Monday, February 26, 2007

Luminous Landscape: Lightroom Video Tutorial

The Luminous Landscape is a web site that I have been visiting regularly for some time now. It is an excellent resource on photography in many ways. Michael Reichmann, the creator of The Luminous Landscape, also puts out an excellent Video Journal. Several months back, I subscribed to the Luminous Landscape Video Journal and I have been very happy with the content he puts out.

Along these lines, Michael Reichmann has produced a video tutorial for Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 1.0 that is available here. The video tutorial costs $14.95 to download. It is well worth the investment. The tutorial will eventually be about 4.5 hours in 10 segments. Right now, three segments are available with the others being available as soon as they are finished. If you are using Lightroom, this is a great way to learn how to use the software. I highly recommend this video tutorial.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Still and Video Convergence

I frequent the Apple Pro section on their web site that shows how people are using Apple equipment and technology in their professions. Most of the Pro section deals with media of one type or another. A recent profile deals with the Washington Post and its online presence. While the clip itself is very interesting, it also shows how still photography and videography are integrated more and more often in our media-filled world of today.

In the sequence, there were a number of times where it seemed that five or six still shots were taken and then used something like multiple frames in a video. Interesting how this keeps happening. Another site that has great content is MediaStorm. This site focuses on using still images with music and narration added. I should warn you that some of the content is disturbing and explicit in showing the awful realities of life in some places but it is very powerful. The presentation on AIDS comes to mind. The best presentation on the site at this point is Kingsley's Crossing. There is no objectionable content in that presentation but it is extremely compelling. I highly recommend you go and take a look.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Pentax 645N Lenses

The Pentax press release that came out regarding the Pentax 645 Digital being shown at PMA caused me to start thinking about what lenses I am interested in for the 645 Digital. I started looking through the lineup and a few choices came to mind.

Of course, Pentax has a nice lineup of 645 prime lenses. While I really like prime lenses, it is hard to beat a few zoom lenses for versatility. Because of this, I am going to concentrate primarily on zoom lenses to begin with.

Pentax makes several autofocus zoom lenses for the 645N series. These include the FA645 33-55mm f/4.5, FA645 45-85mm f/4.5, FA645 55-110mm f/5.6, FA645 80-160mm f/4.5, and FA645 150-300mm f/5.6. It seems as though the 645 Digital will have a smaller than 6cm x 4.5cm sensor which means that lenses will be effectively slightly longer in focal length as compared to using film. Because of this, the wider you can get, the better. That means the first lens on my list is the FA645 33-55mm f/4.5 lens. Another slightly longer lens is needed as well and to avoid overlap, I would choose the FA645 55-110mm f/5.6 lens. Both of these lenses are very compact and fairly easy to carry around. Once you get up to the FA645 80-160mm f/4.5 and FA645 150-300mm f/5.6 lenses, everything gets bigger and heavier.

More than likely, my initial kit will consist of the 645 Digital with D FA645 55mm f/2.8 lens along with the FA645 33-55mm f/4.5 and FA645 55-110mm f/5.6 lenses. Unfortunately, there is still some time to wait before the 645 Digital becomes available but I am going to start dreaming now. We may be surprised by some more lenses for the 645 that are optimized for digital coming up on the horizon but only time will tell. I am looking forward to the 645 Digital whatever the wait.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Lightroom for the Wedding

I purchased Adobe Photoshop Lightroom on Monday night. I figured this might be a good time to try it out because I just shot a wedding on Sunday that I mentioned in a previous post.

One of the issues with this wedding was the very low light level. I was using some fill flash but I ended up with some blown highlights for the before-wedding portraits. I imported my 999 images into Apple's Aperture first but I was a little disappointed in the blown highlights. Because of this and my interest in Lightroom, I decided to put it to the test.

