Category: Gear

Expo Floor (image courtesy PDN PhotoPlus Expo)

I made my annual trek to that dismal tinkertoy creation Javits Center for the biggest annual gathering of photographers and suppliers on the East Coast, PhotoPlus Expo.

The trade show portion is not quite as big as it used to be, probably due to the recent spike in lodging costs in Manhattan and airfare costs in general. However, the number of photographers and their enthusiasm has not diminished. PhotoPlus allows you the rare opportunity to handle all the merchandise, see all the software demonstrated, and check out the newest publications and services, with people on hand who can comprehensively answer questions and gather feedback. Some of the most personal gear decisions, such as what bag to carry and which tripod is right for your purpose, can best be made by actually trying out all the options in person, and no bricks and mortar camera store stocks everything. Innovators can get your attention without having to compete with all the white noise on the internet and the biases of retailers heavily invested in the status quo, figuratively and literally.

I visited Olympus immediately to put my hands on the new EM1. The mood in the booth was electric; Olympus took the risk of announcing the camera in advance of the show, and it paid off, as uniformly positive reviews pushed traffic to the booth. I overheard one woman saying “I didn’t feel like my Canon M was up to shooting that assignment in Paris, but I would have taken this one in a heartbeat.” I met the head of the Olympus Visionary program, and she introduced me to my “local” visionary, Victor Rodriguez, who will be presenting to our camera club later in the year, I hope. (I also ran into visionary David Wells, whom I met in Amherst last year, at SNYC.)  I did handle the EM1, a very pocketbook-endangering experience. The camera balances solidly in the hand, and the new pro lens (12-40mm f/2.8, to be joined by a 40-150 f/2.8 next year) has that wonderful machined feel as well. I am no fan of electronic viewfinders, but the Epson unit on the EM-1 is acceptable for most uses.

I also stopped by c’t digital photography, who publish the best technically oriented photo magazine out there and the comprehensive and attractive Rocky Nook books. The folks from Santa Barbara were, as usual, friendly and engaging. I also stopped by Focal Press to catch up with Sloane Stinson and thank them for their generous club programs. I looked at the books on display that I had not noticed on the

In the past few years, ink jet printing has progressed to the point where gallery class printing is available to photographers who print themselves. To that end, I approached several vendors including Moab, Hahnemühle, Red River, and Carson, who all agreed to contribute sample papers if I created a printing education program for our local clubs. Epson said their local dealer network would likely be interested in helping us run it.

I no longer take the seminars offered by PDN at the Expo. Now that ample instruction is available via Lynda, Kelby and Creative Live for a cost ranging from free to reasonable, I find it silly to spend for two hours as much as I would spend for a downloaded three day course from CL or three months of Kelby or Lynda. The PDN seminars are not intimate enough to earn the premium. There was even a free alternative just down the street.

Interactive Shoot-NYC Demo Area

Interactive Shoot-NYC Demo Area

Intimate seminars

Intimate seminars (photos courtesy Broncolor Shoot-NYC)

That was Shoot-NYC, two free days of seminars and demos sponsored by Hasselblad and Broncolor. It’s not for everyone – the emphasis fell on studio, location, and corporate photography. and its promotion of a very expensive camera and high end studio lighting gear was unabashed. The purpose is to introduce emerging photographers to their gear and to solid studio and business practices. Serious professionals know that it is the archer not the arrows that matters, but HasselBron realizes that your job is easier if you have a reliable bow on your shoulder and straight arrows in your quiver. Photography is problem-solving, and the more you can concentrate on solving photographic quandaries, not dealing with technical shortcomings, the better.

The Shoot-NYC seminars feature dynamic presenters, and the converted warehouse building and its cramped rooms, is more intimate that what you find at a Javits seminar. With only two classrooms and a small trade floor sandwiched in between, you get to spend a lot of time with the teachers and seasoned pros. The gear is pretty intimidating, but it is nice to see what is available and what it is capable of producing. I left with loads of ideas.

I had a great two days in New York with minimal damage to my wallet, though the knock-on effect of my visit to the Olympus booth has yet to materialize.


© 2010 Rocky Nook

240 pages

ISBN: 978-1-933952-56-7

Price: $39.95 (French flapped paperback)

I obtained this book in advance of a trip to Yellowstone National Park. Having never shot wildlife before, I was looking for some guidance.

The author is clear in his foreword that this book emerges from his experiences as a professional photographer and workshop guide in the Serengeti region of East Africa. The book is obviously of greatest utility to those who are planning a trip to that region, as much of the text details the natural features and wildlife there, but nearly a quarter of the book deals with general concepts of wildlife photography that apply to a wide variety of situations outside of East Africa. The part of the book that deals specifically with the Serengeti is useful as well. By following the author’s careful planning and execution of a successful safari shoot, one can develop one’s own method of researching the venue and local wildlife, as well as the practical matters, such as transportation, permissions, time of day, and applicable regulations.

