Thursday, January 31, 2013

An Eye Opener In Melbourne

And I don't mean in Young and Jackson's either...

Did goe to The NGV Centre in Federation Square in Melbourne this last week and was greatley amused. By a Canadian, no less.

Jeff Wall photographs were featured in the Fed Square Level 3 gallery and as it was the first time I had encountered the name, and I had half a ticket, I took them in. I might have been nonplussed at the subject matter - life in British Columbia in the 90's - and I might have thought the treatment a little banal - but I was amazed and educated to see the presentation.

You see the large-format images had been printed as transparencies and displayed in especially-made back-lit frames. They reminded me of giant light boxes much like the Medialux light boxes we sell here in the shop.. Aluminium sides and mitred corners. The illumination hitting the transparencies was extremely even, and as it fell through the images rather than on them, you could appreciate it from a multitude of angles.

In the same exhibition, several frames were set out in the same way, but were paper prints illuminated from the front. Sorry, Jeff - they just lost the charm of the light boxes.

The other two amazing things were the fact that the pictures were in Melbourne on loan from the Art Gallery of Western Australia - and the video presentation of an interview with Mr. Wall. I could stand about four minutes of it before I ran. Photospeak is the same as Artspeak. But with f stops...I wonder if there are such things a Plumbingspeak and Ballbearingmanufacturerspeak.

PS: Did goe to Young and Jackson's and was also greatley amused...until the beer money ran out.

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Take It With You - In Promaster

Sometimes the littlest things fix themselves in our minds - and unless we get them right they can throw us all askew.

Take the business of filters. In the GOD ( That's good old days...) we all carried a pack of photographic filters. When all we could afford was black and white film, we carried unmounted slices of glass that we dropped into filter holders. If we were travelling light, we took just a medium yellow. If we wanted the lot we carried, yellow, red, yellow green, and UV. Plus a neutral density one if we were arty...

When we could finally afford a roll of Kodachrome we changed over the brightly coloured filters for a light blue, a light amber, and a polariser - we kept the UV on anyway. If we were doing commercial work for people who knew what they wanted, the simple blue and salmon became a half dozen assorted strengths to cope with the sunlight at different times of the day. We might even have a purple filter to counteract fluorescent light - but there were so many types of fluorescent tube that the thing was really a bet, not a science.

Digital came, and initially the filter pack dropped to UV and circular polariser - plus as many rectangular graduated neutral density filters and complicated filter holders as we could load onto the mule. If the RSPCA didn't catch you, that could be quite a few filters.

When good sense returned and we realised that we needed to carry only UV, Circ Pol, and one ND, we were still confronted with the problem of carrying filters for different lenses - we might have lenses that we constantly used that were 62ø, 67ø, 72ø, 77ø, or 82ø and trying to make sure that we had a filter for each one was a nightmare. Some of us tried to rationalise the thing by getting enormous filters and then putting step-down rings on them. But then we had to store the step-down rings somewhere...

Well, Promaster to the rescue this last fortnight. Finally we have a sensible system of filter wallets in the shop that can cope with multiple sizes. Look on the heading photo and you'll see that you can go from 62ø to 82ø and from 3 to 6 filters. The wallets have belt loops, and in some cases zippered pouches round the back to hold lens cleaners or money. They are all sensibly priced and will clean up your camera bag or your pocket perfectly.

Note also the new Promaster filters - I've shown a UV and a Cir Pol. They are scratch-resistant and very keenly priced - well made too. Apparently there is a special coating that resists grime and moisture, making them easy to keep clean.

Uncle Dick

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Bit Of Protection Round The Back - Promaster

We all need a little bit of protection round the back end - that is why they invented the Frazer-Nash turret...

It can also be a good thing on a camera - you are going to scratch the LCD screen for sure at some stage of the camera's life. Every day you will press your nose against the back panel and the screen will get pretty ugly looking.

Hoodman have decided that the best protection is a flexible plastic film. They manufacture their Super Hoodskins in 3" and 3.2 " to cater for different screens. You get two in the packet - just trim them down with sharp scissors until they cover the back screen. Then you peel apart a protective layer and let static electricity adhere the Hoodskin to the surface of the screen. I have this on the Fuji X-10 and so far it is easy to clean and has held on very well.

If you want a tougher surface than the flexible film, Promaster have introduced their Screen Protector. It is a hard polycarbonate - .8 mm thigk - but is so clear that it does not affect the colours on the screen. It has an adhesive layer that butts up against the camera LCD, so be sure that you have cleaned he LCD as well as possible before mounting it. This is only in 3" mounting.

