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Lordy… What a Light!

Thanks to James Comey for legitimizing my use of ‘Lordy,’ but a product I’ve been using recently has been just astonishing in what it can do in a package so small it belongs in every shooter’s gear bag.

Aladdin Eye-Light BiIt’s called the Aladdin Eye-Lite Bi. Distributed in the U.S. by Zylight, it’s a bicolor LED light that fits in your hand and is rated to run continuously for two hours (or far longer, if you don’t mind plugging in via micro USB). Color temperature is adjustable from 2900–6400K; a second dial controls dimming from 5–100%. Unlike many of the cheap “me too” LEDs we’ve complained about over the years, the Eye-Lite Bi’s color rendering is excellent – 95 CRI/TLCI.

Its 3.5” x 1.5”aluminum housing is sturdy and weighs a mere 2 ounces. The micro USB port is along the top side, and the ¼-20 tripod thread along the bottom can certainly come in handy when shoe-mounting to your camera or a mini tripod. There’s even a small loop built into one corner, about zip-tie size, if that’s how you like to keep things organized. It’s not cheap—it’ll run you about $160 at your local camera store—but it is worth it! (If you can get by on a non-bicolor version, you may still be able to find Aladdin’s previous models for a few bucks less; I first saw them at NAB a few years ago, and was impressed, but I feel that the bicolor version is a truly outstanding product.)

Aladdin Eye-Lite used as fill light

For its size, it puts out a lot of light, and you can easily tape any diffusion or color gels over the LED array. It is a terrific tool for close-up work, and I can see wide use in forensics. Anyone shooting with a macro lens, whether nature close-ups, food, jewelry, or scientific imaging, will see its usefulness. When you have a light source this small (and therefore this maneuverable), adjustments are incredibly easy.

I used it recently while photographing a necklace made by Martha’s Vineyard artist Kate Taylor. The materials are wampum, sea glass, and gold beads. While the image with no supplemental lighting is fine (if a bit flat), adding the Eye-Lite made a real difference in depth and dimensionality.

Product shot - before and after

As many of you know, I’m always looking for new products that extend our creativity, and this is one of several that I’ll be writing about in the next few weeks.

Celebrate What’s Right With the World

We find ourselves this week at the end of an absolutely brutal political campaign. The phrase “worst election ever” is thrown around by both sides nearly every four years, but this year seems unlikely to be surpassed for decades (or so we hope). According to the Pew Research Center, literally half of either side is ‘afraid’ of the other party. And as many feared, the turmoil has not subsided as the contest ended; indeed, many tempers seem to be worsening as the transfer of power begins.

As we contemplate our role in this new world, I ask you to take another look at some of the precious details you may have forgotten were there all along, being masked by all the noise and vitriol. A moment of Zen is in order, even if only to recharge your batteries in order to better stand up for what you believe in. 


Dewitt Jones, former National Geographic photographer and a collaborator and friend of ours for years, publishes an ongoing project called “Celebrate What’s Right With the World!” Dewitt has a knack for discovering beauty and peace in natural scenes (though he might characterize these as “revelations” rather than “discoveries”). His project has evolved over the years from a film, to a website, to an entire community of like-minded people posting their own celebrations of life for all to enjoy. Most of the action takes place on his Facebook page, but if that’s not your style, you can choose to follow him on Twitter or Instagram, or join his mailing list. Whatever your choice, I hope you’ll spend a few moments at the end of a tumultuous week scrolling through Dewitt’s images, and that they bring you some wonder, joy, inspiration, or peace. 

Objects of Desire (or Vigorous Want, at Least) at PhotoPlus Expo 2016

The exhibits have been taken down at NYC’s Javits Center, and PhotoPlus Expo 2016 is now in the past. It’s always a pleasure to run into friends and dealers while touring the show floor, as we all oooh and ahhh at the shiny new gizmos on display, and start to make mental notes of which ones we’re going to start saving for. Here’s a recap of some of what’s new and what is changing in how we’ll shoot pictures and video this year…

nikon-booth-at-ppe-2016

A Death Spiral for DSLRs?

Well, probably more like a steep loss of altitude. As always, Nikon and Canon were out in force, and lots of fans were there to see and play with their new toys. But the real action was to be found at mirrorless vendors like Sony, and Fuji, and Lumix. I’ve never seen a presentation like Sony’s before. Their range of mirrorless cameras and the vast array of optics they showed drew crowds from the moment the doors opened.

Sony booth at PPE 2016

Sony lenses at PPE 2016

The capabilities of these cameras, both in still and 4K video, are astonishing. It’s why my full-frame DSLRs now spend much of their time on the shelf. It’s also why these cameras are being widely used in professional video production and why companies like Zeiss are making feature-worthy optics to fit them.

It’s no surprise that Fotodiox (about whom I’ve written before) is continually expanding their range of adapters to ensure that virtually any lens can be used with any of the new cameras, in most cases transferring their auto-focus technology at the same time. I love being able to use vintage Leica M-series optics on my Fuji X-E2, particularly for portraiture.

And I’ll never be smart enough to figure out how Lumix (and others) can offer a camera with a 24-480mm optical zoom and a host of other phenomenal features that weighs not much more than my 43-86 Zoom-Nikkor from the late ’60s (still languishing in a desk drawer).

Lensbaby Trio28 at PPE 2016

Accessories of Note

Even though I had very high regard for the unique products they brought to photographers, I’ve never owned a Lensbaby product. It’s probably because, through decades of photojournalism work, I avoided anything that modified the images I produced. But things change, and I was intrigued to learn about their Trio 28 for mirrorless cameras. It produces three versatile effects on a rotating mount over a 28mm lens (effectively 42mm on my Fuji). I played with it at the show, and I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do with it soon.

ThinkTank Red Whips at PPE 2016

I’ve been using Think Tank memory card wallets for years, but wasn’t aware of their full range of products. Here’s one that everyone needs: Red Whips adjustable elastic cable ties. Managing cords and cables at home or on location is a real pain, and a package of these would be the perfect stocking stuffer (along with a pack of our microGAFFER – a favorite on holiday shopping lists year after year!)

Op/Tech USA is a company with a vast range of accessories, some of which I’ve been using for a long time. At PhotoPlus Expo, I tried a new camera strap they call the “Envy” on my Fuji mirrorless. It’s got a slim profile and is padded with memory foam. Op/Tech makes hundreds of products, and I plan to put the Envy strap on all my camera bodies. You’ve gotta love that—just like us—they’re proud to stamp the “Made in the USA” banner on practically all their products, and even produced a behind-the-scenes look into their workshop.

Phoxi FriendsMy best-in-show award for accessories, however, would have to go to Phoxi Friends. Marie Murray, a Canadian children’s photographer, has come up with a range of delightful creatures (with built-in squeakers) that wrap around the barrel of any lens and instantly engage any subject, particularly small children. Any photographer who’s struggled to get and hold the attention of a kid or pet knows how tough that can be. At her modest booth on the fringes of the exhibit floor, I watched dozens of attendees walk away with their new Phoxi Friends.

“Your New York Minute” Photo Contest

Not to forget what all this stuff is for — helping great photographers capture great images — PPE’s first official photo contest was held at the show, with the City of New York as its subject. Some magnificent images were chosen, both in the Amateur and Professional categories. Take a look, and be inspired!

Live News Stand-Ups in the Age of Internet Memes

Used to be if you were doing a live shot during a local or network news broadcast, all you had to worry about was the ‘Hi Mom’ sign being lifted up behind you during your stand-up. But as NBC’s Katy Tur found out on May 27th in San Diego, it’s gotten a bit more risky.

Fuck Trump sign

Tur has been the principal reporter covering the Trump campaign for Nightly News, and when it’s a single-camera shoot, there’s no way to cut away from an offensive graphic in the crowd. The best you can hope for is to move your correspondent out of the line of fire and pan back to her in a graphically safer setting. Having directed a lot of live TV news, I can easily visualize the scene in the control room during the nine seconds this was on air on the East Coast. Guaranteed there was a cleaner version for all the other time zones.

Super Fight II: Muhammad Ali & Joe Frazier’s Rematch at Madison Square Garden

Ali-Frazier ticket stub

Sports photography was never my strong suit back in the day; I did far better with crime, politics, and the arts.

A few weeks ago, as part of a quiet afternoon at home, I was sorting through a box of memorabilia. Had I not come across this ticket stub for the Ali-Frazier rematch at Madison Square Garden, I don’t think I’d have remembered this assignment.

I grew up in a one-channel town during the early days of television, and if you weren’t of driving age, the Gillette Friday Night Fights was the most excitement you could hope for. So all those years later, the call to be ringside at the Garden myself was a very big deal.

Ali-Frazier rematch, Madison Square Garden, 1974

It was the one and only time I ever saw Ali (or Frazier) in action, but given the enormous and well-deserved attention given to his passing a few days ago, I wanted to share an image of what was called Super Fight II. Ali won in a unanimous decision.