I imported the same 999 images into Lightroom to see what it could do. I was immediately surprised to see how much better Lightroom deals with blown highlights. To be fair, Adobe Camera Raw has always had about the best ability to recover blown highlights and since Lightroom is based on this same engine, it does a great job. Also, Pentax K10D support is not finalized in Mac OS X and so these results could change when Mac OS X 10.4.9 comes out.

I was very happy with the results from Lightroom. For this job, I am going to use Lightroom for the conversions. From some reviews I have read, it seems that Lightroom tends to not have as much saturation in its RAW conversions as compared to other RAW converters including Aperture. This is just the ticket for wedding pictures. You do not want oversaturated pictures of people. They are not flattering. This is akin to using Kodak Portra NC film for weddings while Fujifilm Velvia might be a better choice for nature.

I think this lower saturation helps the look of the images in a wedding setting but I may not like it as much for nature. I have not had a chance to try it for nature shots just yet. I still love Aperture and will not be deserting it for some time. We shall see which one wins out. My feeling is that this will be a case where I will use both applications for different purposes.

I will have some more information regarding the Pentax K10D RAW files in Aperture and Lightroom once Mac OS X 10.4.9 is released which should provide full support for Pentax K10D and K100D RAW files.

PMA 2007: Pentax 645 Digital and other DA Lenses

There is more exciting information on the Pentax front for PMA 2007. A Norwegian site mentions that Pentax will be exhibiting the 645 Digital camera with a new medium format Pentax-D FA645 55mm f/2.8 lens. The 645 Digital will be 31.6 megapixels using a Kodak CCD. This information is tentative and no release date has been given but this is great news all the way around!

More exciting news revolves around some new DA lenses that will be available late in 2007. The DA* 200mm f/2.8 SDM and DA* 300mm f/4.0 SDM lenses should be available in September 2007. This is great news that Pentax is getting back into the telephoto market. As well, a new DA* 60-250mm f/4.0 SDM lens has been announced and should be available around December 2007. The names of these lenses and their delivery dates have not been finalized and so this information is tentative but encouraging. Update: These lenses are DA* lenses which should mean that they are weather sealed as well.

The last two items of interest are the DA 35mm f/2.8 Macro Limited lens and the AF200FG flash. Both of these items, like the 645 Digital, have no market release schedule information. The AF200FG flash might make a good option for some people but I am particularly intrigued by the DA 35mm f/2.8 Macro Limited lens. This would put the focal length just over 50mm in 35mm equivalent focal length terms. This sounds like a great option for traveling or whatever one needs a moderate macro for. This will be a great addition. Hopefully, this lens will be introduced late this year but next year may be more likely.

This has certainly been an exciting day in the Pentax world. I hope we get to hear more about these great new products and see them at PMA 2007.

Update: Pentax has released their own press release regarding what will be exhibited at PMA 2007. It confirms what the Norwegian site already said.

PMA 2007: Pentax DA* Lenses and A30, W30 Compacts

Some great news was released today. Pentax has finally announced the first two DA* lenses. You can read the press release for more information. The official lens name are the SMC Pentax-DA* 16-50mm F2.8 ED AL[IF]SDM and SMC Pentax-DA* 50-135mm F2.8 ED [IF]SDM lenses. If you are interested in the initials, ED means extra dispersion. AL means aspherical element(s). The more obvious IF refers to internal focusing and SDM refers to the supersonic in-lens motor. The DA* 16-50mm f/2.8 lens will be $899.95 and the DA* 50-135mm f/2.8 lens will be $999.95. They will both ship in Spring 2007. I was hoping for a little firmer timeframe but that means they will be coming out soon. Great news all the way around!

Pentax also announced two new Optio-series compact digital cameras. The Optio A30 is now the flagship 10 megapixel compact with shake reduction similar to the K100D and K10D digital SLRs. Additions include improved viewing of the LCD screen in sunlight as well as some other features.

