Friday, April 26, 2019

Welcome to the Camera Ninja's BLOG

I'm a photographer in San Diego.  I enjoy and therefore focus my 30+ years of experience on portraiture photography.  I don't feel I'm the best, but as the Camera Ninja, I've captured some very marketable images and more importantly, I really enjoyed the experience and the results.  This BLOG is the result of various people asking me advice or questions and, like my other BLOGs (Cyberthoughts The Throb of Life), the strange need to jot it down.  All images are mine and under copyright unless specifically stated.  CameraNinja.com

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Preparing To Photagraph A Wedding

I've recently photographed a wedding and thought I'd pass on what I learned during my preparation and day of shooting.  One of the things that I read in the photo-blogs is that a photographer is not only a creator and artist, they have to be problem solvers.  I'm not the best artist but I am a problem solver (my day job).  Shit will go wrong, camera setting will get hosed up and when you see images start to come out of the envelope, you need to be ready to adjust.  For a wedding, you have to know the equipment inside and out and roll with the punches.  I've been driving a Nikon for 40+ years so the menus, ergonomics and operation is second nature. My backup camera for this job is a Fujifilm XT-1 and I'm not ready to make it a primary for a fast moving shoot like a wedding (More about why is published HERE).  (I have used the XT-1 for portraits and you can't tell the difference in quality even though it weighs 4 pounds less.)

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Is the Fujifilm X-T1 Ready for Weddings?

I'm going to attend 3 weddings in three months this year.  I've attended two and have one to go.  On the second, I'm the primary photographer.  I've read and posted about photographers dumping their heavy Nikon and Cannon gear and switching to the X-T1 for wedding photography.  I've used the X-T1 for portraits and a Senior Prom shoot right next to my Nikon D800.  In both cases, I was using an external studio strobe or multiple remotes.  It performed perfectly in those roles and other than the small difference in saturation, you can't tell the difference.  I've used the X-T1 in the studio and in natural light.  I love the camera.  I wanted to answer for myself how practical using the X-T1 as a primary for wedding might be.  So I took it to wedding 1 to find out.  (Note, all the photos here are from the X-T1)

Since I was not the primary on the first wedding, I decided to take the X-T1 and try to capture something the primary photographer wouldn't get and stay out of paid team's way.  The wedding was in a church that, like most, was pretty dark.  This meant that I would use a flash.  Until I got outside to use it for fill.

Flash Performance

My first frustration was to the Fujifilm top-end (for now) EF-42 strobe.

The EF-42 as compared to the SB-800 sucks.  I bought it because my Nikon strobes won't produce TTL with the Fuji system.  It was a lot less money than the cost of the Nikon units but performance sucks.  First the strobe somehow eats batteries like my son tears through a steak. In addition, leaving the batteries in the strobe with the power off still seems to drain them. Four batteries in the EF-42 seems to last about 5 minutes. Fujifilm claims something on the order of 130 feet under ISO 100 but that would be pushing it.

There's no built in bounce card on the strobe, so my first act was to jam a card into the gap in the flash and constantly mess with it.  Also, there is no way to plug in an external power pack, something that is mandatory if you need to shoot with a flash all day.  If things are fast moving and you need cycle times in the sub 3 second range, you've got to have an external battery pack.

TTL capabilities are a long way from Nikon quality.  I've used the EF-42 in multiple situations and it seems that they are still in the developmental or maybe stage, like a Nikon F3 back in the 80s.  It did perform but not consistently.  It could be attributed to power management from shot to shot or me mashing down on the trigger before it's fully charged (an most likely running low on battery power).

There also seems to be multiple things that will keep the flash from firing.  I still can't figure them all out.  It can be frustrating as hell when you think you have everything set correctly but it still won't fire. I think the firmware update resolved one of them but it can be frustrating.

If you I have time and can go manual strobe mode, use a good Nikon unit.  For portraits, I've hooked it to my Paul C. Buff lights and get great performance and love it.

Focus Performance

Compared to my D800, it's slow.  When using the X-T1 for portraits and travel, it works great.  For fast moving fluid conditions its just not quite fast enough.  When it's dark, it really gets slow and at times will just hunt.  When the bride is walking down the isle, you really need the focus performance to be at its best.  

General

Shutter release is sub-second but you can feel the lag.  When shooting fluid events waiting for the crucial expression or something else, the D800 satisfies, the X-T1 might get it, it might not.  I've tried pre-focus and that doesn't always resolve things if you didn't pre-focus at the right point.

People are biased to look at the photographer that has the biggest camera.  I learned this while at a school event where I was asked to help out as the official photographer.  I was constantly competing and learned to just roll with it and shoot over her shoulder with the X-T1.  This bias is a real bummer because even if they do fix the issues I have with the next camera body and flash I can still be screwed out of photos by the guy with the 5+ pound Nikon or Cannon system.