The section on equipment, as with all books of this sort, is the weakest. With quickly advancing camera technology, the specific gear cited is soon outdated. Skrzypczak usefully ties specific recommendations to general principles (range of focal lengths, dynamic range, speed, depth of field, noise), but he often indulges in unsubstantiated generalities – was the 2007 generation of APS-C digital cameras really considered by anyone to be equivalent to 4.5×6 cm roll film? – and sometimes is downright wrong, as when he says that vibration reduction in lenses “increases the brightness of the lens by up to four additional f-stops.” On the plus side, he does alert the potential wildlife shooter that the enterprise costs big money, and that a lower budget means making hard choices, as does the need to travel light.

The sections on technique and composition are where the book really shines. Skrzypczak’s explanation of the use of the various autofocus options is the best I have ever encountered, and he includes a helpful graphic with each photograph in the book indicating which AF choice is best for each situation.  Similarly, each of his excellent technical and composition suggestions is put into practice in the chapters of the book which narrate his photography during each of the seasons of the year. The importance of learning the behavior of the wildlife also moves into the foreground, as that knowledge contributes both to the opportunities afforded to get the best shots and the safety of the photographer and the animals themselves. Also, as I always say, photography is problem solving, and seeing how he copes with tricky situations makes the reader a nimbler shooter. Protect highlights or let them go? Subject close up or in context? Background sharp or blurred? Preserve textures or edges? Shoot fast or wait?  One learns how to make all these choices instinctively, which becomes valuable when opportunities are fleeting and time tight.

The prose is clumsy and wooden in spots, but generally serviceable. The book was originally published in Germany, so I suspect that either the author or an editor translated it. The excellent photographs and the marvelous balance of informative text and images make the safari chapters the sort of narrative that one can dip into for a page or just an image at a time, if one likes, or read all the way through for a thorough idea of how an expert shoots wildlife.

I would warn the casual wildlife photographer away, but there is no such thing. This sort of shooting requires serious preparation and substantial financial investment in travel, guides, and gear, either through purchases or rentals. Anyone ready to take on a serious wildlife excursion would definitely benefit from this resource.


Metz Regrets

When you do research on gear, make sure you read the forums, not just the reviews (commercial or blogged). Reviewers compare features, take first impressions, run a product through its paces, and take its specs. Reviews are informative, but not comprehensive.

If you are in business or are careful with your money, one item is missing from most reviews that proves crucial: real cost of ownership. Most of the “one light” movement proponents gloss over this facet, largely because it is in the end the biggest argument for not investing in expensive on-camera flashes.

Packing all that lighting and electronic power in such a small package is a recipe for trouble. Anyone who has ever used a speedlight type flash knows that they heat up, many times shutting themselves off, eventually burning themselves out. They are great for situations where monolights and studio strobes are not practical, but in no way can they replace them, especially in terms of cost. No one discusses the Mean Time Between Failure on these units when you are buying them, but  if you take a look at flash discussion forums, it is a very prominent topic when the gear is actually central to a photographer’s work. They burn out. They break when dropped. They short out if wet.

I do not use my hot shoe camera flash unit very often – it is a great tool to have in a pinch, but not central to what I do, which does not include weddings and events.

So, when my Metz 58 AF-2 stopped charging up, I was in for a shock. When I went online, hoping the problem had a simple fix, I was shocked to find out that the repair cost other people about $175 and service was not prompt. I confirmed on the phone – they gave me a soft estimate of $171. The flash, even used, is worth twice that, so I decided to do it, but wait, as I heard that Manfrotto, who distributes Metz in the US was moving their repair facility. I had my trusty FL-36, less powerful and not IR-enabled, as backup, and it would do in the meantime.

What a mistake. CRIS Services, the new provider, turned out to be a complete disaster. I sent my flash out to Arizona on a Friday by Priority Mail, and it arrived the following Monday. I called on Friday, when I hadn’t heard anything, and they said I would hear “Monday or Tuesday.” What? It could take them over a week to do a diagnostic that takes 15 minutes at the outside? If 50 flashes come in a day, then 50 estimates should go out within a day; otherwise you are understaffed or incompetent.

I called late on Tuesday after I heard nothing, and the nice fellow in Customer Service said that he had my estimate on the computer. $278!!!!!! I can get one for $400 new, and for about the repair charge used. He said it was the cost of Metz parts (1 board and the tube) that drove the price. That’s a bit hard to swallow since the people who said they had the same components repaired a year earlier were quoted a much lower price. I know someone in electronics – printed circuit boards are cheap, and you pay for the R&D when you initially buy the flash.

Obviously, I told them to send it back. Their flashes are essentially high-priced disposables. BYW, it has been nine days since they said they shipped it and I haven’t received it yet.

To repair an equivalent problem with the Olympus FL50 would cost about $130. A Nikon $95-125. Canon $99-175. You get a range with Nikon and Canon because there are third party repair shops. None of them will touch a Metz, which should tell you something. One might quibble about whether the repairs quoted are equivalent, but many posters stated that they were told that either there was a flat charge for repair or a very narrow range of costs for a given unit. Flash repair is dangerous, and not recommended for consumers, so one expects it to be expensive, but more than one person has insinuated that costs have less to do with parts and labor than what the market can bear.

If I had taken into consideration all the real costs of ownership, including product life and repair cost, I would have saved myself a whole lot of grief and money. The Metz looked great on the front end, but the back end was a killer.

I complained to Vitek/Manfrotto about the service, and they have given me the direct number to call about this issue. I’ll keep you posted.

%d bloggers like this: