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Archive for the ‘Equipment’ Category

Shooting the D4!

Jan 6

In Equipment at 1:15am

It’s here, officially. Which I’m sure is bringing a smile to the face of many just as wide as Little Joe Lastie’s here in this picture. Shot in Preservation Hall, with the Nikon D4, 24-70mm lens, ISO 200, and several speed lights. We’ve been involved with the prep for this camera for several months, and been shooting with it for the last few weeks. And, man are we happy to be able to finally talk about it.

Whew! Done. It’s out. We can officially say that letter and numeral together. Out in the field, as a team, we just referred to our cameras as the Millennium Falcons, One and Two. It’s come through rain, wind, weather and all manner of natural calamities to be real, and here, on our doorstep. Here’s one of my first questions. What are those wonderful fellas over at Nikon Rumors gonna do now? I mean, how to fill up the time? They’ve been bulldogging this camera now for months. I suggest they all go out, have a nice meal, and get hammered. Their work is done. At least until the D5. Which is a helluva camera, by the way. I’ve been shooting the prototype.

Kidding.

I have no need of a D5. When the D3 came out, honestly, I thought I was done. Okay, I thought, this is the camera they gently fold my lifeless fingers around when they dress me in a nice suit and send me away for a long nap. There were plenty of pixels in that camera to keep me company, and they all seemed to behave quite well. I was raised on transparency film, and the D3 settled forever any nostalgic issues about going back to slides. But this camera makes the reverential memories of Kodachrome 25 fade like an old color print.

The D4 is an entirely new chapter in the history of the pixels. It arrived in a nondescript box. We all stared at it, like it was something that got sent from a sci-fi movie, and if we opened it, we would find the still beating heart of an alien life form.

We were, of course, expecting the box, having been involved in the discussion of the camera for over six months. We knew it was on the way. We knew it was gonna be cool. We just didn’t know how cool.

We hammered our prototypes, honestly. Showed them no reverence whatsoever. First stop was the swamps of Florida. About a day into that adventure, I told Drew that if I ever mentioned working in the swamps again, he could just go ahead and shoot me—with a gun. First location we showed up at was highly desirable from a photo point of view. Less so after we noticed the large water moccasin curled up right about where I would have put a tripod. The ranger commented, “They’re pretty territorial, and aggressive. He probably thinks this is his location.”

I thought about giving the snake the camera and having him shoot the job, but, seeing as I’m the one with the opposable thumbs, and (theoretically) a larger brain, we continued our search.

We found our way to a picture, through the muck and the mud. And, right off the bat, I was impressed with the file. It was, in a word, smooth. I know that’s not a techy description, and there’s some folks out there right now counting every pixel, but I was impressed by the detail and the creaminess of the pictures. No sharpness of contrast, and harshly defined lines of demarcation between highlights and shadows. Smooth, in a word, and great skin tone.

We had a ball, quite frankly. We took the camera from the swamps of Jacksonville to the studios of New York, and back down again to a circus in Florida, and then to the music scene in New Orleans. Through it all, I was continuously impressed with:

Skin tone, for one thing.

File detail and forgiveness in the shadows.

Responsiveness of the camera in terms of intuitively good exposures and autofocus.

Video quality and new features.  Wow.  We’re in the final stages of post right now for what we shot.  Check back sometime next week for the full scoop.  It’s a game changer.

New rocker buttons for moving the auto-focus cursor.

Ease of shifting the auto-focus modes.

Size and clarity of the lcd.

The fact that I dropped one and it kept working.

Plus, none of us had tried to light an elephant with an SB-910 and a Lastolite tri-grip before.

Cora, our wonderful elephant, is 9600 pounds. Mike Grippi is back there trying to put a catch light in her eye. Awesome!

For the next couple of weeks, we’ll be reporting on field adventures with the D4. Stay tuned for stills, video and BTS stuff. For now, I think I’m going to get some sleep. More tk….

What We Rolled With…

May 2

In Equipment, Thanks at 5:16am

Done. Home. 12,531 miles. Flew out. Drove back, and not in a straight line. Life on a bus. A three foot wide, moving, turning, stopping and starting bed. It was like sleeping for five weeks in one of those beds that have the magic fingers, and the bus was a never ending supply of quarters. It was, you know, fun. But then, I have a broad definition of fun.