The other new compact is the Optio W30. It is a 7.1 megapixel waterproof camera that offers improved screen viewing as well as improved underwater time. The Optio W30 is rated to allow you to take pictures for two hours at ten feet. Both the Optio A30 and W30 will be available in late March for $349.95 and $299.95 respectively.

The news has been good. I am especially looking forward to the DA* lenses. As soon as I get the two lenses I will share some thoughts regarding their quality and performance. Now all we can do is wait and see the great new products from Pentax!

Monday, February 19, 2007

K10D, Wedding Trial by Fire

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to use the Pentax K10D in a very intense and difficult environment. I was shooting pictures at a wedding. This was not a very high pressure wedding but it was a wedding which is, by definition, high pressure.

I will update this post with more information after I process through my photos but I just wanted to make a few comments. I found that the K10D performed very well. I used two K10D bodies and two of my employees had a K10D each. All four K10D bodies also had D-BG2 battery grips attached. We also used three Pentax AF540FGZ flashes as well as three PowerPack TR III units to decrease our flash recharge time.

All three of us used monopods which helped significantly. As expected Shake Reduction was a huge help and made all the difference. Unfortunately, the light was very difficult to work with. This caused me to shoot many shots at ISO 800 and even ISO 1600. I was very impressed with how well the K10D performed in all respects. I did use a tripod for a few shots but the tight quarters caused it to be impossible to move the tripod around. A monopod worked much better.

I used mostly prime lenses which consisted of primarily the DA 40mm f/2.8 Limited, DA 70mm f/2.4 Limited, and the FA* 24mm f/2.0 lenses. I also used the DA 21mm f/3.2 Limited a couple of times. The other lens that saw lots of use during the ceremony was the FA* 80-200mm f/2.8 lens. Both of my employees used FA 28-200mm f/3.8-5.6 lenses primarily as well as a Pentax-F 50mm f/1.7 lens sparingly.

I was intending to use the FA* 28-70mm f/2.8 lens quite a bit but I have found that its focusing seems to be off for a significant portion of my shots. I have yet to really sit down and figure out why but I was not going to figure that out during a critical shoot. In any case, I will be getting the DA* 16-50mm f/2.8 and DA* 50-135mm f/2.8 lenses as soon as they are available and they will be my primary workhorses.

I will add some additional information and some sample photos in a few days. I need to get back to processing the 999 photos I took. I actually took a dozen more than that or so but I deleted some in the process.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Pentax SLR Talk Forum

The Pentax SLR Talk Forum over at Digial Photography Review is a great forum that I would highly recommend if you are using Pentax equipment. The forum tends to be quite active and lots of great questions come up as well as great picture posts as well. It is a good place to meet other people using Pentax equipment and ask any questions you may have.

I tend not to spend much time on forums because I am so busy but this one is worth it to at least keep in your links. You can do a search and often find others' impressions of lenses or other equipment. It is just a great resource in many way. Go check it out.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

PMA 2007: Lexar Pro 4GB 133x SD Card

We have another great announcement prior to PMA 2007. Lexar has announced a new SDHC card. It is the Lexar Pro 4GB 133x SDHC card. This is a card with 20 MB/sec performance like the current Lexar Pro 2GB 133x SD cards I have now. This is the first SDHC card with this level of performance and it is very exciting to see this on the horizon. The card should be available in March. You can read more about it at the Lexar press release.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Pentax and PMA 2007

We are still a few weeks away from PMA 2007 but things look very promising for Pentax this year. We are sure to hear more about the much anticipated DA* 16-50mm f/2.8 and DA* 50-135mm f/2.8 lenses which should hopefully be available shortly after the show. These two lenses will be the first that Pentax has released that contain the new SSM in-lens focusing motor similar to Canon's USM or Nikon's AF-S. Another notable feature of DA* lenses is weather sealing to go with the Pentax K10D body.

