Sunday, January 30, 2011

Photo of the Week Winner

Daily Photo #087 – November 30th 2010 – Foggy Dreamscape

Congrats to William Doran for this really cool shot from Deception Pass that feels like something out of The Lord of the Rings!

William took this shot with his Nikon D300s at a staggering 1/1600 sec shutter speed at f/5.6. I might have sacrificed some of that shutter speed so I could do f/11 on one like this, but it’s always easier to play armchair quarterback than it is when you are out shooting and the perfect moment is right there before you! :)

I’d love to see this one printed as I love the color and mood of this shot. It’s very calming to me so it’s something I can see myself enjoying every day on the wall.

Be sure to click this photo above and leave some feedback on Flickr so this reader can get your feedback both good and bad (be gentle) and feel the love from our readers here!

Congratulations William! Learn more about how you can participate in the Photo of the Week contest by clicking here.


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Photo Editing Challenge #1 – My Submission

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after
Color Version

Okay, I had a lot of fun with this after seeing the great results everyone else was getting, so I ended up spending way too much time dinking around with this photo. I completed the color one in about 2.5 hours, but I still kept fooling around with different black and white versions using the Silver Efex Pro 2 beta (sneak peek). That app is crazy addicting so I ended up spending three hours experimenting in it.

Here’s my Photoshop CS4 layers palate for the color version:

This kind of destructive workflow drives people like Mac Holbert insane, but the reality is that I generally get one crack at editing a photo and I never go back to unless I print it. When I print I usually make a few modifications to get it just right, but rarely do I find myself going back in time. With that said, I don’t flatten my images to save disk space just in case I do need to revert a change along the way.

So, here’s what I did to this photo:

  1. I started by getting a decent exposure out of the raw file, fixing the lens distortion and cropping my photo in Lightroom 3.3 on Windows 7 64-bit, then I sent the file to Photoshop CS4 for Windows.
  2. I got rid of all of the sensor crud that was visible in the sky directly on the background layer and then saved the file.
  3. I reopened it on my MacBook Pro in Photoshop CS5 for Windows so I could use Content Aware Fill on the power lines, but I later noticed I was a little sloppy here so that wasn’t a perfect fix.
  4. I brought the file back to my CS4 Windows system for the rest of my edits. Despite being ISO 100 this image still had a reasonable amount of noise probably due to sensor heat as it was a very hot day that day and I had been doing lot so shooting. I didn’t want to do a blanket noise reduction on everything because it would ruin the textures, so I just did a noise reduction on the man and the sky – two important subjects in this photo.
  5. After I did this I noticed some issues in the sky, so I fixed them on the Sky Fixup layer.
  6. I love Color Efex’s Tonal Contrast, so I did that and then took the effect off the stucco wall manually because it could hand a quick and sloppy paint so it would be faster than using U-Point controls.
  7. Next up I used Topaz Adjust 4 to to see what its presets would look like. I settled on the Photo Pop filter and added it, but after I did part of my image got some Halos so I had to fix that using the stamp tool.
  8. Anytime I have a sky I always check the Color Efex Polarization filter to see if will help, and it did, so I kept it in for this image.
  9. I still wasn’t happy with the dark face on the man so I used Viveza to fix that. To save disk space I just created a new layer with only the parts I needed from the fix and discarded the layer Nik Software created. I do this a lot as it does appear to reduce file sizes.
  10. I still wanted those all-important golden towers to pop so I used the Color Efex Skylight Filter, but I limited the change just to the towers.
  11. After that I wanted more sky oomph so I used a Photoshop cooling filter adjustment layer and chose to put #82 on. I just used the quick selection tool to quickly select and mask everything but the sky. I also set the layer opacity to 19% to keep the sky from looking too unrealistic.
  12. For this image I felt the Chinese characters on the back right wall were important to tell the story about where this image was taken. When people outside of Asia see these, they immediate think of China despite the fact that they are also used with the Japanese Kanji. To bring more attention to them I used the Indian Summer filter in Color Efex on the entire wall they were on. This made them a bit more red and noticeable.
  13. At this point I thought the image was getting too yellow, so I created a saturation layer where I just modified the saturation of the yellow. I brought this down –15% and it looked much better. I did exclude the tips of the golden towers so that they retained their harsh golden appearance to capture the viewers eye.
  14. I was pretty happy at this point so I did one of my final steps I always do – I did the Lab Color trick from Scott Kelby’s 7 Point System book. To keep from losing my adjustment layers I just merge all the layers up into one (i.e., Ctrl/Cmd+Alt+Shfit+E) and the I duplicate that layer into a new file. When I’m done I bring that layer back into my working file and close the other without saving.
  15. This was good but I still felt like too much detail was being lost in the shadows so I did a Shadows & Highlights layer – again, from 7-Point System.
  16. Things looked good, but I know from history that I tend to edit my images too dark (especially for print), so I am just in the habit of doing a brightness bump in curves.
  17. I was happy with the result so my final step was to use Sharpener Pro to give a sharp look optimized for display output. I didn’t want to sharpen the sky as it would just make the image look noisy so I reused my mask from the photo filter layer and inverted it.

