the Rode NT1-A. Priced just over $200 ($229 - B&H, Adorama, etc.), the Rode NT1-A delivers a high end sheen that I've not yet experienced with the previous two microphones, while at the same time, keeping it's signal to noise ratio remarkably low. The Rode NT1-A is roughly the same size as the AT2020 and P220, and features a large 1-inch gold plated capsule. And just like the other two, the Rode NT1-A is a condenser with a tight cardioid pattern.

As is standard with most of today's condenser microphones, frequency range is from 20hz - 20khz. Now here's where things start to get interesting. According to Rode, the Signal-to-Noise ratio is 88 db. Which is quite odd, as the AKG has an S/N ratio of 78db and the AT2020 74db. However, when viewing the bar graphs inside my recording software, the Rode NT1-A had the closest to 'flat' of all three of the mics. In other words, on paper, it may not be the quietest, but when put to the eyes and ears, you can't hear a thing (which, in this case, is good). The Rode NT1-A features no pad or roll-off switches, but achieves a maximum SPL of 137 db SPL, giving it the lowest range of the three microphones.

And while both the Audio Technica AT2020 and AKG Perception 220 feel like solid, if almost heavy, microphones, the Rode NT1-A goes the completely opposite route. Upon first unboxing of this microphone, I almost dropped it, as I was expecting something much heavier. It has the look and sound of a vintage tube mic, but definitely not the same feel. Likewise, the AKG comes with a solid (if only heavy plastic and foam padding) case, that makes just about anyone feel like a pro. Rode, while they do include a spider mount and pop-filter, there's no case anywhere to be seen. Not even a decent, padded pouch (i.e. the Shure SM58 bank bag). At the end of the day, Rode gives you a fancy dust cover with a draw string. Fair enough, I don't expect to be doing any 'on-location' work with this microphone, but a case would have gone a long way to making me fall 100% in love with this mic.

Overall conclusion

The Rode NT1-A is an outstanding mic for studio, voiceover and podcast work. It's high on tone quality and vintage sound, while being light on the wallet, especially for what it is. It is the most expensive of the three microphones I've tested thus far, but when put head to head with the AKG Perception 220, you're really going to have to dig in with a set of closed-ear headphones to really hear the difference. Conversely, if you're using the Rode NT1-A solely as a spoken word/voiceover/podcast microphone, it's outstanding. Of the three, the AKG seems most suited to functioning as an amped instrument's recording microphone, as it has the highest SPL, while at the same time, requiring the most amount of incoming volume. The Rode does stand head and shoulders above the other two in the sensitivity department though. The AT2020 and P220 are very capable of picking up sounds in the desired sonic pattern, but both require the speaker to sometimes 'swallow' the mic to get an upfront feel, whereas the Rode presents this feeling naturally.

Rode NT1-A specifications:

  • Power - P48 (48V), P24 (24V) phantom supply
  • Acoustic Principle - Pressure gradient
  • Directional Pattern - Cardioid
  • Frequency range - 20 Hz - 20 kHz
  • Output impedance - 100?
  • Signal noise ratio - >88 dB SPL (A - weighted per IEC651)
  • Equivalent noise - 5 dB SPL (A - weighted per IEC651)
  • Maximum SPL - 137dB SPL (@ 1kHz, 1% THD into 1K? load)
  • Maximum output voltage - +13.7dBu (@ 1kHz, 1% THD into 1K? load)
  • Sensitivity - -32 dB re 1 Volt/Pascal (25 mV @ 94 dB SPL) +/- 2 dB @ 1kHz
  • Weight - 326gm
  • Dimensions - 190mmH x 50mmW x 50mmD
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Reinstalling Mac OS X without a DVD Drive - Target Disk Mode

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One of the primary reasons that I switched to mac just over a year ago was the stability of the Operating System. While my mac's been fine, and would most probably have kept on working just fine, I guess there's still a bit of my windows mentality lurking around, as when I started noticing some, 'huh? what's that all about?' errors over the past few weeks, I guess I naturally reverted to the be all, end all solution - reinstall the OS. Fine and dandy, I'm quite familiar with the process via windows, so how hard could redoing the Mac OS X really be? It's quite easy - provided your DVD optical drive still works.

I had the lucky happenstance to find out that mine is dead. I'm probably not going to have it fixed, as I've read estimates anywhere from $380 - $466, and to be honest, I rarely every use it. However, this does bring up an interesting quandary; how to reinstall the mac os x with a dead optical drive? Apple provides you with a copy of the OS on two DVDs. Ok, first thought - see if I can't copy these DVD's using my old PC, and then just use the .dmg's directly from an external USB drive. Great. But hold up there bucko, as it turns out, Apple Macintosh computers, both laptops and desktops can only boot from firewire drives. Hmmm. Personally, I don't own any firewire external harddrives, they're all USB based. So there goes that solution out the window. So here I am thinking that I'm really screwed, and either going to have to pull the main harddrive and plunk it into a friends mac, and do the reinstall that way (a major pain in the ass as far as I see it), until I did a bit of further digging.