Another lens that is very much anticipated is the DA* 60-250mm f/4 lens which should be available later in 2007. Like all DA* lenses, it will have the new SSM focusing as well as weather sealing. All of us are waiting with bated breath for announcements centered around the new DA 35, DA 55, DFA 200, and DFA 300 lenses listed on the Pentax lens roadmap. No information has been released about any of these lenses other than their mention on the roadmap.

I am also very interested in any possible developments with the Pentax 645 Digital medium format camera that has been in development for some time. From what has been rumored, it should be priced at $7000 or less and be somewhere between 18 and 30 megapixels. Hopefully closer to 30 megapixels. I have wanted to get into medium format digital photography for some time now and I think this might just be the ticket.

On the compact digital camera front we have already seen the announcements of the Pentax E30, M30, and T30 cameras, all at 7.1 megapixels. Pentax made an interesting switch when announcing the E30 and M30 cameras. Prior to the E30 and M30, it was the M series that used regular AA batteries. Now, Pentax has made the E30 the budget camera that uses AA batteries. This makes much more sense from a marketing perspective as far as I am concerned. E sounds like economy. The E30 also features a 3x zoom lens and a 2.4 inch LCD screen.

The new M30 is a very slim and attractive camera with a few more features. It seems that Pentax wanted to go with a very slim and attractive package in a slightly more traditional way as compared to the T30. The M30 sports a 3x zoom lens as well as a 2.5 inch LCD screen. The Pentax T30 is a very modern design utilizing a 3.0 inch LCD touchscreen interface for all camera controls. It is an interesting camera although I personally prefer a more traditional interface.

All of the current Pentax compact digital models do not have a viewfinder of any type. They all rely on the LCD screen for framing your pictures. While some may criticize this choice, I am perfectly happy with this arrangement. The tiny viewfinders were so hard to look through anyway and most people end up using the screen. The only downside may be slight difficulty in viewing the screen in very bright sunlight although a quick shade of the hand can take care of the problem.

We may very well be hearing some exciting news on other fronts as well. I am looking forward to hearing all the good news this year. Only a few weeks left!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Google Reader

This week, I started using Google Reader for viewing RSS and Atom feeds. I like to keep up with about twelve different sites. Most of them deal with photography, some with Mac news, and a news site or two. I was using the built-in RSS reader in Safari but I wasn't totally happy with that. I tried a couple of Mac programs but I didn't really like them either. I accidentally came across Google Reader and gave it a shot. I am glad I did. It does a great job and I highly recommend it. Google just keeps getting better and better.

New Strobist Convertible Umbrella

Great news! As mentioned on Strobist, there is a new umbrella available. It is the Convertible Double Fold umbrella made by Westcott. I understand that they were custom made for Strobists. Sounds like a great tool. To that end, I ordered three a few minutes ago. I will post more info when it all arrives.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Photos at Flickr

I decided it is about time to post some photos to Flickr. I will be adding photos periodically there. Go take a look.

Don't You Have Enough Acorns Already?

Some animals just never seem to give up. This picture seems to be a prime example. I shot this picture with the Pentax K100D camera and SMC Pentax-A* 400mm f/2.8 lens with the SMC Pentax-A 2.0x-L tele-extender.

1/4000s @ f/5.6; ISO 800; SR On

November Snow in Eagle Meadows

This past November, I drove up to Eagle Meadows and took a few pictures. I liked this one the best. I took this particular shot to show the falling snow. I did not have a tripod handy and so it is hand held. I tried a slower shutter speed but this shot turned out better. This picture was taken with the Pentax K100D and the SMC Pentax-DA 70mm f/2.4 Limited lens.

1/15s @ f/22; ISO 200; SR On

Golden Orb Weaver Spider

I have not posted in photos for some time now. I was just processing through some K100D images from last year and I found some I thought I would post.

Back in late August, I came across a spectacular web in my backyard. As far as I know, this is a golden orb weaver spider. The pictures turned out pretty good. Both were shot with the Pentax K100D and SMC Pentax-A* 200mm f/4.0 Macro lens.

