Monday, November 30, 2015

A Firm Delight From Olympus - New Firmware Updates

Users of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and OM-D E-M5 Mk II will be pleased to see that Olympus will release new firmware updates for their cameras.

 For the OM-D E-M1 the new version is v4.0 and will give the following:

24 and 25 fps frame rates for video recording
FOcus Stacking and Bracketing
Silent Electronic shutter mode
4K Video Time Lapse
Simulated Optical Viewfinder

The users of the OM-D E-M5 MkII will get v2.0 and will see

Flat Picture Mode for video
Video noise filter
Focus Bracketing
Synchronised sound recording with the Olympus LS-100

If you are a user of Olympus Capture you will get v1.1
Faster tethered data transfer speeds
Keystone compensation
Super Control Panel Interface.

There are going to be updates for all Zuiko POR and Premium lenses.

As you will know by now the process of updating firmware is a standard part of digital photography with good cameras and lenses. It's not hard to do and delivers the latest tech improvements to the gear you already own - and for free. That is a price that nearly everybody can afford...

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Seven Legs And Three Heads

Okay - what has seven legs and three heads and is 15% to 35% cheaper this week than last week?

Simple -  two Manfrotto tripods and a monopod. I mean, what did you expect - this is a camera shop, not a zoo.

The first of the tripod kits is aimed at the studio worker who needs to support a medium-size DSLR with a large size zoom lens - and needs to do strange things with it. Manfrotto have come up with the MK190XPro4-3W kit - and if you can pronounce that in one go you are legally sober.

It has four-section legs with clip locks, a centre column that not only rises but also extends out to the side, and a three-way tripod head. All suitable for careful studio work and such technical jobs as art and document copying work. The normal cost for this Manfrotto kit would be $ 649 - Camera Electronic have secured a supply that can be sold for $ 399.

If you are heading out to the outdoors where they keep the landscapes and want to carry a lighter tripod with the same sturdiness - and don't need the horizontal centre column - they have the MK190X3BH kit ready for you. Thats a ball and socket head rather than 3-way to save on weight and space while you are hiking. These normally sell for $ 480 but here again there are some for Christmas at $ 299.

Last of all is the versatile monopod - the sturdy Manfrotto 680B with the addition of the 234 Rc tilting monopod head. It is the version equipped with the standard Manfrotto quick release plate - the 200-PL - so that it can interchange with all the other Manfrotto gear quickly. Here the normal price of $ 200 drops to $ 169.

These photo supports are what you need to make the most of your camera's sensor - modern equipment performs far better when there is a good old-fashioned tripod underneath it - steadiness need not be made electronically - it can be done with simple geometry. And just now it can be done much cheaper.

Note: Yes, I know it's red. It's meant to be red. This is Italian equipment. Trust me. You'll love it.

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Friday, November 27, 2015

Twenty Experiments For The Artist

Experimental art is something that breaks the boundaries. So does a Swiss post-bus going out of control down a mountain. Your appreciation of it is related to whether you are above watching it leave or below watching it arrive...

Not all of us are experimenters - some of us are timid, preferring the safe haven of established procedures to the wild seas of new experience. And that is about as much colourful imagery from me as you can stand.

We're selling paper. Ilford paper for inkjet printers. Heaven knows we sell a lot of it, because the stuff we sell is standard paper that works pretty much every time.

Oh, you can still fail - you can have horrible uncontrolled images in your computer and send them to your printer in a horrible uncontrolled way and get hideous results. But that is a matter of morality and screen calibration - we sell calibrators and there are people who can teach you morality. Ilford just provides good paper.

The types we sell most of are their Galerie Smooth Pearl and Smooth Gloss. Get within a coo-ee of the right colour management and use fresh ink and you'll never be disappointed in the results. That's a given.