Both of these styles of protection are under $ 20 - you can hardly afford to let the delicate surface of the LCD go bare at these prices.

Note: The front of the camera has an expensive glass lens surface too - consider a UV filter for it, even if you do not expect to encounter much Ultraviolet radiation. You might encounter a dog nose and they are stickier than UV any day...

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I'm Baaaaack!

Let me just stick my nose in here to tell you that I am back from holidays - the Hot Rod Show in Melbourne.

You can see more car pictures on my home blog - - will find it. The title is  " Here All Week ". You will also see a few here at the shop blog, because I took 1000 of them with my Fuji X-10 and they are bursting with colour.

I decided to make set the camera to vivid colour rendition - sort of like Velvia slide film - on the premise that I was on holiday and I wanted things to be brighter than normal. I got my wish. The Melburnians still looked washed out but the cars came up a treat.

PS: If you are from Victoria, remember there is a fire ban - don't flame me...

Big N Sale - Secondhand Has Never Been So Good

Looks like there has been a veritable flood of Nikon camera bodies and lenses traded in over the 10 days I have been gone. I see a row of Nikon D3 bodies - and D 300 and D 300s bodies. There are a couple of fightin' cameras - the D2x - and even a contingent of D 80 and D90. All at bargain basement prices - the secondhand prices have been dropped.

The secondhand cabinet is groaning under the weight of lenses as well - and some of them are exotics like shift wide angles. If you have a very small amount of cash hidden in the biscuit barrel, I suggest that now is the time to bring it in and benefit from both the sale prices and the sudden influx of good gear.

Funny how it works - one part of the year there will be an influx of Canon and the next thing you know it will dry up and Nikon flows in. I wonder if it is related to the phases of the moon - like the tide.

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A Little Gem - With Promaster

Every year about this time the student trees come awake. All around campuses here in Perth the little student buds pop out and start to swell, as they get ready to absorb the wisdom of their teachers.

To do this, for many years the students were told to go out and buy a 35mm film SLR. This was seen as the common instrument of the art and was likely to have enough of the complexities associated with it to occupy them while the autumn came on. The difficulty of it was the fact that at the time that institutions were demanding this sort of camera, the manufacturers were abandoning it for the digital SLR.

We had a steady trade in 2008-2009 for secondhand Pentax K-1000 bodies and 50mm lenses - and were hard pressed to find enough secondhand ones to supply. It was no better if you looked for Canon or Nikon- the long run of these cameras had finally come to an end and the students were scrabbling for the equipment they needed.

I am not certain if this year will see the same requirements - I suspect that the teaching institutions must eventually change their lists to some extent to accommodate the new reality of digital photography. If they come this year at least we have a new item to offer them.

The Promaster people have commissioned a standard 35mm SLR called the 2500PK Super. Thats a Pentax K mount there, an inbuilt TTL meter, 1-1/2000 shutter, and a PC socket as well as the hot shoe. A pretty good looking 50mm f:1.7 lens and double exposure over-ride for when you get to the arty stage. Vertical shutter with 1/125 synch. In short, just what the student needs - and brand new in the bargain.

$ 349, and it should work for decades. in-store now. By the time the students are starting to bloom, there should be quite a few of these out there in use.

Final thought - after the students have budded, bloomed, fruited, and been picked, where do they throw the dried husks?

Uncle Dick

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Friday, January 18, 2013

Sigma Bring Out A Definitive Lens

Mike Timmins here at the shop has just handed me a new Sigma lens and urged me to write about it. I should be delighted to describe its performance in the field and studio but as it is a Canon mont, and I use Nikon, I am restricted to external observation and hearsay advice.

Looking at it, I am bowled over by the revamped design that Sigma have come up with in respect to the external mount and finish. Over the years i have seen Sigma lenses finished in polished anodizing, flat plastic, and a peculiar half-matte half crackle finish. This lens has the basic body closest to the mount in the polished black anodizing, but then uses what looks like a parkerized surface for the next body stage. The focussing ring has a clean straight milled rubber ring - this is also echoed on the body stage. it is a lens that should look good and mount positively into the camera body.

The tulip lens hood is conservatively- styled and the lens cap has been redesigned for positive grip when you are reaching into it.

The mount is superb. very well finished machine job - you would expect no less from a manufacturer who still makes their lenses in Japan.

