Sunday 31 March 2013

Why I didn't buy a Retina Macbook Pro....

With the prolonged spinning beach ball of death on one too many shoots, accompanied by a sound not too dissimilar to a Lear jet at take off when processing images, the writing was on the wall for my 2007 vintage 15 inch MacBook Pro.

I had put off replacing my MacBook Pro for as long as possible, but the time had finally come for a replacement.

But which one to go for?

 I defy any geek not to fall in love with the super slim edged Macbook Pro which has more pixels than you can shake a stick at.

The impressive spec, allied with a useful weight saving (2.2kg v 2.56kg) over the rumoured to soon-be-discontinued unibody Macbook Pro, would make it seem to be a no brainer.

So why on earth didn't I buy one? 

I instead opted for the, probably soon to be discontinued, MacBook Pro unibody.

Heavier, thicker and not as cool as the retina model.

My choice would at first glance seem to be somewhat left field.

I will try to explain.

The retina screen for all of its technicolored glory, does have one glaring drawback, if you excuse the pun.

When I replaced my MacBook Pro 15 inch model 1.1 with my 2007 model I did not specify the matt screen option.

Something I lived to regret for the whole life of the computer because when I was shooting tethered or using it in sometimes challenging circumstances, such as bright sunny conditions or even near a window, sometimes making it very difficult to see what was on the screen.

I selected the £80 option for a high resolution matt screen and the high gloss reflections are all but banished.

The retina Macbook pro has many connectivity options including USB3 and the super fast Thunderbolt ports too.

The unibody has these too and it also has firewire.

Let's face it, with the advent of thunderbolt, firewire has a limited long term future, and who needs firewire when you can get a firewire adaptor?

The adaptor does after all work quite well, even if you do on occasion, have to moderate your shooting speed when shooting tethered on fast moving shoot.

But let me refer you to Apple's own sales pitch for the thunderbolt-firewire adaptor which they say

'gives you a FireWire 800 port that supplies up to 7W for bus-powered peripherals like hard drives'

But what if your device, like some external hard drives, or even your medium format camera back has firewire connectivity which draws more than 7W's?

Better start looking for the power adaptor or the batteries, as you will not be able to power them from the computer, denying you the flexibility of powering from the laptop.

Perhaps more even importantly, pray to the gods that you do not lose or forget your adaptor when you are on the road on that all important job.

If you are a Hasselblad owner this news maybe of particular interest to you as your camera, even the very latest models, rely solely on firewire, with seemingly no alternative on the near or distant horizon, not a happy situation to be in, better stock up on the adaptors, remember not to shoot too fast or perhaps buy the latest unibody Macbook Pro before they are discontinued.

The retina Macbook Pro has no DVD drive, the unibody Macbook Pro has one.

The DVD superdrive is something I cannot recall using in the past couple of years at least, but it maybe could just be useful, for that software install DVD (you would be surprised how many software manufacturers use these) or for the more unlikely moment of burning a DVD.

But I have something else in mind, SSDs are becoming more affordable all the time, and by the time my warranty has expired drives like the Crucial M500 1TB SSD will be readily available and affordable, fitting snugly in the super drive bay, giving me double the options for storage. 

The SSD is the biggest leap in computing performance we have seen for sometime, so needless to say I specified my unibody Macbook Pro with the 256 at extra cost, even though it meant the whole package cost a bit more than the retina model. I did this instead of fitting my own, which would have saved a bit of cash as I did not want to void the warranty.

Buy either Macbook and you will be happy, in my view though the unibody is more suited to the working photographer, the retina with its svelte up to the minute design perhaps more suited for general use, I imagine gaming would be a vivid experience.

Thursday 28 March 2013

The Pitfalls of stopping down

In my early photography career if I wanted a greater depth of field or wanted to carry out a very long exposure, I would stop down and see a consequential drop in image quality.

At photographic college I learned why.

Its due to diffraction.