But if you wish to try your eye, luck, and ink on a bit more artistic result, you may want to try different surfaces and consistencies in the paper - specifically you may want to print on matt paper with dedicated black ink. Some images become perfect in this way, but you might need to try it out in several ways before settling on the best choice for you. Here's where Ilford help - they sell a test-pack for fine-art printing and you can see in A4 size what your printing chain is capable of.

The pack has 20 sheets - 5 each of the following:

Galerie Cotton Artist Textured
Galerie Gold Fibre Gloss
Galerie Textured Cotton Rag
Galerie Smooth Cotton Rag

They are all 310 gsm and vary in resolution. Obviously the Gold Fibre Gloss has the finest resolution as it is intended to run with gloss ink  - the others are matt. You can download printing profiles for these easily from the instruction sheet packed with the paper.

5 sheets is enough to dabble a couple of times with tones and brightness and still leave enough paper to produce a series of prints that can be compared one with the other. Every printer eventually has a mental image of what they wish to achieve and this is a good way to show yourself the possibilities on your actual machine. It might not be fine art, but it can be helpful art.

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Spotlight On Value - Elinchrom

Oyez Oyez Oyez. All ye who have Elinchrom studio strobe kits draw night and give heed.

Sometimes you need to draw attention to a studio subject in no uncertain terms. Painting them with fluoro orange and suspending them from the ceiling can do it but required more of a supporting structure than you may be able to manage - at least in the average living room. Bedroom, maybe, but...

A better ruse is to spotlight the subject - and the spotlight is something of a rarity these days. You can still get the hot light variety - go google up Mole-Richardson and marvel at the 20th century appearance of the light unit and the 22nd century appearance of the price. Hollywood might have been cheap but it was never inexpensive.

For those using Elinchrom studio lights there is a better way - the Mini Spot Lite attachment. It bayonets right on there like all the other light modifiers do. And then you get to play a lot more with it than you do with the standard bowl reflectors or grids. The Mini Spot Lite has an optical system built in.

The central tube of the Mini Spot has a focussing lens  - it is slid back and forth manually but can be locked into place with a thumb screw. It literally focuses the light of the flash to a certain plane out in front of the strobe - the same way a slide projector focuses upon a screen. It can focus plain light for a small round spot, or...

Or you can interpose a diaphragm in the correct optical point in the light path and have the Mini Spot project an image of that diaphragm. The gate is loaded with a two-part filter holder that sandwiches a circular plate in position. Elinchrom provide metal plates with some fun patterns laser-cut into them. There are two window patterns, a tree pattern, and a plain spot. You can easily cut additional diaphragms in whatever pattern you require - I made stars, crescents, and reverse spots myself. Your limited only by your imagination.

If you project the spot onto a backdrop you can give  a Hollywood feel to a set. You can project pattens on people. You can put moons and suns in the sky. If Hurrell could do can.

Lights. Camera. Action.

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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Closing The Barn Doors Before The Lightning Bolts - Elinchrom

Users of Elinchrom studio flash units please draw up a chair and sit down - this one is for you. Visitors who use other systems may sit in and pick as much out of it as they can.

I used to use as much light in a studio to take picture as I possibly could. Pushing the sliders up to the top on the Elinchrm EL 500  and 250 units was common and when they went off it looked like Alamagordo. I got up to 5 Elinchrom heads and had to start wearing a Royal Navy flash hood and gloves before pressing the trigger. Floor tiles were buckling from the heat...

This was in the days of trying to shoot time-expired X-ray film as sheet film with f stops in the 128 region. Please don't ask me why in case I figure out an answer...

Nowadays with the Fujifilm cameras and their ability to do jpegs to order, I rarely even use two of the 250 w/s. heads, and when I do I am very economical with the light. It passes through a number of mazes before it gets to the model and after that I do my best to scoop it up again and feed it back into the electricity grid.

The standard 21 cm reflector is the one that lets me employ the barn doors. Elinchrom have made the barn door holder into a dual-use device. You can put on barn doors of various types - and you can put them on all four sided of the holder if you want to - and you can utilise the holder as a way of adding honeycomb grids or gels to the light at the same time.