Of course I kept tinkering in Photoshop and Lightroom but not on the color image above. Here’s a couple alternate versions I did using Silver Efex Pro 2:

Ron Martinsen’s Dramatic Sky Preset – Silver Efex Pro 2
I partially masked the golden towers to bring part of their color back
as I felt the gold was very important to this image

My Favorite Version – Desaturated Look
With a  black and white layer on top I lowered its opacity to 75% to let the color bleed through.
I used a light gray brush on the mask to bring more color back to the towers, the man, and the wall as I felt those were key elements that I wanted the users eye to be drawn to.

You can find a full gallery my different images here.

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Silver Efex Pro 2 – Sneak Peek

Ron Martinsen’s Super Selenium Preset

I’m fortunate enough to be doing some early testing of Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro 2 and I’ve gotta say that my former disdain for black and white photography is completely gone. This thing rocks and lets me create some really cool effects that look cool on the screen but jaw dropping when printed on Epson Exhibition Fiber!

Ron Martinsen’s Golden Sunset Preset

I’m a huge fan of this product so you’ll be hearing a glowing review when the time comes, but in the meantime I’m holding back while I wait for the final version before I can provide a fair review of what you will be using.

Ron Martinsen’s Dramatic Sky Preset

Unless something goes drastically wrong, my recommendation is going to be get it without reservation. For those who currently own Silver Efex Pro v1, I’m sad to say that you’ll definitely want to upgrade because this version does everything you are used to – but better, and offers more flexibility to do things that just weren’t possible in the last release.

035 Antique Plate II Preset with Vignette Off and Image Borders Type 2

Check out my announcement article to learn more details about this release plus a special offer that tells you how you can get this killer product for only $84.95!

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

B&H Hands-On: Quantum QFlash System & Custom Brackets Pro-M Flash Bracket Solution

QFlash System shown with two battery choices

If you talk to anyone who has done wedding or event shooting professionally for a while they’ve probably either invested in Quantum’s QFlash system or they long for the day when they can. However, to those who haven’t seen this magnificent product, you may wonder what the big fuss is about?

When I first saw the QFlash system I laughed and thought what a science project! I thought it was some old dinosaur product that film photographers were still hanging on to, but nobody in their right mind would use this seemingly complicated and heavy system. If you’ve thought the same thing, then read on as I learned that this product is much more intelligent than you think and more importantly it is a workhorse product that quickly earns your respect once you use it.

Quantum Instruments QFlash System

I don’t do weddings and I stay away from doing events when I can help it, so I’ll admit that I didn’t get a chance to give this system the intense workout it deserves. Instead, I evaluated it based on its performance as a flash. This means my emphasis for this hands-on was all about light quality, rapid shooting performance, and battery performance. For all three of these I can say it’s the best flash system I’ve ever used

My biggest regret was that I wasn’t able to test the QTTL feature as everything I read in the manual seems to indicate that you get a much better “auto everything” experience (like I do with my 580EX II and its ETTL) with this feature. With that said I still had great success using this flash in its manual and Program 2 (using factory default settings) modes.

T5D-R (website info)

When using this flash, just like all flashes, I found that it is best not point it directly at your subject. With that in mind I applied what I learned from On-Camera Flash Techniques to bounce the light off the ceiling back down onto my subject. In doing this I found that I got a nice powerful bounce of soft light that I really liked. For this article I used the flash with only its supplied head shown in the picture and no other light modifiers. Typically I pointed the flash up and rotated it to point behind me at a 15 degree angle.

Here’s an example of shot where my son was looking up at me and I bounced the light back down onto him from the ceiling for a nice soft white light (despite the tungsten canned lights being turned on):

Unprocessed 5D Mark II Raw (just cropped)
100mm macro – f/2.8 for 1/200 sec @ ISO 160
T5D-R Bounced off the ceiling
and back down onto Kai’s face

Here’s another unprocessed in-camera JPEG shot where I really liked the quality of light and how it lights up the hair without being too much. I think that the power this flash offers makes it great for these bounces because it sends a lot of light up for the bounce but still leaves a nice full amount for when it gets to the subject:

Unprocessed 5D Mark II in-camera JPEG (just cropped)
100mm macro – f/2.8 for 1/200 sec @ ISO 160

Compare the result above to this one which was done using the same exact camera settings and technique but with with the 580 EX II on the camera (and bounced the same way):

Unprocessed 5D Mark II in-camera JPEG (just cropped)
100mm macro – f/2.8 for 1/200 sec @ ISO 160
Canon 580EX II Flash

Notice that despite the camera settings being identical, the blast of light you get with the 580EX II just isn’t as bright and it doesn’t overpower the Tungsten lights like the T5D-R does. There’s also quite a bit more light fall off and the background is significantly darker. Again, the only difference between these two shots is the flash.

