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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Quickest test drive ever ... Sanho iUSBportCAMERA

I admit it, I am a bit of a dinosaur to you younger photographers. I have seen a lot of progress in the 50 years or so that I have been buying camera gear, some of it great, some terrible. As a working pro I find it necessary to embrace newer technology when it benefits my work, but for myself, I want a simple interface, a short learning curve and of course, the damn thing should work. 

The past year or so there has been a proliferation of devices to offer us remote control of our cameras. First they were wired, then wireless. Canon's top offering is the LC-5 Wireless Controller at over $400. It features an operating distance of up to 300 feet. I can't think of any situation in which I would want to be 300 feet from my camera, especially in any big city, but I am sure wildlife photographers would find it helpful.  The unit has 4 control modes: Single exposure, continuous, test, and a 3 1/5 second delay. It also has control of metering and shutter release. OK, useful, but compared to the new kids on the block this is a very expensive antique, or at least the concept is. 

A short time ago I read about the Sanho iUSBportCamera . This is one of those devices that sits in the accessory shoe, plugs into the mini-usb port and controls your camera through a smartphone or tablet. It has a plethora of features including remote control of a digital SLR with the ability to view and share images through your smartphone or tablet. It has an intervalometer, HDR bracketing and self-timer. Control of shutter speed, aperture, white balance, and ISO. Exposure data with a histogram is displayed and you can see live view images from the camera's LCD--all on a smartphone or tablet. The devices uses wi-fi and has a range of about 50 feet. Not bad at all, especially for the current promotional price of $199.00. All this would be fantastic if it was easy to use and worked without a hitch. It doesn't. 

As I have said several times in this blog, I am a photographer without interest in how stuff works, how it is built, or knowledge of geek-speak. I want to buy whatever it is I need, or think I need. Plug it in or turn it on and watch it work. The manual that comes with this device is not clearly written and the font is too small for eyes over 25 years old. When I could not understand something in the manual I tried to reach Sanho customer service. There is no phone support and a reply to my email took two days. Then, the advice I was given was to download the new manual. I did, it helped, a bit. 

To set up the Wi-Fi communication between the device and the camera you have to find the ISP address for your phone or tablet, no where in the manual where there clear directions on how to do that but I eventually figured it out.  Remembering a string of numbers with dots between them I finally made the link to the iUSBportCAMERA at which point a message appeared that I had to wait as it updated the software. 

When the interface showed up on my iPad I was excited. I thought "how cool is this? I won't have to squat on the ground to get a neat low angle perspective." Picking the focal point by touching the image was a grand idea as well. I am not a fan of HDR so I probably wouldn't use that feature, but I would definitely have use for the timers and other controls. I did a couple of test shots and turned the thing off. The second time I went to use it I had issues. It took several attempts to get it to link to the camera. I had to enter the ISP address yet again. The live-view came up as a grey screen and I could not get anything to work.  I thought about contacting Sanho customer service again, but I wouldn't wait two days for a reply - I guess I am spoiled by Canon's CPS service.  I could have experimented with it, looking to solve the problem, but I was not in the mood to be a beta tester, I just wanted the damn thing to work and it wouldn't. Ten minutes later I sent off an RMA request to B&H. I then went back to B&H listing to read the reviews once more. Out of 7 reviews, too small a sample to start with, 2 were extremely negative and one marginal. I should have followed my own advice - read the negative reviews first. One buyer said he spent a week trying to get the thing to work, at least I didn't do that. I won't spend more than 15 minutes in line to get into a popular restaurant, so there was no way I was going to spend more than the couple of hours I did screwing around with this thing. 

Not Recommended

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Cheetah CL-180 bare bulb flash - long term performance review

It's been about 9 months since I bought my first Cheetah CL-180. I use these battery powered strobes primarily for travel work or for a small studio set-up where my large Profoto strobes are not needed, particularly for close-work on smaller objects, like the crown detail on the watch pictured below.

Last week I was shooting at Caffe Aficionado, a craft coffee shop here in Rosslyn Virginia. I had a space about 6' wide in which to work, adjacent to the barista station. The small profile of the strobes was perfect for this assignment. I set up two CL-180 units, one about 90 degrees the other closer to 45 degrees.  I had the Westcott Octobox on one and the Cheetah collapsible 20" soft box on the other. Unfortunately I didn't have the presence of mind to shoot the set up, but you can see it worked well by the photos below. 

One of the features that comes in handy shooting in a compact situation like this, is the ability to vary the output of the strobes individually without touching the units. The remote on the camera can adjust the receivers on each flash head independently. Up to 16 flash heads on four channels can be controlled by one transmitter. This far exceeds my need of course, but adjusting the light output in .3 f stop increments to adjust the shadows, without approaching the flash heads was sweet.