I reserve the honeycombs for the 18cm reflectors but have made up a varied set of gels from Lee filter material - the heat resistant variety - to add spice to the glamour girl pictures. The same sliding rails that support my home-made gel holders are the place where the Elinchrom-made honeycombs slide in.

Do the barn doors completely trap the light? No - they never do, no matter which brand you get. there always has to be a place with standard barn doors where the two elements meet and it is never light-tight. However, , when you need to shield the backdrop or other elements of the scene from the blast of the strobe it is certainly possible to flag off the light with Foam Core board or matt board attached to the metal barn doors. I have a box full of varied terry clips to do this and as long as the flag does not need to be too big it works a treat. If you need a full size board as a flag you are better off using a Manfrotto grip designed for the purpose and positioning it with a separate light stand.

And occasionally you need an assistant standing on one foot with both arms in the air and a strained look on their face to absorb the light. Disregard their language as they are under stress...

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Catch Of The Day Competition

I am writing this under duress. Normally I do not approach the subject of fishing as it is the source of many painful memories*. But the Code Of The Hack Writers is firm on the point; you must tell the story no matter what it costs.

Camera Electronics is sponsoring a grand prize for a picture of the Catch of the Day as adjudged by Red FM. They are a commercial from that apparently has more wireless stations in the Northwest than the USN. And they are running a Catch of the Day competition at the following web address:

There is an easy-enter form there and a method of sending them a picture of your piscine success.

The prizes are fishing-related as well -  a number of Shimano lures and the grand prize of a GoPro from us. Do give it a try.

* All right, if you insist. It was during the Canadian salmon run. We were constructing a dam in Alberta that had a diversion channel on a river and a number of salmon ladders built into it. The local Mounties gave the company kids permission to have one afternoon fishing on the ladder ponds with one fish apiece. We all got taken onto the site by our dads and set out alongside the ladder. The other kids had poles, lines, and smooth hooks so that the fish could be unhooked and thrown back if they were unsuitable. Every kid caught about a dozen before they settle of one to take home. I did exactly what they did with exactly the same gear and nothing...NOTHING...bit all afternoon. Not a nibble. They were hauling them out with bent pins on wrapping twine. For me...nothing. I took it as a message from heaven. Ever since then I fish at Kailis' with a credit card.

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Staggering Through The Darkness With The New Lee Filters

Well it is strange, isn't it. For a hundred and fifty-odd years  photographers have been trying to get more sensitivity out of their recording surface - sensitising plates, using speed-increasing developers. pre-flashing plates, etc. Developing flash power, flash bulbs, and eventually electronic flash to a very sophisticated level. Making lenses with wider and wider apertures...

And then Lee come along and clap a dirty great black sheet of plastic in front of all the other developments and ten stops of light disappear. People are thrown back to heavy tripods, cable releases and counting their exposure times on their fingers...

The power of fashion, eh? Well, what the heck, Misty waterfalls, glassy oceans, deserted streets - it's almost like Grand Final Day at 2:00 or Christmas Eve in the workhouse.

Up until now many of the fancier wide angle lenses that people wanted to use for landscapes and interiors were handicapped by the design of their front elements. They bulged forward in such an alarming fashion that no filters could be put on. Heretofore in this class of optic only the Nikon 14-24mm f:2.8G ED lens was catered for  - Lee made a holder kit called the SW 150 and a matching set of filters for it. Big. Really big. But everyone wanted graduated neutral density filters for landscape, so the kit sold well.

Now the range that can be catered to has enlarged with the Lee SW 150 Mk II. The following lenses can match to this filter holder:

Nikon 14-24mm F:2.8G ED
Nikon 14mmF:2.8D AF ED
Canon 11-24mm
Samyang 14mm f:2.8
Sigma 12-24mm f:4.5-5.6 DG
Tamron 13-30mm f:2.8
Tokina AT-X 16-28mm

The filters are the 150 size and you can get a variety including the popular graduated Neutral density and the very dark Big Stopper.