I should also note that my wife was a real sport here because I wanted to photograph her without her makeup and a little oil on her skin. You notice how that when the light is less powerful you see more of that skin shine (and it’s not the angle – I have a bunch of shots to chose from).

When I look at the two shots I feel like the first two in this section are taken with a soft box or studio lights, but the last one clearly feels like a on-camera flash. Now I like the warm tone so that’s not a bad thing, but if I’m a wedding or event photographer processing a lot of shots I know which one I want to have as my starting point – The T5D-R shots for sure!

Now the downside to the T5D-R when you don’t have the QTTL feature is that you do need to pay more attention to the flash head settings and you need to be careful that you don’t overexpose the subject. From this standpoint, I found that the 580EX II does better with not over lighting the subject even when aimed head on, but I’d suspect the QTTL module would give the T5D-R the advantage again.

My overall take away is that when bounced and dialed in properly, the T5D-R is phenomenal because it offers a smoother and better distributed light than I can get from my 580EX II. I also prefer its cooler light with when using Auto White Balance (AWB) than I do with the 580EX II, because it can’t overpower the tungsten lights so I get a much warm images indoors.

While I don’t mention details here, the manual (which could use some usability improvements) shows how nearly all of advanced features offered from modern day OEM hot shoe flashes are available for the T5D-R (some require the QTTL feature sold separately).

I also didn’t have an opportunity to use this as a off-camera flash system, but I can it would do a tremendous job so strobist fans might really enjoy this as a next step product. In fact, the Quantum Instruments David Ziser Make Your Lighting Exciting Kit looks like a great setup for those doing things like executive portrait or press conference shoots on the go.

Turbo 3 (website info)

Okay, so this is the battery that Tim Allen would carry if he was a photographer. For those who don’t get that joke, Tim Allen is a comedy actor who is famous for his super powered power tools in the sitcom Home Improvement.

This battery is big, but fortunately has a very good built-in belt clip that works extremely well. it features two plugs because you can use one for your camera (using the SD7 adapter for a 5D Mark II) and other for your flash (either a Quantum flash or your own speedlite).

I have no idea how long this battery will last because I never charged it the entire time I had it. The factory charge was good for the 2+ months I had it during lightweight usage, so this clearly is a product that is going to work well for heavy duty shooting.

In fact, I can’t imagine anyone needing more than one of these for their entire shooting needs during a full day of shooting, so if you are looking for a solution that makes you forget about your camera and flash batteries so you can focus on the photography, then this is a good solution.

Of course, don’t take my word for it – do your own research and always have a backup plan (hey stuff fails)!

Turbo SC

This is a single device battery that is much lighter, yet seems to last forever as well. It’s got a great clip and could fit in the side pocket of a suit or in the back pocket of my jeans, so if you are going to be running around a lot this might be a better choice.

I love this battery system so much I want to get this kit so I can use it with my Canon 580 EX II for non-stop battery power for the rare times I do find myself doing events. They also make one for Nikon and other flash systems as well.

Additional Accessories

Quantum Instruments makes a ton of accessories for their products which you can find easily here at B&H as well as as through the product finder on their web site.

Custom Brackets Pro-M Camera Rotating Bracket

This bracket helps the most with portrait mode
and it works great with the
580EX II or SB-900 

The surprising thing about this review was that I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with this flash bracket. After all, I had made up my mind that if I was going to get a good bracket it would be from Really Right Stuff, so when when I saw this one arrive I thought it was just some cheap knock off – boy was I wrong!!!

For starters the rotation feature of this bracket is brilliant because I don’t’ need to loosen anything or press some button to switch between portrait and landscape orientation, yet I never once had it accidentally slip out of place either. You just give it a good tug and it unlocks and then you slide until it locks in to the desired orientation. I liked that as it didn’t interrupt my workflow.

I also really loved how the two knobs (shown on the right in the above photo) gave me the flexibility I needed to change the height (bottom) and the angle of the flash (top) – which was especially useful for the QFlash.

This configuration is heavy so the best feature is the fact that there’s these great adjustable feet that allow you to set the camera down while still mounted to the flash for a very stable configuration. It’s rock solid, despite being a bit top heavy, but I never once had it even come close to tipping over.

Other features I enjoyed about this bracket were the comfortable grip and the bar across the bottom which allowed me to grab it and put my elbow into my stomach for a super sturdy hold when I needed to do a longer exposure at a lower ISO.

I should also note that while I have shown it with a 5D Mark II, it worked fine with my pro body 1D Mark IV after assembling the camera body mount a different way (instructions included). This means that if you are using a battery grip you shouldn’t have any problems.