The other thing that drives me a little crazy is the startup time.  That is, when I turn the camera on via the switch or wake it from sleep, it takes way too long.  It's frustrating!  I've missed several good shots because of this.  To contrast with a modern digital 35mm, the startup time is neglagble.  I'm going to play with a Fujifilm Xpro or Xpro 2 and play around with it.  I'm guessing it will be a lot better since it doesn't have to fire up a EVF.

Conclusion

I was able to capture a few photos that the bride liked at wedding number 1, but all of the small nits really add up that day and I was frustrated.  As the primary photographer on the second wedding, I really needed to nail it.  The client for number 2 was the worst kind, family.  A sub-optimal performance for that one and I'd be razzed for the rest of my life.  

I was comfortable enough with the X-T1 to take it as a backup camera for wedding 2 and had my wife shoot candid shots and a little backup angle.  This saved me a multi-day D800 rental.  Using the X-T1 for candids is perfect because it's small and quiet.  The day before the wedding I did some pre-shooting where the wedding would take place and it performed well there.  The wedding was outside and I didn't put flash on the X-T1, keeping it simple.  It performed excellent.  

A lot of the day was primarily for portraits of family at three locations and bride/groom at a forth and fifth.  I used on-camera flash at one portrait session, the live event outside, and the post event as well as some other bride/groom post shots.  I didn't want to attempt to use the X-T1 with on-camera flash but it would have been fine for the rest of the shooting where I used remote strobes and an Einstein mono-light.

The one small factor that also made it tough are the menus.  Although I should be able to stay out of them for the most part, I've been driving the Nikon systems for 40+ years so I know the system inside and out.  When shooting outside with clouds moving in and out, the X-T1 has all the controls I need on top which is nice.

At the end of wedding 2 after using the 5+ pound Nikon system I was dead, and in pain.  I would love to dump the Nikon weight if I could get equivalent performance from the X-T1.

Here's what I want in the X-T2

  • Fuji's new 24 mega-pixel sensor that is on the new line of Fujifilm cameras coming out..  The D800 has 36 mega-pixels which make my 300mm lens a lot more powerful for long shots and affords me a lot of crop options.  24 mega-pixels would be plenty though.
  • Sort out the on-camera strobe TTL lighting and come out with a decent strobe that supports external power-packs.  Shooting a wedding, even outside, I need to have a strobe for fill.
  • Faster flash sync speed.  Why only 1/180th?
  • Don't change the ergonomics or the creative controls on the outside.  I love it.  In fact, I like their approach using mechanical dials better than Nikon's.  In-fact, keep the look the same too.  I love the X-T1's look.
  • Improve startup and reduce shutter lag.
  • The "quick menu" is still hard for me to get use to.  Is there a better way?
If Fujifilm can nail the next iteration, maybe I'll build a big styrofoam box to put around the X-T1 so that I don't have to fight for recognition in the line-up of photographers. 

-- 
Chris Claborne
Cameraninja.com




Monday, May 25, 2015

Backing up Tags on Flickr

I started using Flickr in November of 2007 (although my collection of photos that were uploaded predates that).  I love Flickr and have used tagging extensively so that I can find my photos.  As a cloud service, Flickr hosts my photos, allows me to share them and enables albums, searching and more.  All of this comes at a very low yearly cost with no software to upgrade, patches to apply or something to re-install on my new computer.   I can do all of this on any device, phone, tablet, computer.  Flickr has recently pushed out a large upgrade of their service,  and they apply small improvements all the time.  Flickr is a perfect example of “software as a service”.  

Tagging photos is accomplished by applying keywords  made up by the user.  Users can add tags to each photo or to a batch of photos when they upload them, simplifying the process.  You can go back later and add additional tags in a variety of ways.  Flickr made it easy to upload and tag all of my images when I started and as I go along.  By using tags, I can find just about any photo I can think of in under a minute out of my current collection of 31,000+ photos.  For, example, doing a search of “flying  marilu  juan” will narrow my search down to two photos.  I can send a search to grandma (as a URL), creating a synthetic album, e.g. highlights from my son’s 2014 soccer season.

Tags are the value that I add, and Flickr enables value via their search interface.  After tagging 30+K of photos, I don’t want to lose that work as it’s quite an investment by me.  After almost 8 years of doing this, I’d hate to lose all of that value.  It’s bugged me for a long time, even though I didn’t think I had the software to take advantage of this in a way that is generic from a technology standpoint.  Now, if the tags were embedded into the photo and I could use local tools to take advantage of that, there it would be worth ensuring this data is backed up.  OK, I’m a freak about backup as you can tell by my previous post.  I’m not leaving Flickr but I still want all of this manual effort backed up just in case.  Even if I didn’t have the software, I could probably write some software to utilize it but it turns out that I don’t have to, I have Adobe Lightroom.