1/50s @ f/11; ISO 800; SR On

1/30s @ f/14; ISO 800; SR On

Katz Eye Focusing Screens

Some photographers, myself included, really liked the split prism design of the older line of manual focus SLR cameras. My personal favorite is the Pentax LX although the Pentax MX brings up a close second. This focusing system was extremely simple and extremely efficient. Sure, this system had its flaws, but so does autofocus.

Katz Eye Optics offers a solution to this wishful thinking. They make an extremely nice alternative split prism focusing screen for a surprisingly wide selection of cameras. Within a month of the introduction of the Pentax K10D, Katz Eye Optics had a split prism focusing screen designed specifically for this camera. The same goes for the Pentax K100D, *ist D, *ist DS, and *ist DL.

I have purchased split prism focusing screens for both of my K10D bodies and I just ordered one for my K100D body. The screen does not affect autofocus and basically does not affect the metering either. In some circumstances metering might be affected just the slightest but it is not enough to worry about.

I ordered the basic $95 "Plus" screen without any of the extras. You can have grid lines or even autofocus markers added for the Pentax digital SLRs but I just prefer a basic screen. I already know where my autofocus markers are. I am very happy with my purchases and you might want to consider a screen for yourself. Take a look at the Katz Eye Optics web site.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Photo Business News & Forum

I just want to introduce the Photo Business News & Forum blog as an excellent resource for aspiring professional photographers. Even if you are not intending to be a pro, it gives fantastic insight into the photographers world. I highly recommend reading it regularly. John Harrington, its creator, updates it regularly with well thought out and carefully written posts that are very informative. Go take a look.

Savage LSC8 Aluminum Lightstand

One of the essential components to an off-camera lighting kit is a good compact lightstand. In looking around for different options, I came across the Savage 8 foot Aluminum Lightstand. It seems to be a good option in that it weighs 2.4 pounds and folds down to 16.7 inches. It is slightly heavier than the two Dyna-Lite Compact Lightstands I have on order but folds down slightly smaller according to the specifications. I will be ordering several of these stands later this month. When they arrive, I will have more information about them.

Strobist: SSO-CLK

Another post over at Strobist talks about the "Starving Student Off-Camera Lighting Kit." It is a great introduction to getting started with off-camera lighting. If you have not noticed already, Strobist is a great resource and I highly recommend heading over there to learn about off-camera lighting.

Nikon SB-26 Flash

Update at the bottom of this post.

A post at Strobist mentions a very interesting option for an off-camera flash. As a side note, if you want to learn more about good lighting, the Strobist blog is an excellent source and I highly recommend it. Anyway, the Nikon SB-26 flash is an excellent option on the used market for a number of reasons.

One, it has great manual settings. Two, it is easily connected to a PocketWizard through its built-in PC sync socket. Both of these characteristics are shared with the Nikon SB-24, SB-25, and SB-28 as well as some new models. The unique part about the SB-26 is that it is the only one of these four to contain a built-in optical slave. This is an extremely handy feature.

For example, you might be lighting a portrait which needs a background light. You already have three PocketWizards, one for the camera and two for your Vivitar 285HV units. This only gives you two lights and you really need that third background light. In comes a Nikon SB-26 with its optical slave. The optical slave would easily be triggered by the light from the other two flashes and would make your setup a great success.

Another post at Strobist talks more about the Nikon SB-24 flash. Everything applies to the SB-25, SB-26, and SB-28 as well. Each of the updated models just adds some new feature(s).

Update: I found another post at Strobist that gives some links to a site that shows details on all of the older Nikon flashes. Here are some of the same links from his post: SB-24, SB-25, SB-26, and SB-28.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Custom QR Plates for Pentax K10D

I just discovered last week that Kirk Photo has created some custom quick release plate for the Pentax K10D body. They make the PZ-33 for the K10D body only and the PZ-117 for K10D with D-BG2 battery grip.