'Diffraction' is the 'bending power' of a medium, such as glass, on light.

But it does not just have to be glass, it can be the Aperture blades.

There is a great in-depth explanation of diffraction at Cambridgeincolour which should tell you all you need to know.

Before you dismiss this as some technobabble that will not effect you, think again.

Shooting with a Canon XF305 video camera last Summer I was caught out VERY badly indeed by stopping down (F16 I think) to way past F8.0, the truly safe 'zone' to avoid diffraction with the camera which utilises a very small sensor.

The results were dramatic, and not in a good way.

If I were to say 'soft focus' footage which was much, much closer to 360p than 1080p, you will have some kind of idea of the world of pain I went through.

I should have known better, resorting to an ND filter instead of stopping down.

I have sine burrowed down deep into the custom functions of the Canon XF305 and have discovered you can limit the aperture to F9.5 (fractionally not far enough, as beyond F8.0 diffraction well and truly kicks in, it would be great if they would change this or allow this to be user set)

Lesson (re)learned the hard, costly way.

Why am I talking about this?

Today I received an email link from Phase One software whizz Niels V. Knudsen better known as the Image Quality Professor

Niels shows some really great samples of diffraction at work and suggests using Neutral Density filters instead of stopping down to really small apertures.

I heartily recommend this blog even if you don't use the excellent Capture One software, as he shares a whole wealth of knowledge on a regular basis in an easy to understand way.

Beware too if you go down the ND filter route, particularly some brands of vario ND filters which rob so much detail that they should really be rebadged as soft focus filters.

After much pain on the rocky vario ND road (with various brands) I switched to the old school, but super sharp, Lee filters (who can only really be criticised for sometime poor availability of their products)

Another tool at your disposal is low ISO which seems really unfashionable amongst camera manufacturers, and I really can't fathom why.

Until recently you could not shoot below 200ISO on some Nikons and even now most Canon and Nikon camera's, only allow very low ISO in 'expanded' setting, as often it delivers inferior colour graduation  compared to 'standard' ISO selection and poorer dynamic range, thanks to its lower colour bit depth

I will be talking more about lower ISO in the very near future, where shooting ay the very low native 35ISO of the Phase One made a world of difference to my latest forest shoot.

Monday 25 March 2013

10 Steps to the sub 10 min portrait.

I considered this after hearing Rankin talking about this on BBC Radio 4 Desert Island discs.

Rankin referenced a conversation he had with David Bailey where they were talking about this

Bailey to Rankin 'It's an hour, isn't it?

From my recollection Rankin agreed.

My experience though is a little different.

Often it is less than and hour, much less than an hour in fact.

Perhaps it is because I'm not a big name photographer?

That could have something to do with it...I think.

But there is a very serious point.

It is all about respecting people time and bearing in mind that this may be the very last thing they want to do.

One hour is the time oft agreed by agents, publicists and the like who may not even have told the talent (or busy CEO) that they have agreed to such a big hole in their day.

You may end up with 5 mins or less....

A friend of mine was recently shooting a big name Chinese industrialist and was given 6 frames.

I seem to recall 'Prince ' letting a photographer have a single frame....

That was it.

Ok, both of those scenarios are a little extreme, but they could one day come to a photo shoot near you.

Here are 10 pointers which may(or may not) help.

1. Know your subject. Research all you can on the net to know a few little bits about hem, the name of their new album or how their company is doing.

2. Play for time. Use the info (above) you have gained. Being a photographer who knows at least a little about them can stop them in their tracks, buying you valuable time. I once turned a 5 min portrait in to a two hour shoot like this.

3. Try to make the pic a done deal. Have a clear idea of what shot you want,(practice if you can)
So by the time they walk in, nothing short of a major natural disaster can derail the shoot.