As well as the additional mountings, there is an improvement to the rig with the inclusion of a rear light shield in the basic pack. It makes sure that there is no light bouncing from the sides or back of the holder to give ghost images or flare that degrades the image. Of course there is the classic foam sealing of the Big Stopper filter contributing to this glare protection.

The picture of the Big Stopper is not just gratuitous advertising for my little studio - it uses a standardised business card to let you see just how big the dark filter actually is. That's a serious piece of plastic in that tin box!

The devices to which these filters fasten are large. The lenses to which the filter is fastened are large. The camera bodies to which the lenses are attached are large. Hopefully the wise photographer will also realise that they need a sturdy and ( large) tripod to support the whole. And they will be going out a long way on difficult tracks to take pictures of landscape...because that is where they keep the landscape. Good luck troops, and ignore that chuckling sound coming from inside the studio as you head out into the rain.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Electric Ears Get Smaller

The video shooters amongst us - and there are more every year - are a versatile lot. We see them come into the shop for a variety of equipment and accessories that were frankly unheard-of a decade ago. Apart from odd tapes, monitors, and aluminium Jungle Gyms...also known as video rigs...they need microphones.

We've had some beauties - big things from Sennheiser and Røde. Stereo, mono, shotgun, cardioid, powered, non-powered, and a variety of sizes. Many were intended to go on top of quite large DSLR cameras and featured complex suspension mechanisms. Some were quite daunting.

Well, mirror-less cameras are here and mobile phones and tablets with recorders have become quite fashionable. And they are capable of quite decent sound recording...but they are sometimes let down by their in-built microphones. It's not surprising, really - the internal mics are close to all the noisemaking electronics and mechanicals in the camera and close to the noisy hands and fingers that are operating it. A stray puff of wind can make a roar like an express train*.

Mirror-less in most cases means a smaller camera. This in turn may make a larger microphone hard to handle - or maybe it is the other way around - the whole rig becomes quite clumsy. Røde have now introduced two solutions:

1. The Røde Video Micro is intended for mirror-less cameras with a hot shoe, Rycote Lyre suspension mount , and a jack plug feed off the rear of the unit into the side port of the camera. A furry windshield is included in the package for increased wind resistance. The whole thing is less than half the size of other Røde microphones and sits well within the profile of the smaller cameras. At $ 79 it is not a bank breaker.

2. The Røde VideoMic Me is what I suspect to be the same basic capsule and body of microphone as the previous item, but with a dedicated mount for the Apple iPhone and iPad. The fact that it plugs into the side of the smart device while pointing forward means that there is a spare socket at the rear of the unit like the Video Micro. In this case it is plugged for a headphone play-through jack. Furry blob windshield is also included in the box. Again only $ 79.

If you'd like to hear the microphones in operation please go to the Røde site:   or

They're in stock at Camera Electronic right now.

*Do any of the children know what an express train is...?

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Getting A Leg Up In The World

No-one needs a monopod - provided they are not using a camera with a long lens on it to take pictures in dim light or over a long period of time. Or if they are not standing in the rain at a soccer game with a long zoom, or perched on the edge of a cliff following surfers, or standing on a Pelican case taking pictures of belly dancers for four hours...they can dismiss this column with a wave of their fingers. The fingers that are not numb from holding up a giant lens for four hours...

The rest of us would do well to listen up. If we are doing any of those things, the monopod is a very good idea indeed. It puts the weight of equipment that you were foolish enough to think you needed onto the ground rather than onto your forearms. You can swivel for the surfer, ball, or dancer by simply twisting about and no funny ball head or AA gun mounts are needed. You can have one hand free to scratch your nose, search for a hanky, or answer the phone while the other one and the monopod keep the assembly balanced*.