I’ve been using Adobe Lightroom for a long time but I’ve recently decided to use it more as part of my post-production workflow.  Up until this time, I’ve used Lightroom to help me sort out what I really want to post using a method of applying ratings to whittle down the selection and then push the photos to a directory where I run them through a manual Photoshop editing session or an automated set of steps for 100s of shots, like soccer game pics.  When I first tried Lightroom, I didn’t like the way they implemented some of their UI, mainly because I was use to Photoshop.  I’m getting use to it and am starting to realize what it can do to reduce my post production workload.  I’m trying to use it more.  Because it’s built with photographers in mind, it makes a lot of tasks that I do simple.

One of the things I noticed in Lightroom is... wait for it... keywording / tags.  Entering keywords for photos (you can do a bunch at a time) allows users to quickly search for photos.  It puts this “metadata into an area of the photo file that you can’t see (called the header).  I like this approach technically because it keeps the data with the asset in a standard way and it’s more likely that other programs can use that data.  As a bonus, it turns out that Flickr’s uploader page will see the tags that I put in the images making the final step of uploading them to Flickr simpler.  This means I can tag in Lightroom and skip that step when uploading to Flickr.

As I did some research on programs that would allow you to download all of your photos from Flickr, I found one that would not only pull them down, but embeds the tag in the images in a way that can be read by Lightroom (and hopefully other software).  The software is called Bulkr.  Once I download and paid the $30 for Bulkr Pro (which enabled the downloading of tags), I fired up the software, highlighted all of my albums, clicked the download button, told it where on my PC I wanted all of the photos,  and started the download.  I have a pretty big network pipe so it only took about 48 to 72 hours to download all of my images.  Bulkr created a directory with the same name as the album name within the target directory that I gave it.  Because I named the albums with the year first, they sort nicely in the directory.  To test that the tags were embedded, I pulled some of the files into Lightroom to see if the tags showed up... they did.  

Mission accomplished.  The photos will probably just sit within a directory on my file server for now since I don’t really need to import that data into Lightroom, and if this download is lost in a fire or redundant disk failure, I can always re-download the files from Flickr.  From this point on, I will be using Lightroom to tag files so the work will stay local, get backed up with the images, but also reside on Flickr, where I use them the most.

I’m really starting to understand Lightroom better and didn’t realize how powerful it’s gotten over the years, mainly because I didn’t take the time to look.  I’d write more about Lightroom but don’t take Lightroom advice from me, go to Laura Shoe’s BLOG, it rocks.  For example, I had some dust on the camera sensor and didn’t know it.  I fixed the important images from that shoot but it was a pain in the ass after a few.  There is a way to apply a fix like this to all the images.  Find out how to do that here.

-- Christian  Claborne
cameraninja.com

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Do You Backup Your Photos?

Do you backup your photos?  Good, glad to hear that you do.  Wait!  you only put them on a USB drive?  You should do better and here’s why.  
  1. If you only have one backup, when you go to restore from that USB drive or CD it won’t work.  It’s almost a guarantee.  If you have two options, the first always works.  Its some sort of spooky gadget thing.
  2. Fire, theft or some other destructive power can ruin your whole day.  
  3. If you use a USB drive, you won’t be be alone with the people that forget to backup after every shoot.  In fact, some people who have the drives don’t do it but every few months.
  4. Pictures are irreplaceable moments in time.  If you lose a bunch of documents it may not be too bad (unless it’s your wife’s PHD thesis that she is working on then you better get out of town).  To lose all your photos is a real disaster (unless you are really into the Zen thing and and into full unattachment).  You can’t recreate images.  

Fuji Love

I've always loved solid camera bodies, opting for metal over plastic.  But I've paid the price from the wallet and my neck.  On the plus side, every one of my Nikon SLRs has been super reliable and fun to use.  

I currently have a Nikon D800 and love it.  It produces what I feel is near "medium format" quality pictures.   But here is my single biggest issue with the D800 -- Combine a Nikon metal tank of a body with a Nikon metal pro lens and you are easily over 4 lbs.  I normally shoot with a vertical grip with extra batteries, pushing it to over 5 lbs!  After full day of shooting or touring, I come home with neck and back pain and I'm tired.  Because of this, the Nikon stayed at home when I would have preferred taking it wine tasting, touring down town, or on some other small outing.  I have my iPhone so it lulled me into feeling safe because I had a camera.  (No, I'm not camera obsessive but I have Photography in my blood wanting to work).  

Monday, April 27, 2015

Nikon, My First Camera Love

Film

I drive Nikon camera bodies; I love the look, and the results.  I've been a Nikon driver since my first SLR 30+ years ago when I received a Nikon EM for Christmas with an E series lens.  I used the camera all through college and figured out how to force it to complete specific assignments in a college photography course where a manual camera would have been much better.  I don't remember how the camera ended it's life.  I think it died of natural causes and when I checked the used market it was worthless.  The E series lens was worth even less.