4. Try to win hearts and minds. Let their Agent or PA in on the shot if you can, showing them just how amazing their boss or client will look

5. Pre light the shot. Do this with your assistant, or anyone else who is passing as a stand in. (I came a little unstuck doing this just the other day when the stand in was super short and skinny and the subject was erm, MANY sizes bigger)

6. Try ambitious lighting at your peril. Play safe for at least one shot or set up. When it's a big deal no client will love you for some edgy shot which is just not their house style.

7. Have a secondary set up. If all this pays off you may even have a little extra time for a second shot, it would be a crying shame not to make the most of it. You can even try 'I know our time is up but I saw something super cool just over here, would you like to see it?'

 8. Contemplate shooting at a higher ISO. Loving my low ISO as I do, I never thought I would say this (strike me down) Consider shooting at a slightly higher ISO this will give you a shorter flash recycle time. Sounds extreme, but if time is short it really could make a difference.

9. Make the test shots of the sitter count. They are often the very best frames of a shoot.

10. Be polite. Don't moan and bitch about the lack of time no matter what. The agent or CEO's right hand man or woman may even hire you as you were so efficient. (this has happened on several occasions)

So, there you have it.

All, some, or indeed none of the above may work for you, but those little 'rules' form the basis of my lighting fast portrait routine.

Friday 22 March 2013

Latest in the forest series....prelude post

No posts from me of late.

I have been busy, very busy.

I have shot another in my 'Forest' series, and I'm in post with it right now.

As ever with these shoots it is the logistics which are the killer.

The success or failure of the shoot came down to a calculation of how many journeys we would have to make up and back down the trail with Elinchrom Rangers, light stands and still be in the right ambient light 'window' to give a great picture.

Working for the first time with the Phase One IQ180, a new smoke machine too.

I had shot a total of nine shots in the series but of those nine only seven are good enough, so two shots are in the bin at not inconsiderable expense.

I'm pleased to report this one will make it number eight.

I will be sharing the details of this very ambitious project in the weeks ahead with all that went right, and all that went very wrong too, and how the Phase One IQ180 and the Gitzo tripod tipped the balance in my favour.........

Thursday 7 March 2013

Impressions of the Fuji X100S after (Very) brief hands on.

Readers of this blog will know I have been keenly awaiting the Fuji X100S, wondering if the revised offering was going to be a significant improvement.

I only had limited time to play with the camera on the Fuji stand at 'Focus on Imaging' but I did get an impression of what the company has achieved.

Firstly, when you pick it up it feels exactly the same as the outgoing X100, and is none the worse for that.

A very quick run through with the camera reveals a massively improved(if a little long) intuitive menu.

Shooting random objects on the stand the camera felt very 'snappy' and fast, a noticeable improvement on the X100, and I did enjoy the selectable autofocus points too.

Another department of improvement is the manual focus.

The super low geared 'focus-by-wire' manual focus on the outgoing X100 was about as useful as a chocolate tea pot.

Fuji have listened.

The manual focus gearing on the X100S is vey good indeed, in fact I nearly forgot it was 'focus-by-wire'....

What about the manual focus aids?

I found the split image was excellent and I was able to accurately manual focus.

Focus peaking? I'm not quite so sure.

It does work, but I found it difficult to read at times, particularly when I used it on people's faces.

I think though that the user will work out which manual focus assist works best for them in particular circumstances.

The X100S does also use the same battery as the outgoing X100, the good news being they are as cheap as chips, but with a question mark hanging over battery life for some users, though a Fuji spokesperson told me the new sensor uses less power.

From my fleeting time with the camera I would say the camera is a massive improvement.

Some existing X100 owners will see little point in upgrading their cameras, others, myself included, will covet this promising camera.

I will leave the final word to David Hobby of Strobist who owns one of the very first X100S.

'This camera is pretty close to perfect for the type of camera it purports to be'

You can read his overview of the camera over at

Tuesday 5 March 2013

New Backs from Phase One - Wifi enabled.

I'm presenting on the Manfrotto stand at Focus on Imaging 2013, good fun it is too.