As far as the performance - this has apparently garnered a great deal of praise as being better than the rival lenses from the proprietary manufacturers - you will have to Google on over to the DP Review  or the DoX people to see their test charts.

Use for the lens? Studio full length shots. Studio product shots. Bridal groups. Undistorted landscapes.
General street use in low light.

It goes as close as .3 metres and as far out as infinity. You can take pictures of anybody with this lens and be pretty well assured that it will give you good files. I can only sit in patience until a Nikon-mount one comes into stock, and then I can see for myself.

Price? Shhhhhh. Don't tell the other guys. It is a little over half the price of the big-boy rivals. Like, serious savings.

I'm so jealous.

Uncle Dick

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Studio And Workroom With Promaster

If you are wondering about the term 'workroom', you may be more comfortable substituting 'office' or 'hobby room'. Or in the most realistic case 'edge of the kitchen table that doesn't have tomato sauce on it'. You'll see what I mean later.

The items from the Promaster catalog that caught the eye this morning are the SystemPro Background Light Stand, the SystemPro Backdrop clips, and the DigiTrim rotary trimmer.

The light stand is dinky, but well-built. It stands 22cm collapsed and 40cm fully extended. The top has a standard 1/2" spigot for studio flash heads. I should say it would mount my Elinchrom 500 watt monolights easily - and anything lighter. It is just perfect for illumination behind a sitter or a pile of products, either for a low rim support or a backdrop illumination. I can honestly see it equipped with a spigot and hot shoe as a strobist stand. Low, perhaps, but so tiny as to be packable into ANY gadget bag.

The backdrop clips remind me of shower curtain rings - but they have the added pieces that slot together to capture material for hanging. This means a trip to Spotlight or Textile Traders to get some big muslin sheeting and you just clip 10 of these along the top for a quick studio backdrop. If you are no good with a sewing machine it means you do not have to try to hem something. It would also be possible to get these clips to capture plastic material - perhaps even paper if you did not have a core to your backdrop paper roll.

The rotary trimmer is ideal for splitting and trimming prints from your inkjet printer. The trimmers come in 12" and 17" sizes ( note to younger readers - inches are a mysterious magic that you will be initiated in when you are old enough. Remember that real photographers always measure prints in inches. When you become a real grand master icon human treasure poobah, you get to show your photographs as cabinet cards and cartes de visite...).

Where was I? Oh, yes, the trimmer. Metal base, rotary blade, guard strip over the paper - all the usual features. The really nice thing about this is the cutting edge of the metal tray is set at 90º to the side panel - you can accurately set your print over against the LH edge and then get a real right angle cut.
Don't dismiss this - it is the real crux of the matter when you are trying to make a print look good. here is nothing worse than having an inaccurate cut and having to make eyeball compensation as you trim through a stack of prints.

Now, I'm off to the Hot Rod Show next week so you won't be getting Uncle Dick blogs for ten days or so. Then you'll be getting a lot of flame paint jobs and girls in 50's dresses. Use the interval to whizz into the shop and look at the new Promaster stuff that is on the shelves. If you experience Uncle Dick withdrawal symptoms go to:

and say something nice.

Uncle Dick

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Hold The Weddin' - More Promaster Pictures

As Kinky Friedman might say - Hold the weddin'...

I pressed the wrong button on the computer and launched out the Promaster tripod story without including the pictures of the big kit. My apologies - herewith the extra images that apply to the last posting.

Uncle Dick

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More Legs Than A Rockettes Kick Line - Promaster

Well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration - I mean six legs. That's two new Promaster tripods in the store. Don't swan off - these are worth looking at the pictures...

The little one is the XC 522 - this may well be the answer for the perennial enquiry for a travel tripod that folds small enough to hide in a suitcase but stands up well to a heavy load.

Don't email me and tell me you've seen the shape before - you have, and so have I. But this evocation of it is remarkably well-built and has a couple of smart features. Assure yourself of the build quality by examining the finish on the yoke and the head. Note that the coupling for the head is a 3/8" thread  but be aware that it is reversible - there is a 1/4" thread un the other end of the screw - but AHA! look at the fact that there is a screwdriver slot at the top of the thread - you can secure the thing against backing out as you change heads. Good thinking, 99...

Note that you can unscrew one of the legs - the one with the convenient rubber covering - and make a monopod of it. This means three-fold utility - Photographic travel tripod, sports-field monopod, and comfortable family whacker. Those of you with families will know what I mean.