Target Disk Mode

Target Disk Mode

Now while I don't have a firewire drive handy, I did have a 6-pin firewire cable lying around that I use with an external soundcard. As it turns out, you can use a firewire cable to connect two macs, and it's quite simple at that. Here's how.

For the purpose of this example, and for simplicity, I'm going to call the MacBook (to be used as the target disk) Black, and the MacBook Pro (where we'll be installing the new OS) Silver.

  • 1. Make sure that Black is turned off, attached to the power supply, and all external devices are unplugged.
  • 2. Connect the 6-pin Firewire cable to black. Silver does not need to be turned off.
  • 3. Boot Black, and immediately hold down the T key. After a few seconds, you should see a large Firewire icon floating around the screen.
  • 4. Black should now appear as an additional disk on Silver. If you're like me and do NOT have harddrives displayed on the desktop, press cmd+shft+c to bring up you list of available disks.

 

Et voila! Black, just became the words most expensive external harddrive/cd/dvd burner/reader combo drive known to man. So far so good, however, we've not yet installed the OS. From here, things should be pretty straight forward, however I did have one minor, 'will that work?' moment which I'll describe below.

Upon popping the OS X installation disk in, you'll get an auto prompt asking what you want to do with it. Select install OSX. The computer (Silver) will then ask you to reboot to begin.

Leave the firewire cables connected, and upon reboot, Black should remain in target disk mode, while Silver will now pick up the install straight from Black. If all goes well, everything should proceed as if you’ve inserted the disk directly into Silver (and the drive works).

So we’re all set, right? Yes and No. If you take a look at that DVD package that came with your computer from Apple, you’ll notice that there are 2 disks. Everything is cooking along, the OS is pretty much installed, but now you’ve reached that crucial moment of ‘Please insert disk two’. Ok, no problem, I’ll just eject the disk from Black and carry on. Hold on there partner, as Black is now in target mode – how ya gonna eject that disk? Can’t do it from the OS, and the hardware button no longer functions. Remember, when in target disk mode, Black ceases to be a fully functional machine, but again, a rather expensive external HDD/DVD drive.

To solve this problem, I took a round about way of solving this, and since I couldn’t find this info anywhere else, I took my own guess at it. Throughout this entire process, DO NOT remove the 6 pin firewire cable.

  • 1. Press and hold down the power button on Black until it shuts down
  • 2. Press the power button again, and immediately press the eject button. This should pop the DVD out before target disk mode launches.
  • 3. Press and hold the power button down again, until Black shuts down again.
  • 4. Press the power button down again, and now quickly slip disk two into the dvd drive.

 

This will handle the problem of inserting disk two.

As much as I’d like to have a functioning DVD drive, from what I’ve read this isn’t an uncommon problem for MacBook’s, both standard and pro. I tend to leave my machine on 24/7, and reboot it generally once a week. It has occurred to me that the additional heat generated by this prolonged usage may have not been the best thing for an optical drive (some parts are made of plastic).

If you’ve fried, or in my case, melted your DVD optical drive, if you’ve got another mac handy, hopefully this guide has walked you through the steps of using it in target disk mode to regain the features/functions lost. Any questions? Leave ‘em in the comments below and I’ll respond ASAP.

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Dan Taylor

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My name is Dan Taylor, and after a rather long wait,  I finally managed to acquire the dan-taylor.com URL.  While not quite, dantaylor.com, it's pretty darn close, and should be an interesting exercise in SEO management, as well as having a nice and rememberable URL to hand out.  dan(hyphen)taylor dot com, yeah, shouldn't be too hard. If you've made it this far, hopefully you have a pretty good sense of who I already am from above. I currently work with a variety of clients, primarily in the startup sector, and aim to maximize their cross channel social media and traditional marketing strategy. I focus on delivering compelling content marketing pieces, SEO best practices, and relating the power of imagery to evoke both emotions and purchases from customers.

My blogging experience grew from a one time technical experimentation, turnthescrew.com. Since becoming a professional content creator, this blog has sadly fallen into disuse, and I may be transferring or repurposing some of the most popular content from the original blog.

As noted above, my true passions in life are photography, travel, music, and marketing, and you'll most probably read about these opinions and reviews on this site. I believe that spending a moment of your time on something that doesn't move you, is only a moment lost spent perfecting your passions.  Hello, and welcome to the all-new dan-taylor.com!

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