Even better, Kirk Photo also now makes two L-brackets for the K10D. The BL-K10 is an L-bracket for body only while the BL-K10G is for the K10D body with D-BG2 battery grip.

Paired with a quick release ball head like the BH-1 or BH-3 from Kirk Photo, you can quickly mount your camera and lens onto your tripod. Using this setup allows incredible efficiency and flexibility as well as rock solid stability. This makes a huge difference when using a tripod!

Vivitar 285HV and Wein Digital Peanut Arrived

I received several shipments on Friday and they included the Vivitar 285HV flash and Wein Digital Peanut microslave. The flash is a very interesting throw-back to manual days. It is a fantastic deal for $100 or less. It will be part of my lighting kit and I am planning on ordering another one or two soon.

The Vivitar 285HV flash seems to be very versatile while it is very simple. It only has manual settings for full power, 1/2 power, 1/4 power, and 1/16 power. As well, it also has four automatic modes which I will not be using. There is no TTL support of any kind in this flash which is just fine by me. I am going to use this flash as an off-camera strobe for lighting scenes. I also ordered some PocketWizard Plus II units to control the Vivitar 285HV. You can order the Vivitar 285HV, PocketWizard to Vivitar cable, and PocketWizard Plus II units in the sidebar.

The Wein Digital Peanut microslave worked great initially at the office but when I brought it home, it stopped working. I am going to test it further but I am not very impressed. I was hoping they might work well for some situations but it is obvious that PocketWizards are the way to go.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Aperture and Photoshop Lightroom

The introduction of Aperture by Apple created a new stir in the photography world. For the first time, an application effectively combined excellent RAW processing with revolutionary photo management and presentation. Of course, the industry heavyweight and graphics and image processing had to act. This act was in the form of Photoshop Lightroom (Lightroom hereafter) introduced by Adobe.

I have used both products since their introduction. That was 1.0 for Aperture and Beta 1 for Lightroom. Initially, both products had some rough edges. This was cleaned up considerably for Aperture 1.5. The final beta of Lightroom came a long way as well. At last, after over a year of beta testing, Adobe has announced that Lightroom 1.0 will be available February 19. Many comparisons will be made in the coming months. These are some of my thoughts.

I am not doing a an exhaustive review or even close to it of either product. These are simply some of my observations. Aperture seems to work better at allowing you to focus on photography. The processing tools and management tools are extremely efficient and in many ways intuitive for an experienced photographer. It seems to me that Lightroom allows you to be more flexible in some ways with your workflow but the workflow is more complex and not as efficient. Of course, it all depends on what you are used to. If you have spend many hours working with Photoshop and Adobe Camera Raw, you may find just the opposite to be true.

Ultimately, I think both products are very good but I do think that Aperture pulls ahead right now. That may change in the future. There is one huge advantage I see in Lightroom for the time being and that is greater support for RAW files from many diverse cameras. Aperture requires that every camera be specifically supported at the operating system level. Unfortunately, this has not been a quick process for more obscure cameras. For example, the Pentax K100D, K110D, and K10D cameras are not supported by Apple yet. Adobe certainly had a lead on Apple in this respect because of its pre-existing Camera Raw software.

Lightroom also supports DNG fully. Because of this, the Pentax K10D DNG files straight from the camera work well with Lightroom and Photoshop CS2. Adobe Camera Raw does not include optimized support for the K10D which of course means that the PEF RAW files would not work but because of DNG support, the DNG RAW files work fine. I understand the Adobe Camera Raw 3.7 will include full K10D support. Aperture, by contrast, only supports DNG files from cameras that are already supported by the operating system. Therefore, the K10D is not supported by Apple as of yet although this may change with the impending release of the Mac OS X 10.4.9 update.