The big tripod is actually a tripod system or kit - the Taskmaster UT 25. It comes in a nylon folding case that contains legs, head, two center columns, and a tilting macro bracket. Look at the pictures - you'll see it assembled in a number of modes. The flat-pack of the basic tripod is fabulous as it allows it to go into luggage with the minimal disturbance. The yoke is very sturdy but light, and the leg fit is precise.

Look at the workmanship and finish on the tilting macro bracket - the day of unfinished items is finished - these have the kind of paint and polish that would be expected from a good motor car.

Again, each screw interface is well thought out to provide sufficient metal to couple well. It is a tripod kit that can serve for all field work for the medium-sized or smaller DSLR.

As you will find out over the next few blog posts, I am becoming a fan of Promaster. So far the things I have seen in the delivery are really good quality. I shall report more.

Uncle Dick

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Promaster Support You - Support Them!

Sounds like we are coming near an election, doesn't it? Well, come onto the store and cast your vote for Promaster.

Today's new product is the Shoulder Support. As you'll see from the accompanying images, it is a lightweight video support rig designed to place some of the weight of your DSLR and lens onto your shoulder while allowing you to hold the camera under the center of gravity. You end up with a free hand to operate the controls while still keeping the thing level and steady.

There are a number of these items on the market, but it must be said that many of them address the idea with military enthusiasm - in an effort to be " professional" they add so much weight and complexity that they would seem to be more suited to a Carl Gustav tube rather than a Canon...Fine if you wish to deal with a T-72, but a bit of a strain if the only thing you pointing it at is a lightly-armoured bridesmaid.

The Promaster unit, on the other hand has simplicity of good design and a high level of quality in its execution. Look at the detail shots - these are a tribute to the modern CNC machine and a good anodizing bath, but they needed some good thought to start with.

They needed good thinking to realise that people are right and left handed - you can wear it on either shoulder. It puts no more weight on you than need be. The handle is light but big - you need a good grip to control the rig. And there is plenty of rail out there to accommodate different lenses and cameras.

The quick release plate and sliding lock should be familiar - that is Arca-sized.

Check out the shoulder strap - just enough to secure it as you rest it but not too much to try to wear over a suit jacket. Think conference or wedding video.

Note that there are all sorts of viewfinder accessories and ideas that will let you concentrate on the image as you film it. My first thoughts for really convenient enthusiast videoing are the Canon 650D or Nikon D5200 with their screens swung out and angled for the angle of your eye - and then a Hoodman  loupe or screen hood to concentrate your attention. But don't let me force this on you - come in and try the rig with your own gear and see what works.

That's the big advantage of a bricks and mortar shop ( or in our case a concrete wall shop ) over the ubiquitous internet advertisement - you can come in and experiment with our cheerful cooperation - we find out good ideas from you just as much as you find them from us.

Uncle Dick

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The First Of The Many - Promaster

Oooh, oooh,oooh - the toys have arrived!

The first delivery of Promaster accessories and photographic equipment has arrived and we are busy setting it out downstairs. The electricity has gone off but that has not stopped us. And have a look at what I found for the first blog - LED lights for your camera.

The big golden panel is the LED 120 from Promaster. 120 LED units in it and a built-in diffuser screen. There is an amber cover to allow you to balance the illumination to tungsten lighting - and if your video or still camera doesn't have a hot shoe you are still alright. The LED 120 is supplied with a universal camera bracket. Runs on 4 AA cells. Pumps out 51 lux at 3 metres.

There is also a smaller LED panel - the LED 30. 30 lamps and puts out 23 lux at 3 metres. Great for compact and mirror-less cameras.

And HELLO MACRO with the RL60. 60 LED lights behind a diffuser and provision for either AA cell or mains operation. 68 lux at 3 metres and as it is a ring-light, the results as seen by the sensor can be shadow-free.

Best of all - the mounting on the back for this is the good old standard "P" mount from the Cokin system. If you are already using Cokin this ring-light clips right on. It will go up to 77ø size.

Signing off now - too many new things in cartons. Gotta see them all and get them onto the shelves. Promaster is good quality and it looks like the prices are going to be good as well. Best of all for us shop people - the packaging is sturdy and consistent and brightly coloured - we can find it in the dark.

Uncle Dick

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Monday, January 14, 2013

It's A Man's Life In The Regular Wedding Regiment

Actually, it's a woman's life as well these days. The Wedding Regiment is one of the divisions of the photographic army and, like the Australian Army, is fully integrated in all respects. You can get yelled at, bullied, neglected, and robbed no matter what sex, religion, or age you are.