Lastly, and not to be missed, this 2014 post at The Guardian collects some of the greatest images of Muhammad Ali.

NAB Show 2016: LEDs Everywhere, But What of Their Quality?

With the 2016 edition of the NAB Show now receding in the rear-view mirror, here are my observations on the path our industry is taking.

As always, we flew to Las Vegas to support our colleagues at Dedolight as they demonstrated the innovative lights they’ve worked to bring to market this year.

Dedolight NAB 2016 Booth

This was definitely the year of LED lighting overload. There must have been at least 20 times as many companies showing broad source fixtures as last year, most of them no-name Chinese manufacturers just jumping on the LED bandwagon with no understanding of, or regard to, the quality of their products’ output. In fact, they do have appeal for the “fix it in post” crowd of shooters.

NAB 2016 LED mania 1

NAB 2016 LED mania

It’s a mindset that’s frustrating to those of us who care deeply about lighting for television and motion pictures, and who devote so much of our efforts to perfecting lighting as an art form. Teams from Dedolight, Arri, Mole-Richardson, and Rosco work very hard to develop the lights that advance the state of the art. It’s slow, difficult work, but it translates into money well spent when you see the results.

Dedolight News 2016

Dedolight catalog 2016

So it was rewarding to see the Dedolight booth filled with visitors day after day, everyone eager to discover all that’s new and to have a chance to talk with Dedo Weigert himself (when he’s not being interviewed).

Dedo Weigert interview NAB 2016

Once again, the use of DSLRs in production continues to rise, now being challenged by micro four thirds cameras. I’d even say most of the video production taking place at the show was based on the latter format. And here’s where another of my favorite companies comes into play — Fotodiox continues to expand its range of lens adapters so that just about any lens can be mounted to almost any camera body.

Fotodiox lens adapter rings

Beyond being beautifully conceived and finished, these reasonably-priced products mean that favorite optics can have a whole new life. I have an ancient Leica 90mm f/4 Elmar which the legendary Marty Forscher custom-adapted to my Nikons 30 years ago. Used wide-open, it is a remarkable portrait lens, and now is equally superb (although with an effective focal length of 120mm) on my Fuji X-E2.

Zeiss lenses at NAB 2016

And it’s just as amazing to see the range of lenses that Zeiss is producing with DSLR platforms in mind. True, the prices are sky-high, but again, it’s unfair to complain too much; in a production environment where Nikon and Canon cameras are being used for everything from commercials to feature films, the economics, speed and output quality for most shoots is a match for massive, far more costly production cameras.

Red drone at NAB 2016

As for drones, which only a few years ago were out of reach for most individuals, they too keep getting better and cheaper. Watching coverage of the violent floods and storms happening across the U.S., they have unquestionably changed news-gathering. Can’t quite bring myself to buy one, but the thought of being able to have a drone in hover mode over the tennis court and watch a sobering post-match replay is tempting.

Nanuk cases at NAB 2016

Nanuk Nano cases at NAB 2016

Finally, a shout-out for Nanuk equipment cases from Canada, particularly their Nano series. I first saw this company’s products at the PhotoPlus show in New York last year and was really happy to see them at NAB.

The latching system is innovative and very secure. The Nano cases, in a range of colors and sizes, can’t be beat for storing accessories and location must-haves. I own and have used Pelican products for many years and think they are fine, but in my opinion, the Nanuk cases reach another level.

Can’t leave without some dining recommendations, for whenever you may be in Las Vegas —

I have no interest whatsoever in big name restaurants on The Strip, regardless of who the chef behind them is, but after a long day of work here are two that you might not find on your own:

Chef Marc’s Trattoria on West Sahara is as good a Tuscan-style Italian restaurant as I’ve ever eaten at… period. Feast your eyes on some of the dishes on their website, and then find a way to get yourself in front of the real thing.

For ramen and other traditional Japanese noodle dishes, Monta has been a favorite of mine for several years. Again, visit their website, make the drive to Spring Mountain Road, and enjoy some of the best ramen you’ll find outside Japan.

Lastly, just in case you’re driving to Los Angeles from Vegas (just under 300 miles), here’s a handy tip, based on the laws of supply and demand: fuel up before you leave. Gas was about $2.25 in Las Vegas, but 100 miles west, in the desert… well, let’s just say mountain lions weren’t the only predators out there.

Gas in the desert