In fact, the only negative thing I can say about this bracket is that it’s expensive and that I wish I wouldn't have tested it because now I am going to hate sending it back! :) I really, really want one of these, so it’ll be at the top of my B&H wish list.

For those with bad upper backs

This whole kit weighs a lot so I’ll admit that I my bad back started to act up and I had some issues with holding it out front for a long time. This is a long-time injury I’ve had as a kid, so most people shouldn’t be impacted by this but I wanted to bring this up for those those who are susceptible to having their upper back throw out (as I am).

Ordering the QFlash System & Pro-M Bracket

I’ll be up front and say this system isn’t cheap and it is a little complicated at first to order all the bits you need to use it, but it’s worth the trouble – trust me. Here’s what I had to get to use this product with my Canon 5D Mark II:

I later discovered that all of this could be ordered in kit form:

To make things easier, B&H has created this page so you can see all of the options in one query.

Overall the cost of the flash & bracket kits that I used ranged from over $1500 with the Turbo SC battery to close to $1700 with the Turbo 3 instead.


At a starting price for the proper bracket and flash system, the $1500 investment here is certainly going to be a tough pill to swallow for the many photographers out there today who are struggling to make ends meet. However, if your business depends on getting the shot, which is certainly true of any event or wedding photography, then you’ll be very happy with your investment as you’ll have all the power you need to shoot all day. It’s also great having a super fast cycle time so that your flash is always ready for your next shot. I don’t do this type of work, so no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t even drain the smaller Turbo SC battery.

Given its weight and cost advantage, I’d recommend that those getting into this system consider starting with the Turbo SC unless you wish to power both your camera and flash with the Turbo 3. It is going to be enough power for most scenarios so you’ll appreciate the lighter weight.

The cost conscious might need to forgo the T5D-R initially, but this Canon Turbo SC kit (Nikon) is a good way to get into the system and build it up as your budget allows it.

Overall my take after using these products for over two months is that Quantum Instruments makes very well constructed products that will hold up well in the field under heavy use. I love the performance of the system, even if I was a bit intimidated by it at first. You can learn more about these  products via these helpful tutorials and the QFlash Academy videos.

Custom Bracket Conclusion

While there are other flash brackets out there, you are making an investment in a serious flash system here so your gear deserves a quality bracket to keep it safe. This bracket system feels as solid as a German luxury car and functions brilliantly so I can’t recommend it high enough. In fact, if you can’t afford the QFlash now, I’d still recommend you get this fantastic bracket to use with your existing hot shoe flash. In fact, it’s the first time where Really Right Stuff (RRS) has had a competing product where I can honestly say that I prefer this over the RRS version – this blows it away in my opinion.

I had a great time reviewing these excellent products so I’d like to thank Quantum Instruments, Custom Brackets and B&H for their cooperation during this long review period. I loved them so much that I’m sad to have to return them because I want to add them to my own collection!


B&H loaned me with the Quantum and Custom Brackets gear discussed in this article for my review. All of the gear was returned and I was not asked to do a product announcement, but rather a fair and honest review of the product.

I will get a commission if you purchase using the links in this article, so I appreciate your supporting the blog by doing that. It won’t cost you anything and helps to create more opportunities to do reviews like this for you in the future.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Photo Editing Challenge #1

Shanghai Day 3 039
Can you fix this dud?

It happens to us all at some point. You are walking along and you see the perfect photo opportunity as I did for this shot, but as you rush to get it you blow it and the opportunity is lost – or is it? This image was shot in raw so it can probably be saved to tell the story I had envisioned when I reached for my Rebel XTi in March 2007.

The story I wanted to tell is about poor man in Shanghai pushing his wheel chair in a lower income area where people hang their underwear out on power lines to dry, but in the background there are these gold roof buildings in the banking district. It’s the contrast of rich and poor all in one shot, but I did just about everything you could do wrong on this shot. Of course this was only my second day shooting digital at a time when I would only shoot in manual mode.

I’m going to edit this photo to see what I can do to save it, but on the recommendation of one of my readers I’m going to open this challenge up to you. That’s right, you can use the crappy raw image (just like Scott Kelby does in his 7 Point System book) and work your own magic on it.

You can use whatever tools or demos are at your disposal like HDR Efex Pro or Photomatix for a single shot HDR edit, or Silver Efex for a nice black and white conversion, or just whatever your normal editing workflow is with the tools you are comfortable with.

Are your skills better than mine? Let’s see, show me what you can do!

Click here for more details on how to get the challenge file and submit your masterpiece.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Picture of the Week Winner Photo of the Week Entry

Congrats to Peter Jensen who captured this wonderful portrait with his Canon 50D, a 24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens and a studio strobes with soft boxes.