We’ve got a lot of people to thank, first and foremost all the folks who came out to a stop. Lots of gracious, easy going flashinistas investigating light out there. Good crew, good questions, great enthusiasm.

Our ever wonderful VALs, or volunteers. In every city, they were terrific. We could not have pulled this off every morning without the consistently willing, good-natured groups of folks who were there when we stumbled off the bus at 6am, looking and feeling our best. We would rub our eyes, look around at the loading dock or dumpsters, and mumble, “Where the hell are we?”

Adorama. They put the gas in the tank. Harry Drummer, Jeff Snyder, Monica Cipnic, Brian Green, Jerry Deutsch–all of them made the wheels on the bus go round and round…and round and round…and, well you get the idea.

Heard on the road: Me to David after the entire crew knocked a few back before boarding the bus. “David, I’m concerned that we’re losing control of this bus.” Grippi, walking by, without missing a beat. “Shut up old man.”

We had sponsors. David and I reached out to folks we know and respect in the industry, and tried to make the Flashbus a worthwhile day. They all pitched in, and what they pitched in with, attendees walked out the door with. Schwag bags, and giveaways galore.

Manfrotto and the Manfrotto School of Excellence helped out big time. We rolled with a ton of their stuff, from Lastolite gear to stacker stands to tripods for still and video, fluid heads, monopods…you name it.

Heard on the road: Jeff Snyder to me in the morning. “You look like Nick Nolte’s mug shot.”

We gave away about 100 Justin Clamps. They easily have to be the most popular clamp in the industry, at least for small flash folks. What we have done to customize ours’ is to fit them with Frio cold shoes, another free item in the bag. Yep, Frio gave out freebie coupons for thousands of their cold shoes, with free shipping.

A forest of Frios! David H sold me on these guys. No moving parts, one size fits all. (Or any that I know about.)

We rolled, literally, with Thinktank. They are simply making some of the most intelligent stuff out there to put gear in. What I’ve done with their rollers is take out all the dividers, wrap all the cameras and glass in velcro protective wraps, and snug everything in there.

Heard on the road: Joe, struggling with TTL, turns to the crowd…”Okay, what do I now?” From crowd…”Call David Hobby.”

Our staff fell in love with two Thinktank numbers; the Retrospective bags, and Shapeshifter backpack.


Life on the road. Annie was concerned about me getting sick, so she fixed me up with these Hibistat high powered antiseptic wipes, which she swears by. We had lunch on the road together and wiped down with these guys so thoroughly the table we were at  smelled like an ICU. Both of us finished our pre-meal cleansing, and,  holding our hands up like surgeons, started giggling like idiots. I was like, “Okay, honey, want me to scrub in on the mozzarella panini?”

Pocket Wizard supplied posters, which were a big hit, even though David and I both cautioned everyone that when we sign something, the value drops. They are showing us the doorway to the future that is radio TTL. Controlling lights you cannot see. Bye-bye line of sight. The future awaits!

All the images were captured on Lexar pro cards. Plus we gave a boat load of them away. They really came through for everybody. Every stop, David and I gave away screaming fast 600x 32 and a 16 gig card for answers to questions and challenges that ranged from “Who shot the first cover of LIFE?” to “First one to hold over their head a human spleen wins this prize!”

Stuff happens on the road. Drew, trying to manhandle an overstuffed cart of equipment down a ramp, lets too much velocity build and is danger of being crushed by 1,000 pounds of photographic irony on wheels when Phil, our intrepid driver, steps in and stops it. Phil’s comment: “Black man to the rescue again.”

Speaking of heavy gear, all our big stuff got stuffed into Kata bags. Their sling bags are basically indestructible.

Lumiquest was out there with us, big time. Not only for stuff we shot, but as giveaways galore. They anted up with an UItrastrap for everybody, and light shapers as giveaways. It was our honor to have Terry White at the Grand Rapids show, and he captured an LTP in action, perhaps not in a way everyone might choose to use it.

Everybody was gellin’, courtesy of Roscoe and The Strobist. The gel pack in everybody’s bag represents the basics of color control for your small flash.

After spending years in the tethering woods, and breaking platform after platform, one of our sponsors, Tether Tools, came to the rescue with an incredibly well designed platform with a undercarriage for hard drives. Awesome. Plus they make repeater USB tether cables that just don’t quit, and we gave those out at every stop.