You can lean over in a crowd and prod people off balance with one. A particularly rewarding activity if you screw the rubber foot back into the body of the monopod to expose the sharp metal tip.

It doesn't have to be massive to be useful. The Promaster 1100 monopod is a three-section leg with clip locks and a rubber foot that you can take nearly anywhere. It has a sstandard 1/4" screw on the top and a wrist strap. It has a lifetime guarantee.

You could pair it up with any mirror-less or medium-sized enthusiast's camera and carry the outfit all day in comfort. You could also pack the camera away and use the monopod to jab your way out of embarrassing situations. Hey, it's your photography...

Also comes with a free shoulder bag for when you are travelling and is being sold for 25% off right now.

* Keep the camera strap over your neck for when you forget and let go with BOTH hands.

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Monday, November 23, 2015

A Word To The Wise Traveller - Tourist GST Refunds

The TRS is not a failed English fighter plane project - you are thinking of the TSR.

The TRS is the Tourist Refund Scheme - the government initiative to boost sales here in Australia by allowing genuine travellers a rebate of their GST when they depart from the country. It has definite rules about how much you need to buy, how and when you need to buy it, and what the limits are on what you get back.

There are dedicated desks and staff to deal with this at most Australian airports that have an overseas flow-through. In Perth it is after you pass all the security business and have your shoes and belt back on, so at least you have recovered a modicum of dignity. It apparently all goes pretty smoothly when the stream of hopefuls is thin.

When times are busy, however, long lines may form and the staff may not be able to cope with the rush - this is worry for the travellers because they too are on a timed schedule...

To speed things up an app has been introduced for those people with smart mobile phones. If you can use this sort of help and have a phone that will do it, it would be a good idea to load the app well before you travel. Then there is no anxiety at the airport about not getting your registration and transaction done on time. No-one likes to be the last to board the plane under the glare of the flight attendants and the rest of the passengers - you might not see the drinks trolley all flight. Even more awkward for those who arrive after the cabin doors are armed and cross-checked. They put a folding chair out on the wing for you and tell you to hang on...

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Plugs, Lumps, Spigots, And Screws

Sounds like a Disney movie title, doesn't it - possibly starring the corpses of Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews bolted together.

No, as we are featuring columns dedicated to expounding the Manfrotto Way Of The Studio we must not neglect the smaller bits - because they are what ties the whole thing together. In fact, these are the items that you most frequently tip out the storage drawer to find when you are working. Let's go by the numbers:

118 - the Short 5/8 Spigot with male threads on the ends. You get a 1/4" on one end and a 3/8" on the other. If you are only used to working in metric measurements try not to hyperventilate - photography still has a lot of imperial measurements as common currency.

Light stand spigots are 5/8" and proud of it, even if they come from Italy. The wonderful thing is that even if the designs get ripped off by oriental manufacturers - and they do, they do - the size is still kept to 5/8". Nearly everything fits with nearly everything else.

These spigots can marry lots of things to 035 Super Clamps and also stack some of the more modern mini-monitor screens onto video rigs.* the hole in the middle of the brass spigot is to allow you to put a dog bar in there and tighten or loosen the spigot.

119 - this is related to the 118 - it is the Adapter Spigot with 3/8" and 1/4" threaded holes in opposite ends of the brass. You can pop it into the socket of an umbrella holder and put that on a tripod rather than a light stand.

125 and 147 - look carefully at the part and the packaging as these look very similar - they are a two-ended bolt . The 147 is 3/8" and 1/4" and the 125 is two 3/8" ends back to back. Here again these can be used to secure video monitors to rigs or cameras to flat bars.

061 is the odd-looking piece of the group. An aluminium casting with what looks to be a rough surface - or maybe it is machined out of a hexagonal bar. In any case it is called a Joining Stud and has the specific job of allowing you to join two of the 035 Super Clamps back to back. Then you can clamp off big things at a number of different angles.