If there was one thing I could change it would be to make the remote receiver integral. As you can see by the photo below, the outboard placement makes it vulnerable to breakage or loss. 

After all of this time, for me, the Cheetah CL bare bulb flashes are still an ideal solution. They are easy to use, consistent in color and power output and a bit less expensive than some alternatives like Quantum. Cheetah also offers the more powerful CL-360 and has a new rechargeable on-camera flash, the V850 coming out next week. 

Still highly recommended

Thursday, April 10, 2014

CPS - Canon Professional Services VS. Creative Cloud Support

Today's article is not about another piece of equipment or software, but about the support we get from  the companies that sell us all this cool stuff. 

All things being equal, the camera systems I buy are based on the glass I need for my work. About 70% of my work is architecture related, so about 18 months ago, wanting Canon's full rotation 17MM TS-E and 24MM TS-E II lenses, I switched from Nikon to Canon systems. As I did with Nikon before it, I signed up for a CPS membership. Since Adobe has gone to a membership format, I signed up for Creative Cloud and their "enhanced cutomer service."  Let the games begin!

I've called the CPS hot line for a number of reasons so I offer up three examples. I believed I was having an issue with my 17MM lens and sent it in for repair. I figured I would send in the 24MM at the same time (both lenses were about 6 months old) just to have it checked over. The 17MM was fine, my issues were more in the way I was using it than anything else, but they did find an anomaly with the mount on the 24MM, something I had not known about and kept it for repair. While it was waiting for parts they sent a loaner in time for a scheduled assignment.  Shortly thereafter the 24 was back in my hands. Score one for CPS. 

A few weeks ago I called for advice on the best way to use the AI servo to shoot a pro basketball game. Pro sports are not in my wheel house, buildings do not often move, and these images were to be used for my ongoing Washington, D.C.  project. I wanted to be sure I was using the system properly to get the highest number of keeps. Being the dinosaur that I am, I didn't have a grasp on the AI Servo and the various tracking settings. again, I called CPS, talked to a specialist and got the skinny for the best way to shoot it. I got to the arena, picked up my floor pass and got to work.  The advice Canon gave me, along with a couple of tips I picked up from one of the pro sports shooters at the game was spot on. Score another for CPS.   

Canon 1Dx, 200MM 2.8. ISO 6400

Yesterday I was trying to print a portrait of a friend on my Canon Pro-10 printer. This is the one I got bundled with the 6D I bought a few months ago. I had used it a few times and some fairly good landscape prints, but I did notice some color variation compared to the monitor. No matter what I did in trying to adjust everything in Photoshop, it came up a bit off. I gave Canon a call and they suggested that I download Canon's Print Studio Pro, a plug-in for Photoshop. Not only is it a lot easier to use than the print dialog in Photoshop, but it has a nice feature called Pattern Print for determining the best color settings for an image.  In this particular case the skin tones had a magenta cast. Based on the printout below I adjusted the color with a plus 5 setting on both cyan and magenta and a minus 5 on yellow. The print was exactly as I wanted it. Third time's a charm, CPS leads 3 - zip.  

Contrast this to Adobe's support for Creative Cloud. Today's incident was typical of the times I have called while having problems with the Creative Cloud. Dial up and you will press a multiple of keys to get to different menus which are supposed to get your to the right person. I usually end up getting the recording advising me that there is a wait in excess of 24 minutes so I am told to leave a message. Today's call concerned the inability of Lightroom CC to load images from any memory card, from any camera I was using. The import dialog would show on screen, the images would then show for selection, I would check them off, hit import and then get a message that the files could not be read. I would then move over to ACR and load the images without a problem. When the call back came, from India of course, I had to go through three people, holding an average of three minutes each to get transferred, to get the guy that might be able to address my problem. Three times I repeated my name and email address.  The third person put me on hold twice as he researched the issue. While he did that I reinstalled LR Creative Cloud and restarted the computer. By the time he picked up the phone to tell me I had to check the preferences and he was sending me instructions by email telling me how to do it, I had solved the problem. As Adobe's support is offshore, I will mention that I often have a hard time understanding their staff and they often can't understand me. I imagine Adobe does this to save money, unfortunately it shows. Adobe whiffs again, score nothing. If I could I would give them a minus score. Canon 3, Abobe minus 3.  

Canon uses well trained personnel based here in the good ol' USA. I should also mention that I've never had a Canon CPS specialist put me on hold to refer to some database to resolve an issue. If a company offers technical support, it is always nice when the support person knows how to use the product.

All in all, I find Canon Professional Services support the best I have ever experienced and Adobe's Creative Cloud support one of the worst and certainly the most frustrating. In the beginning of this article I wrote that I decide on which camera system to buy based on the glass I need. I'll revise that. I'll buy the camera system based on the glass I need as long as I can use in on a Canon camera.