Because of the slow addition of RAW support for cameras that are less common, Aperture is at a slight disadvantage. On the other hand, most professional photographers shoot with very mainstream equipment. This means typically Canon or Nikon gear. There are exceptions to this but not very many in the grand scheme of things. I have been looking at some of the Panasonic and Leica digicams that support RAW but only an older model from each manufacturer is supported. Support for the Leica DMR as well as the Leica M8 is noticeably absent. Of course, the argument could easily be made that Pentax or Olympus cameras are much more likely to be used by most people. You do not see a Leica in everyone's hands. Because of that, I think Apple is concentrating on the most used cameras first. Canon and Nikon cameras were almost all completely supported from day one along with some other more common cameras that support RAW. Pentax *ist D support existed as well but it took some time for *ist DL and finally *ist DS support to appear.

Well, those are just some thoughts. I think I will end up using both Aperture and Lightroom for different reasons. Ultimately, I would like to use Aperture exclusively. Hopefully Apple will surprise us with additional camera support more quickly than we had expected.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Wimberley Head

Last summer, I purchased the SMC Pentax-A* 400mm f/2.8 lens. This is a very large and heavy lens and really is almost impossible to use with a typical ball head like my Kirk BH-1 ball head. That sent me on a quest to get a gimbal-type head. The choices I came up with were the Kirk King Cobra, Wimberley Sidekick, and Wimberley WH-200 Head. I read about the pros and cons of each type of head.

The Kirk King Cobra can handle the weight of the 400mm lens but I did not like the design where you have to rotate the tripod collar 90 degress in order to mount it on the head. This puts lots of stress on the tripod collar. It should work but I did not like the design.

My second choice was the Wimberley Sidekick. This is an interesting design that uses an existing heavy duty ball head like my Kirk BH-1. The ball head actually provides your pivoting. The arm just allows you to connect the lens in a more efficient way. Go to the site and look at it. It is hard to explain. I like this idea because it uses your existing equipment and you just have to add the Sidekick arm to your current setup. The problem is, once again, you have to rotate the tripod collar on the lens 90 degrees. The bigger problem is that this setup is not nearly as strong as a dedicated solution. It would be fine with a 400mm f/5.6 lens or something smaller. It might just work with a 500mm f/4 but a 400mm f/2.8 or 600mm f/4 is just too big. I am not really excited about stressing the mount when the lens costs as much as it does.

That brings us to the final choice, the Wimberley WH-200 Head. It is the most expensive of the options but seems to be the most highly recommended. Its immediate advantage is that the lens can be mounted right on the head without rotating the tripod collar on the lens 90 degrees. This is also a full head design that very nicely accomodates even the largest lenses. The 400mm f/2.8 and 600mm f/4 lenses of any manufacturer can be beautifully balanced by adjusting the location where it is attached to the quick release plate. It works great with smaller lenses as well if needed. I am very glad I chose this head. Take a look at the WH-200 head at their web site,

I should also add that the people at Wimberley are just fantastic to deal with. I ordered my head directly from Wimberley and needed a matching quick release plate for the lens. I took some measurements of my lens and they checked around regarding another person who had the same lens and found exactly the right size plate. I think it was the P-20 plate. I also use Kirk Photo for some things but they have not been as friendly to deal with. Of course, for the most part their products are different. Wimberley makes the WH-200 head and Sidekick as well as universal lens mounting plates and a universal camera plate as well. Kirk Photo does make the King Cobra head but its primary products are the BH-1 and BH-3 ball heads as well as custom quick release plates for many cameras and lenses. Of course both companies make flash brackets but their product lines are different. I particularly like Kirk Photo's custom L brackets. They make it much easier to mount your camera in either portrait or landscape orientation on your ball head. Anyway, both companies offer great accessories for a professional photography setup.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Vivitar 285HV Flash

I just ordered a few more items to add to my kit. I read an article called Return of a Classic over at the Strobist blog that mentioned a recently introduced flash. This new flash is essentially a re-release of an older flash in the form of the Vivitar 285HV. It is basically like a Vivitar 283 or 285 from the early-to-mid 1970s except that it has the correct voltage for the new Digital SLRs.