Life on the road. I can report that Cali, who fell in love, long distance, with a beautiful young lady whom he had never met, has now met her, and is absolutely over the moon about her, which is, of course, terrific. They’re both talented, wonderful young people, and they appear to be soul mates.  I’m glad it worked out ’cause we gave him a ton of shit about it on the road. Which he richly deserved, because he was consistently acting like a love smitten high school girl, albeit one with a lot of body hair. I mean, I would watch him lift a case, get an Iphone buzz, smile, put the case down and text. Half of me was, “Awww, that’s nice,” and half of me wanted to split his skull with my Gitzo.

Spyder kicked it with the donation of discount cards for everybody, and a giveaway Spyder 3 Pro Calibrator at every stop. Yowza!

Phil, our driver, was super cool. He was like a surgeon with the bus, and he’s a trained bodyguard to boot. Great guy who could boil down any discussion into a stunningly accurate, pithy, five word observation. Bartender to Phil: “You want a glass with that beer?” Phil: “Nah, I’m from the hood.” Raised up in Newark, NJ, he’s out there now driving a vet. Yep, a vet. Here’s what the bus looks like.

Hmmm… Phil and this guy. Can anybody out there say, “Odd Couple?”

NIK Software came along for the ride, with discounts, and, at every stop….drum roll….. a free Color Efex suite, or a Viveza suite of post productions marvels. People went crazy, especially those who were blessed by their parents with the names, Nick, or Nicole. Often these namesakes walked off with complete sets of software goodies.

And Peachpit came through for the readers in our crowds, discounting all manner of terrific books, even though I tried to convince everybody the coupons were only for mine:-) That didn’t work. It was cool to have them out there with us.

For five weeks, we were out there on wheels. Couldn’t have met a nicer bunch of people. Couldn’t have had more fun, and also, couldn’t have learned more. I tell ya, watching the Strobist in action, you learn some stuff, which I will share in an upcoming blog….more tk….

Gear still life pix shot by Cali at f1.2, his favorite f-stop…..:-)

Pocketwizard Update

Nov 12

In Equipment at 6:59am

lightlessons-80

Lots of stuff in the pipe coming from PocketWizard. If you check out David Hobby’s blog, he’s got a hotlink setup to the PocketWizard blog. They’re showing the AC3 controller, which is a nifty radio controller about the size of a bug that gives you full wireless control of 3 zones of flash. Just pop this onto the hot shoe mini, instead of the flash, and you have the same controls you would if you had the flash on there. Very cool. They did an article on the blog called Last Staffer Standing which was fun to participate in. Ron Egatz, over at MAC group did a great job pulling it all together.

They’ve been featuring the above shot, which is a Pocketwizard driven (forgive me) solution, that is pre-FlexMini technology. I’m sitting behind Richie Kane as he drives Ladder 4 through Times Square. Three TTL flashes, with the camera firing off a PW trigger. The dependability of radio triggers, and now, the coming control of TTL radio is going to bust the door open on small flash wireless control. At a recent meeting, I told them many, many Nikon flash users are out there waiting, kinda like Iphone users waiting for Verizon. Working this week with newly updated units, and will have another blog up with results shortly. More tk…..

Staying Organized..

Oct 11

In Advice, Equipment, Tips & Tricks at 8:28am

Always a challenge, right? Photogs–we’ve all got our bits and pieces, our favorite gadget, our go to, get out of jail free light or lens that saves our butt in the field. We accumulate all this stuff, and travel with it, and just keeping up with it sometimes seems to be half the battle.

If you know anything about the way we travel, it’s that we generally have a good chunk of gear.  And with that gear comes an utter mess of cords, batteries, flashes, lenses, stands, etc.- if we don’t have a good organizational system intact.  So it seems as though every few months, we’re coming up with new ideas, altering our packouts, and just trying to make traveling with a bunch of stuff as painless as possible.

Which leads to this…

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We typically travel with two wallets of gels: color correcting and theatrical, and until recently, we had been using old leather business card wallets- which were great, but not exactly organized.

The issue was that the gels were all kinda mixed together, and to find say- a 1/4 cut CTO on the fly, wasn’t always as quick as we’d like.  We had a couple of really nice Think Tank card wallets sitting around, and while Will Foster was working on a packout, he came up with the idea of ripping the middle seams out to fit gels. Will’s a local shooter who’s not only a good guy, he’s one of those folks who stare at a problem for a couple minutes and come up with a simple solution.