It’s a perfect exposure with great lighting, wonderful detail, and nicely done post-processing done ONLY in Lightroom!  I recently built my own studio setup, so this gets me jazzed about my upcoming shoots!

Be sure to click this photo above and leave some feedback on Flickr so this reader can get your feedback both good and bad (be gentle) and feel the love from our readers here!

Congratulations Peter! Learn more about how you can participate in the Photo of the Week contest by clicking here.


If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

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B&H Hands-On: Nikon D7000 & 24-120mm f/4G ED VR

Nikon D7000 & Nikkor 24-120mm lens
Photo taken with a Canon 5D Mark II and 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM

Allan Weitz has an article on B&H insights! called “The New Nikon D7000: Simply Amazing”, and after using this camera with the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR Zoom Lens I’d say I have to agree.

I’m a Canon shooter, but I had heard a lot of great buzz about this camera during the fall of 2010. While I had hands-on use of the D3, D3s, and D700 over the year, as well as the occasional interaction with other models that my students own during my classes, I typically don’t write about my experiences. Much of my research is for my own use and for keeping my Which DSLR Should I Buy? article current, but I had such fun with this camera I thought I’d add my 2 cents for the record on the blog.

Keep in mind this article is really just a short blurb about my experience using this camera, but for a proper full review I recommend the DPReview review of the D7000.

A Word About The Images In This Article

All of the shots taken with the D7000 that appear in this article are straight out of camera JPEG originals that are hosted on my smugmug account. If you go to you can see all the images in a gallery together as well as download the originals (for your personal and private viewing only – Copyright 2011 Ron Martinsen - all rights reserved). To download the original in-camera JPEG just hover over the image and choose Save Photo (the file folder with the down arrow icon) to save the original to disk as shown here:

Hover over photos to see the menu option to save originals

D7000 Camera Thoughts

1/60 sec at f/5.6, ISO 800, 58mm (18-105mm kit lens)
SB-900 Flash @ –1 Flash Exposure Compensation

For this article, I had the Nikon D7000 DSLR Camera Kit with Nikon 18-105mm DX VR Lens but B&H also sent the  Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR Zoom Lens as well as a SB-900 flash.

Mouse over to see 18mm, mouse out to see 105mm
Mouse over to see 18mm, mouse out to see 105mm

I took a variety of shots with the kit lens and found the range to be quite useful and the results to be acceptable for a kit lens. The results naturally weren’t as good as the 24-120mm that I’ll talk about later in this review, and there’s a whole slew of great lens available in my Which Lens Should I Buy? article, but this is an acceptable starter lens for those on a tight budget.

Overall I found this camera to be very fun and easy to use. It’s very quirky going from Canon to Nikon so I struggled a bit at first to get used to the differences. After I got over this mental hump, I appreciated Nikon’s attempt to have all of your important controls available on physical camera body buttons instead of being nested in menus.

Pop-up Flash

1/60 sec at f/4.0, ISO 1600, 24mm (24-120mm)
Pop-up Flash Example

I’ve always been impressed with the quality of Nikon’s built-in pop-up flash, and this camera is no different. I felt it did a reasonable job of providing some fill light without sending a nuclear bomb of light onto my subject.

High ISO Performance

1/500 sec at f/4.0, ISO 6400, 100mm (24-120mm)
ISO 6400 looks pretty darn good

In typical modern-day Nikon fashion, the high ISO performance was outstanding. The shot above is not modified in any way (and to be fair you need to see a large one to appreciate noise) it came out of the camera pretty darn good. Now the camera does do a bit of its own noise reduction, but the raw image was definitely a lot better than what I’ve seen from the Canon 60D.

1/200 sec at f/4, ISO 2500, 24mm (24-120mm)
ISO 2500 is excellent out of camera & when printed

Naturally the images at 6400 were a bit softer on detail, but for a simple family snapshots like these I thought it did a good job.

White Balance

1/160 sec at f/4, ISO 2500, 105mm (24-120mm)
Fluorescent White Balance was much better than AWB
for this indoor shot under fluorescent lights

I’ve always despised Nikon’s Auto White Balance (AWB), and even some of the white balance presets, and this camera is no different here. I prefer the warmer and more vibrant results I get out of my Canon cameras, so I found myself wanting to do more post-processing work on the few images I played with than I’d typically do on my Canon images.

There’s a reason why Scott Kelby and Joe McNally are always talking about which white balance setting to use in Nikon cameras in their books – because Nikon’s AWB just doesn’t make good decisions much of the time.

Not all is well in paradise

The BM-11 LCD Cover for D7000 breaks easily
Photo taken with a Canon 5D Mark II and 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM

I’m probably preaching to the choir of Nikon users, but I found out on my last day shooting with the D7000 that great care must be taken when trying to remove the LCD cover (BM-11) that is included with the camera. I just made one false move and it cracked instantly as shown in the photo above.