Of course the professional photographers need no advice on how to do weddings - which is why you see them at wedding seminars and trade presentations...they attend so that they do not have to take advice. They also attend to spy out their competition and to try to pinch clients - totally legitimate business behaviour, of course. A few have been known to attend just for the morning coffee and biscuits.

The amateur also needs no instuctions. They have a camera and there is the bride and groom and what more do you need to know. Which button do you press to get the lens to open, again?

It is the semi-pro...or should that be the demi-amateur...that needs to know the secrets of the trade. Herewith listed. If you are not the person to whom this is addressed don't breathe a word of it.

1. The Trade is a trade. You trade your time and effort for money. Not "something for your film". Not " I'll see you right". Not  "Maaaaate...". If you would not do something in a dark corner with your trousers off for  $ 200, don't do it at a wedding for that price.

2. The Bride is the salad. Everyone else, including yourself, is dressing.

3. The Groom wants a drink. At some stage of the proceedings he will find one. If you want him in focus, take your pictures prior to this point.

4. Your camera is good enough. So good, in fact, that you need another one just the same in your bag. It must be ready to go with the same settings as your first camera and when you need it you just fish it out and carry on shooting. Do not use a different format or recording medium - embark one squadron and use it well...

5. Use flash. Bugger the character out in the dirty little church that forbids it. The Bride needs it and that is all there is to it. Sic the Bride's Mother on him and watch him change his tune.

6. Use flash outside. Western Australia is sun-lit and unless you are photographing pandas or neanderthals, try to avoid eyebrow shadows.

7. Get in close. If you want to photograph what happens, you have to see what happens. If you want to stand off half a mile and snipe at them use a .50 Barrett, not a Nikon.

8. Let all the other relatives take as many pictures as they want. Someone will get one you missed and this eases the Bride's wrath.

9. Quit before they do. Most Brides bop on until 12:00. Escape at 10:00 - you'll be so grateful you did. The last two hours of a wet mess wedding are woeful and the last two hours of a teetotal one are worse.

10. Tell the married couple how much the total bill is before you deliver the photos - give them time to empty their pockets and scrabble around the back of the couch for change. Remember that most newly-weds are so deep in debt as to make them look like the American Congress, and you can be waiting for a payment for aeons - as will their creditors...

There are ten good rules. More at a later date.

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Saturday, January 12, 2013

Fun Buttons - Press Yours Now

Well there are some products in this place that are just purely for fun. You see them and you want them and you can have them but you have to admit that they are just to make your heart sing. Not to be a professional or to be and artist or to impress the girls. Just for fun.

These shutter buttons are in that class - they go onto the cable release sockets of Leicas, Zeiss Ikons, Voigtlanders, and Fujis and you press them down with your finger. Or your nose, at a certain stage of the party...

They might ease the shutter release and give you a smoother shot and less vibration and finer definition and a chocolate milkshake and world peace, but I suspect they are still just to look cool and make you feel happy.
And for $ 19.95 that seems to be a pretty good deal.

Note: The other fun products - the Carl Gustav kit and the box of weasels - are out on loan to one of the private schools - they'll be back in a few weeks.

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Friday, January 11, 2013

Random Fandom - An Armful Of New Stuff

I went through the shop floor just now looking for items to delight and assist you. Little things that i have found helpful in general shooting. Actually I was swanning around avoiding hard work but nevertheless you will like these bits:

1. Stroboframe Press T. Best bracket for the pro on the move with a DSLR. Drops your flash shadow behind the subject and avoids red-eye on long shots.

2. New Promaster 16 Gb CF card. Check out the free waterproof memory card case you get with it. How cool is that!

3. JJC lens hoods. These are bolt-on knock-off copies of Canon, Nikon, and Fuji lenshoods - and there might be other brands possible, for all I know. I use one on the Fuji X-10 and it works fine. Don't be proud!

4. Manfrotto little folding feet that bolt to the bottom of your bridge camera and let you take selfies. Really does work!

5. Cullman small ball head and small quick-release plate to bolt onto the bottom of a mirrorless system camera. No need to have a QR plate that is larger than the camera.

6. Canon camera cases. Aluminium style with pick and pluck foam inside. Sturdy construction with metal licks and hinges. HALF PRICE! Big stack of them at $ 99 and you couldn't go wrong.

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