The article also mentions the Wein Peanut Slave. This is designed to work specifically with Vivitar flashes but can also be used with any flash with a PC cord socket. I ordered a three pack of the digital version which basically triggers on the second flash discharge which is the actual flash. Canon, Nikon, Pentax, and probably other manufacturers as well now use a pre-flash that the camera meters from right before the main flash. The Peanut Slave is designed to work with this and trigger with the main flash.

I also ordered a Pentax Hot Shoe Adapter 2P which is basically a hot shoe to PC cord adapter. My orders finished off with another Sandisk Extreme III 2GB SD card.

At Close Range With National Geographic

Tonight on PBS, there was a special called At Close Range With National Geographic. It is about Joel Sartore, a photographer for National Geographic. The special was very interesting in many ways and showed a side of a working photographer that one rarely sees.

Most people think working as a photographer is a very romantic and fun job. In reality, it is a very, very hard and demanding job. Joel makes this clear in the special. The special makes it clear that it is hard on the family. Another thing that was clear is that traveling around the world and photographing all sorts of things gives you a very unique view of what is really happening in relation to nature. Joel Sartore also comments on how he is photographing the last of everything. He mentions jaguars and parrots as examples.

The end of the special shows him packing up and leaving for a month-long trip to Alaska. You can see how hard it is on his family for him to leave on a trip of this length. Fortunately, it seems that the editors at National Geographic seem to understand how hard it is, especially for the kids, and they want to help him strike that balance.

All in all, the special was excellent. I highly recommend you either watch in on PBS or buy the DVD if you are interested in photography.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Creative Exercise with Prime Lenses

Try shooting with a minimal kit of one to three prime lenses sometime. It is a useful excercise in creativity to limit yourself in this way. If you do not have a 50mm lens already, look for the SMC Pentax-FA 50/1.4 or 50/1.7 lenses as well as the SMC Pentax-F 50/1.4 and 50/1.7 lenses on eBay or other used photo gear sources. All four of these are excellent lenses and give you a great portrait and low light lens.

If you are willing to work with manual focus, find any of the Pentax-A 50mm lenses. They are all good performers and will still give you full functionality except for autofocus with any Pentax digital SLR. Lenses from the original K-mount series (marked SMC Pentax alone) as well as the later M series (marked SMC Pentax-M) are slightly harder to work with because you have to meter in a slightly different way. In any case, give a few prime lenses a chance or, if nothing else, set a zoom lens to a particular focal length and shoot at only that focal length for a creative exercise.

Minimalist K10D Kit

I sometimes find that creativity is enhanced when you carry a very simple photographic kit. Having lots of lenses and other accessories can slow you down and cause you to wonder which lens to use too often. Limiting yourself can improve your creativity as well as lighten the load. Here is one minimalist kit that could come in handy.

2 x Pentax K10D Bodies with D-BG2 Battery Grips
SMC Pentax-DA 21/3.2 Limited Lens
SMC Pentax-DA 70/2.4 Limited Lens
Pentax AF540FGZ Flash with Omni-Bounce
2 x Lexar Pro 4 GB 133x SDHC Cards
4 x Lexar Pro 2 GB 133x SD Cards

This kit is light, yet versatile. I love all three of the Pentax Limited pancake lenses. These include the DA 21/3.2 Limited, DA 40/2.8 Limited, and DA 70/2.4 Limited lenses. I find that the 40mm focal length (60mm equivalent) is not that useful most of the time for my shooting habits. I use the 21mm (31.5mm equivalent) and 70mm (105mm equivalent) focal lengths much more frequently. This makes for a great kit because it is small, light, requires no lens changes, and is comprised of excellent lenses.