It’s funny that something that is meant to protect the LCD is so fragile, but I guess if you leave it in place you’ll be fine. I had to remove it because some moisture somehow made its way under and I wanted to clean it out quickly. Lesson learned, and apparently one that Nikon expects to happen as this is an easy to order part on B&H.

The Lens

1/200 sec at f/4, ISO 6400, 31mm (24-120mm)

I’ll cut to the chase and say that as a Canon user my 24-105mm lens is my go to ever day lens, but when I tested a D700 with the Nikon AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G ED I fell in love. Just like the 24-105mm in the Canon camp, the 24-120mm offers consumers the trade off of weight and speed for a greater range and vibration reduction (VR). The tradeoff is great from the standpoint that this is a very nice range for this lens and the VR well, but this lens is no match for the sharpness of the Nikon 24-70mm in my opinion.

1/15 sec at f/11, ISO 4500, 120mm (24-120mm)
Vibration Reduction did its job very well here

If not compared side-by-side, I think anyone would love this lens as much as I did during my review. While it doesn’t have the wide angle or reach of the kit lens, I found it to be an excellent upgrade to get crisp, sharp images that were fewer and farther between in my daily testing of the kit lens. This is why you’ve probably noticed by now that most of my images in this article come from shots using the 24-120mm instead of the kit lens – despite shooting roughly the same amount frames with both lenses.

1/125 sec at f/7.1, ISO 160, 120mm (24-120mm)
The D7000 metering handled this tough contrast situation
very well in-camera under studio lights

For an unbiased and accurate review of this lens, look no further than SLRGear’s blur index tests where you can visually see where this lens is sharpest and where it fades out. As they mention in their review, I can confirm that I also saw a much higher than expected amount of Chromatic Aberrations especially at higher ISO’s. Even still, it is an improvement of SLRGear’s review of the Nikon 24-70mm ƒ/2.8G IF-ED AF-S which really has sharpness and speed going for it, but not much else especially it’s higher price tag.

1/200 sec at f/4, ISO 5000, 38mm (24-120mm)

Ultimately both the 24-70 & 24-120 are great lenses, so Nikon shooters face the same tough dilemma Canon shooters face, but if you buy either and simply ignore the other you’ll be a very happy camper as both are excellent lenses. For more information about my lens recommendations, please check out my Which lens should I buy? article.

SB-900 Flash

1/60 sec at f/4.0, ISO 200, 50mm (24-120mm)
SB-900 Flash @ –1 Flash Exposure Compensation is still very powerful

Joe McNally  shows the power of the Nikon flash system in his excellent books The Moment it Clicks and Hot Shoe Diaries, so I don’t really need to write much here about this flash. I will tell Canon users that when mounted to the hot shoe, I’ll take the Canon 580 EX II over this flash any day, but when you get the flash off the camera is where this flash’s power and Nikon’s CLS system really shine.

Here’s a good review of the SB-900 for those who are looking for more in-depth details about this product.


1.0 sec at f/5.6, ISO 100, 24mm (24-120mm)

I love the D7000.

If I had the extra money right now I’d keep this camera as it’s very fun to use and has a ton of powerful features I have yet to explore. It’s not a camera that makes me want to switch platforms, so I’m still very happy with my Canon gear, but I’d pick this camera over the D700 and D300s due to its great image quality, excellent features, and overall bang for the buck.Of course, people’s purchase decisions aren’t always about value, so naturally there are cases where you need the burst mode performance of the D700 but I can’t see why anyone wouldn’t pick this camera over the D300s.

I just barely tinkered with the video even though that’s an important feature of this camera. However, as a Canon 5D Mark II and 1D Mark IV owner, I’m spoiled with amazing video features so I was a bit underwhelmed at first glance.

My main gripes with the D7000 are the slow burst mode (6 fps), the dual SD lots (no CF) instead of support for UDMA 6 Compact Flash, and too many megapixels. I’d sacrifice megapixels for quality any day, and I can’t help but think how much better its images would be if Nikon had thought the same thing.

From spouse friendly usability features like the scene modes, to important features like True HD (1920x1080) video and a greater ISO range, there is much to love about the D7000 (especially over the D300s). It’s no wonder these cameras are so hard to find in stock!

Click here to see full-size versions of all of the in-camera JPEG’s (sorry, no raw). All images are copyright Ron Martinsen, 2011, and may not be reused or retransmitted using any medium without expressed written consent. Downloads are for individual educational use only and should be deleted the same day of the download.

Ordering Info

Here’s where you can order yours:

If these products are not in stock and/or you decide to order elsewhere, please consider making a donation to this blog if you found this article useful.