There are no specific numbers for the last two items but people using Manfrotto quick release plates will recognise them as the screws that go from the plate to the camera - one is 1/4" and one is 3/8". You'll recognise them because you managed to lose one...come into the shop and buy another...

* Video rigs are like early mammals - still evolving with no-one actually certain what the final creature will look like. Expect tusks and a prehensile tail...

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Friday, November 20, 2015

The Best Thing About Rental Is When You Take The Stuff Back


What kind of a statement is that for an shop blog? What sort of advertisement does that make? Are you insane?

Nope. Sane and sober and closely shaved. Even smell good. And the thought is also a good one. Follow me along....

I used to take pictures of glamour girls and dancers. A lot of the pictures were taken on the Flapoflex camera with the deadly sharp Flaponar lenses. They showed all the wrinkles on the girls and they complained. I was losing business - so I bought a Mugugaipan Portrait lens with the variable fluffy aperture and the autojiggler circuit - and used it for about a year while the fashion for soft dancer photos was current. It was eye-wateringly expensive at the time but I figured I would eventually make the money back.

Then the fashion changed. An international superstar iconic legend photographer got a big feature in Australian Photo Wannabee magazine and everything had to be razor sharp, high-def, and with the contrast turned up to 87. My Mugugaipan lens was worthless as a money-maker. I tried to sell it at the shop, on eBay, and on Gumtree and the best offer I got was to go and do something rude with it.

I reflected that I had made a business error - putting my real money into something that was unreal - the fashionable image. What I really should have done was to be realistic - I could have come into Camera Electronic on the occasions when I had booked a wrinkled dancer and rented their Mugugaipan for the weekend.

I would have gotten all the pictures I needed in about four rentals in that year, and had none of the capital investment vanish. Each time I could have taken the Mugugaipan back with a clear conscience and the chance that it would be the last time it was needed. I did not need to own the Mugu - just use it four times.

The change in fashion is a factor that we cannot control - neither can we sometimes control our own tastes or the way in which our vision develops. It is no good having a closet full of gear that we have outgrown, or never grew into. Will ye or nil ye with the new lens or camera - curb your desires sensibly - rent it for enough times to find out if it is useful to you, and try not to hold onto it one minute longer than it pays you to.

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The Electronic Block Head

 You're not going to get Leica SL all week - here's a column about something else entirely.

Today's cameras use a lot of batteries - particularly if the user:

1. Shoots lots of video.

2. Reviews every single image for five seconds.

3. Takes 5000 images when 5 would do.

Take the gentle scolding as you like, but if you are using a lot of Sony or Olympus battery power these days you are doing a lot of charging - and the little battery chargers that you get with the cameras can only deal with one circumstance at a time. Unless you are prepared to get up repeatedly and change batteries, all night, you need help. Here's Hahnel help.

The Pro Cube is a power block that can be configured to charge tow lithium ion batteries at one time. It is 12V DC in or connection to a USB portout. The blocks themselves are interchangeable to allow for the following batteries:

2 Sony NP FW 50
2 Olympus BNL-1
2 Olympus BLS-5
2 Sony NP BX-1
4 rechargeable AA
many mobile phones and smart tablet batteries inside their own casings - that's the USB connection

As you'll see from the open box, there is a pin connector that allows each module to get the proper voltage from the basic electronics inside. You access it with a small pin or paper clip and each rack clips in or out. The AA plate drops onto the top of the cube and sticks there with a couple of samarium magnets.

There's a small LCD screen with a diagram to let you monitor the charge state.

Well-built - metal casing and all, and comes with AC plug as well as a car cigar lighter connection.

Hats off to Hahnel for capitalising upon the need for battery charge - they save more people each year.

STOP SCREEN! The shop now has these Hahnel products that are suitable for Nikon batteries too! Different colour pack but same product. Ask the boys for a look at them.

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