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So out came the Exacto blades, and a little while later, we had a much more well-organized gel system.

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May seem like a small thing- and it is- but with as much gear, and as little time as we often have to pull off a shoot, this is definitely a time saver in the field.

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Dunno what Thinktank is going to think about us, uh, customizing one of their smaller pieces of gear, but they do make great stuff. We have traveled internationally a lot this past year, and have shifted to their wheelie bags for carry on gear. Much easier at the big international airports, where the gates always seem to be about four or five miles from the baggage belt. More on those tk……

Photographers and the Search for the Holy Bag

Sep 22

In Equipment at 2:09am

kata_land_0132-1

Photographers. If somebody offered us a cool bag in lieu of a day rate, we’d probably take it. I can’t tell you how many times over the course of my career I’ve just about keeled over with the rapture at the sight and feel of some shoulder borne, web slung, wheelie driven mix of cordura and zippers. Gotta have it. Just gotta. Hence my garage is a bag graveyard, strewn with relics of cases gone by and zippers gone off the rails. Once mighty containers, with the double stitched linings and the thirteen secret zippered, waterproof compartments in the front flap alone, hang lifelessly, toting only dust and the occasional mouse turd. (Photo above by Will Foster.)

So, we’ve had a good tour of bag land, and have finally arrived at some conclusive (for us, anyway) evidence that bag science is finally delivering on the promise of a cure for the bagaholic shooter. We’ll be posting intermittently (did I have to say that, faithful readers who put up with my erratic blogging?) on bags we have experimented with and are fond of. While I stop short of saying we are in bag heaven, the mix of Kata, Thinktank, and Moose bags have really elevated the game.

Let’s start with the big guns, what we do our heaviest shipping with, the Kata line. We use their OC line, a mix of mostly 88′s and 97′s, with a couple 86′s mixed in. (Check out the website, the numbers correspond to different sizes.) I have to say that our experience across the board with these guys is pretty flawless. They are made from some type of ballistic material that can probably fend off an RPG, hence since traveling with these, I have had zero, zero damage to my stuff, despite the fact that there are certainly some airline bag handlers, disgruntled with lifting them, who have played bombadier with these puppies, dropping them out of the airplane to the tarmac without the benefit of mechanized conveyance.

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The interiors, blessedly, are the color of a school bus. Makes sense. Every drop some tiny little biddy bastard screw thing, or plastic whozimawhatsis down into the hold of a standard black bag? You might as well have dropped it into a black hole. (In fact, you did.) The yellow brick road interiors of these bags simply makes sense for mostly black photo gear. They also smartly divide up the top flap into zippered compartments for the interior, and hollow spaces (2 of them) on the top of the exterior. These two pics are how we travel with speedlights. The whole nine yards fits into one bag….SB900s, SD9 battery packs, SC-29 cables, SU 800, Maha chargers, Flashpoint stuff, Lumiquest light shapers, Honl grids, Ray flash, gels, batteries, Hoodman loupes, instruction manuals, Wave tool, Swiss Army knives, gaffer tape, and spare batteries. Everything is numbered, and color coded with tape.

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We throw this puppy into FedEx, or the hold of a plane. It survives admirably. The question mark is the wheels. They have hung in there, mostly, but I have busted a couple of sets over the last year or so. (They are independent of the case, thus replaceable.) But, as I hark back, I have busted the wheels on virtually every case I’ve ever owned. Ever smash a set of the built in wheels on a Pelican case? Not a happy day. The wheels turn into non-spinning lumps and the bag turns into the equivalent of an anvil. (Ever swung a heavy, hard, plastic type case, loaded with gear, out of the back of a Suburban, and before it hits the ground, the first thing it makes contact with is your shins? Oh, my. You feel like you just attached a set of jumper cables to your lower legs, the way you start hopping around.) The Kata’s are padded all around. And the zippers, the Achilles heel of most bags, have remained resolutely intact.

All in all, great bags, well thought out, and good protection for the gear. Next up, quite soon, bags for the smaller stuff. Thinktank, and how we’ve adapted them to our traveling ways, more Kata, and the Moose bag.

More tk….