B&H loaned me the gear for this article for a few weeks, and if you purchase using the links mentioned in this article I may get a commission. Thanks for supporting this blog by using the links, and coming back here if the item is out of stock right now.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Printing 101: Part VII – Conclusion

Removed - a new edition is coming later this year. See for more details

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Tour of Neil’s Print Studio

Words and images by guest blogger, Neil Enns.

A few weeks ago Ron wrote the following in his second article in the Printing 101 series:

“[…] you might want to sketch out what your long-term goals are to ensure that you’ll have the space to accommodate it all. After all you’ll have an unhappy significant other when your studio becomes like mine where it is more of a mine field than a place of work due to all of the gear scattered around it!”

I laughed when I read that, because for the last year or so that’s been my print studio. Printing and photography gear was strewn everywhere, I could barely move to get to my workstation, and storage (despite the walls being lined with bookshelves) was non-existent. I was certainly able to make high quality prints for customers, but I wasn’t as productive as I could be and I certainly didn’t enjoy being in my office when I was printing.

In the fall of 2010 my wife and I embarked on a project to completely remodel our 23-year-old house. As part of that project I vowed that I would have a proper print studio when everything was over.

I’m happy to say that the remodel’s complete, I have a print studio, and I love it.

At Ron’s suggestion I thought I’d take everyone on a tour of the new space, and more importantly explain the design decisions I made and parts I used so you can incorporate some of the ideas into your own workspace.

The completed studio
The completed studio

Finding The Space

Even though we were remodeling the whole house my goal was to keep the expense of the studio part to a minimum. An addition just for a studio was out of the question so like many people I decided to convert one of the bedrooms over to a dedicated workspace.

Actual construction work was minimal: we removed the bedroom closet. That gave an additional 2 feet of depth to the room, for a total of 125 square feet to make my own. The carpet was removed and replaced with hardwood to make it easier to deal with dust. On the electrical side I had a dedicated 20 amp circuit installed along with a whole-house surge protector, and the ceiling lights were replaced with a square of Juno track (more on that later). I personally pulled Cat 6 and RG6 to multiple locations in the room for connectivity.

Keeping the construction costs low meant I could dump money into other things like storage, lighting, and of course more paper to print on!

The Printers

When the remodel started I only had one printer to worry about for the space: a Canon iPF5100. Of course that was before Canon started their big rebate program, and midway through the construction I became the proud owner of a new Canon iPF8300. It’s a little big. Actually, it’s a lot big.

The two printers live on opposite sides of the room. The 5100 is on some Ikea kitchen cabinets, and the 8300 is on its own stand.

The 8300 along the long wall of the room
The 8300 along the long wall of the room

The 5100 on the Ikea cabinets
The 5100 on the Ikea cabinets


My biggest pain in my old workspace was the complete lack of purpose-designed storage. I had walls of bookshelves which are great for books, but they’re rotten for camera gear and printing supplies. I knew from multiple discussions with Andy Biggs that proper paper storage and LOTS of flat workspace was critical to a successful print studio.

All of the storage in the studio is put together from Ikea’s Akrum line of kitchen cabinets. They’re (relatively) inexpensive and can be configured to give pretty much whatever storage you need. I designed the layout using Ikea’s Kitchen Planner software, many, many, many, times (I spent more than three months getting it perfect).

LayoutAn almost-perfect layout for the studio. The big box in the top right is the Canon iPF8300.
During install I made a few tweaks to the order of the cabinets along the bottom.

Even with the printers and such in the room I have over four feet of uninterrupted counter space for work. It’s already been hugely helpful when I’m packing up folio orders for shipping.

I’m still in the process of loading everything into the office and figuring out the best places to put things, but roughly speaking the drawers are for storing camera and framing gear, and the floor cabinets are for storing printing and packing supplies. Wall cabinets are for storing folio covers prior to shipping and the books I decide to keep in the studio instead of elsewhere in the house. Boxes of 17” wide roll paper go on top of the wall cabinets. Boxes of 24” and 40” rolls go on the floor under the window. Camera bags, tripods, and lighting gear go in the cabinet that sticks out under the iPF5100.

Total cost for all the cabinets was right around $1500.

Inside the primary paper storage cabinet
Inside the primary paper storage cabinet. Yes, that’s B&W darkroom paper at the bottom!

Inside one of my lens drawers
Inside one of my lens drawers
Most of my gear is still in storage from the remodel


In my old office I’d personally replaced the lights with some basic track lighting and fixtures from Solux. In the new studio I wanted to make sure it was done right. I had an electrician come in and put a grid of Juno track around the entire room, 3’ off the wall. With Juno fixtures and 4700K 50w 36 degree bulbs from Solux I’ve got consistent and colour accurate lights in the whole space.

Of course putting light into the room is just one aspect of lighting a studio. Keeping light out is another. The only window in the office is covered with a custom top-down/bottom-up (TDBU) light-blocking cellular shade. With the TDBU design I can open the top of it a bit to let some natural light in while maintaining privacy, and when I need to do colour-accurate print work I can close the shade and keep all the stray light out. The shade cost $230 and was worth every penny.