What this means is you don't get a very good opportunity to look around at the other stands and see what offerings there are.

At breakfast this morning I bumped into Eric Joakim of Phase One, who told me of some very interesting developments with their backs, in fact they have just unveiled three new IQ backs.
The IQ260, IQ260 Achromatic and the IQ280.

Notably the IQ260 is capable of exposure times up to one hour, which some people missed with the demise of the P45+.

I currently use a Phase One P65+ back, which I'm very pleased with, though I do have an eye on one of the IQ back.

I have always regarded the IQ backs by Phase One as 'Suspicious devices'

Let me explain before someone calls the bomb squad.....

The IQ back is a little bit bigger than the P series back, no big deal you might think, but in this age of ever increasing miniaturisation it is unusual to see any kind of incoming product bigger than the out going product.

Why did they do this?

I had my suspicions that they left space for 'something else' inside?

I think we may well have found out what that 'something else' is.

The new IQ2 backs are Wifi capable, you can connect them directly to an iPad, via the excellent (and free) Capture Pilot.

You get to view previews of the images on your CF card and Art directors can rate the shots as you go ( the tags are transferred onto your CF card as you shoot)

Eric Joakim (who missed his breakfast to record this) gives us a walkthrough.

Phase One goes WiFi from drew gardner on Vimeo.

In the very short demo, the ease and reliability of connection was highly impressive stuff.

Oh, and one more thing.

The IQ backs are now working with beta software implementation of USB3.

Saturday 2 March 2013

Focus on Imaging 2013 with Manfrotto

Straight from BVE 2013 to Focus on Imaging 2013 in Birmingham, via the latest in my 'Descendants' series I shot on Friday, much more of that to come soon.

Victoria Hillman, Sue Flood, Jacob James, Steve Gosling and I will be with the Manfrotto School of Excellence (Stand N11) I will be sharing 'Behind the scenes lighting secrets', which I intend to go beyond the normal seminar proving bags of information which shooters can implement in their own projects.

You can subscribe here.

I will be giving regular show updates, including and attempt to get hands on with a Fuji X100S

BVE 2013

A busy old week.

I was presenting for Zeiss(much more of this in a forthcoming post, along with a new video short shot with Zeiss CP.2 lenses) at the Broadcast and Video Expo at London's Excel centre.


Well a couple stand out, but he most asked question of the show was 'What is the Black Magic cinema camera like?'

Perhaps this was because there was one on the Zeiss stand at BVE, and I was often standing next to it.

All the same it did cause a fair bit of interest.

In truth I could not honestly answer the question as I have not yet used one, but I have seen some very impressive footage from it. Have a look at 'A night in Nine Elms' a piece commissioned by Black Magic.

Pay particular attention to its tonality, and how well it holds the highlights and shadows. No great surprise here as it shoots 12bit raw, giving 13 stops dynamic range.......

All this for a whisker under £2000.

Good value indeed.

'A Night in Nine Elms' from hangman on Vimeo.

My impressions?

Well, the futuristic form factor is provoking to say the least, but it did grow on me.

It is actually intended to be part of a 'bigger set up' with parts bolted onto it such as an external recorder, monitor.

This rig for the Black Magic from Zacuto particularly impressed me, suiting the camera well.

Zacuto Rigs for the Blackmagic Camera from Zacuto on Vimeo.

There has to be draw backs with something that cost's under £2k, right?

Well to reiterate, I have not used it, but a few things did stand out as possible issues for some users.

The built in battery means that you cannot carry a spare in your pocket, you need to keep an eye on your power options.

The form factor means some sort of support system is a necessity.

The 16.64 x 14.04mm sensor has a crop factor of x2.3, meaning a 13mm lens will become the equivalent of a 30mm, an 85mm becomes the equivalent of a 200mm.

Some will find one or more of these factors a deal breaker, but many will not, if the enthusiasm of passers by was anything do go by, quite a few of whom had one (or more!) on order.