Custom light-blocking window shade on the studio’s only window
Custom light-blocking window shade on the studio’s only window

Print Viewing

Another irritation in my old office was the complete lack of print viewing facilities. I basically had a folding table from Costco with a Solux fixture pointed straight down at it. Not exactly useful.

Conveniently, my friend Rob down in Berkeley, CA (owner of the mighty fine The Lightroom print studio) solved this problem for me when he figured out a way to display my folio covers prospective clients. By hanging a big piece of galvanized sheet metal on the wall you can make an instant print viewing booth.

My print viewing facilities
My print viewing facilities

The metal is a 4x8’ piece of 24ga. galvanized steel from Metal Supermarkets, and only cost $55. The hanging system is Click Rail manufactured by AS Hanging Systems, using two pieces of wall track and four secure self-gripping hooks for earthquake protection. I purchased the rail and hooks from Frame Central locally, but if necessary the parts can be ordered directly from AS Hanging. Prints are attached to the board using pin magnets from Super Magnet Man. All told the setup cost less than $200 and can hold prints as tall as my iPF8300 can produce.

Lighting on the board is provided by four Solux fixtures, and I still have to dig out the light meter to do some fine-tuning for even coverage (ah, memories of Black and White 3!).

Yes, I’m Happy!

So there you have it! A quick tour through my new print studio. I’ve had it up and running for a little over three weeks now and am very happy with the result. I still need to load a lot more stuff in, but so far I’ve barely made a dent in my total storage capacity. Print viewing is vastly improved over my old configuration. And, most importantly, I feel productive.

Hopefully you found the tour through the studio informative. If you have any questions or comments please post them using the comment form below and I’ll do my best to respond.

Neil Enns is the owner of Dane Creek Folio Covers, which provides beautiful packaging for fine art prints. He also runs a custom fine-art printing business, and occasionally finds time to do some photography on the side.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

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Printing 101: Part VI – Getting Great Prints (2 of 2)

Removed - a new edition is coming later this year. See for more details

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Killer Dakar 2011 Shots

Here's some really cool shots from the Dakar Rally 2011:


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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Nik Software Coupon Code Problem & Fix

NOTE: The pricing in this article has changed, but as of this time the information is still accurate. Current pricing details are here:

Nik Complete Collection by Google now only $149 ($126.65 with coupon code)

My blog offers the best discount you can get online for Nik Software, but it’s been brought to my attention that there’s been a problem using my 15% off promo code when you click email from Nik Software that pre-populates the cart with a code. The problem is that just in that it doesn’t work, so here’s how to fix it:

1. Click the Remove button as shown below (click for a larger version):

Click Remove

2. Now add my code (currently RMARTINSEN, but check my Discount Coupon Code page for the latest code) and hit apply for a larger discount (click for a larger version):


My discount is larger and still offers the free upgrade to Silver Efex Pro 2, so it’s a win-win scenario. I also get a commission for this referral so I appreciate your support!

Contact me or Nik Software if you have any questions, but be sure to mention that you are trying to use my code.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

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Nik Software announces Silver Efex Pro 2

See below to pre-order for only $84.96!

If you do black & white images then the best tool in town is Silver Efex, but soon that’s about to change with the arrival of Silver Efex Pro 2 (a.k.a., SEP 2).

I personally hated black and white photography before I got this product and started seeing the other great images (like the ones shown below) done using Silver Efex Pro. I now love doing black and white and printing them on Epson Exhibition Fiber Paper for a truly special fine art print!

Here’s a look at the new user interface (click for full size versions):

Building (c) Joel Tjintjelaar
SEP’s Great User Interface, Just Got Better

Wow check out the before and after on this one? From blah to amazing!!!!

Subject Image (c) Ed Heaton
Amazing Before & After

There’s even a new view on the left panel to give you a summary of the changes made:

Subject Image (c) Ed Heaton

I love it!

Preorder for only $84.96…

When pre-ordering you’ll see this page first where you must enter a code to pre-order the upgrade. If you aren’t a current user then you can go to the website to subscribe for a notification of when SEP 2 will ship:

Pre-order Page

To get a discount just enter the code (see my discount coupon code page for updates if this doesn’t work):


If you did everything correctly you should see the correct price. My code also works for other versions – not just upgrades, so save on most Nik Software products when you use this code!

Prices subject to change without notice. I will get a commission and you’ll get a discount if you purchase using my code, so help us both by using the code!

NOTE: If any other codes are listed please choose REMOVE and enter mine as it’s the best deal you can get for this product!

Learn More

Upgrade to Silver Efex Pro 2 Today

Here’s a list of the features: (* = new for SEP 2)

Features in orange are new in Silver Efex Pro 2

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.