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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

Keep Your Mirrorless and Superzoom Camera Stable with the New Steadybag SB-4

Long exposure of Grand Central Terminal, camera stabilized with

It seems that point-and-shoot cameras have become almost obsolete, now that mirrorless and compact zoom models have filled the gap between the iPhone and full-size DSLRs. We decided that a new Steadybag® was needed to give these new cameras the same kind of support and rock-steady imaging photographers have been getting for many years from our other Steadybags.

So here’s our SB-4, weighing just over a pound and measuring 9.5 x 5.5″. It fits in just about any case or shoulder bag. Whether you’re on a long trek or just shooting locally, image sharpness is one of the basics.

On a recent trip to New York City, I carried my Fuji X-E2 (never without it) along with the new Steadybag. Just as a quick test, I positioned the SB-4 on one of the marble railings overlooking the main concourse of Grand Central Station, set the camera on its lowest ISO and its smallest aperture, and here are the results. The exposure was around 4 seconds, and while the commuters were in motion (who in NYC ever stands still for that long), the rest of the image is tack-sharp.

Steadybag SB-4 for mirrorless cameras minimizes camera shake

Some of the new ‘super zoom” compacts have lenses with optical zooms up to 65x (35mm equivalent of 1200mm or more), and I defy anyone to hand-hold at that magnification and come back with a really sharp image.

At PhotoPlus later this week in New York, I’m going to see just how well our new Steadybag performs with a range of the newest cameras… look for photos here.

Sometimes, It’s As Easy As Stepping Out the Door

Jade vine flowers in the reflecting pond

A few months ago, I wrote about visiting the annual Orchid Show at the New York Botanical Garden. I went there in order to see the beauty on display, of course, and also to watch photographers of all skill levels (and “gear levels”) capture the images they wanted to keep and share. My own personal favorite pictures were the dropped petals from a jade orchid that landed in a reflecting pool. I was inspired enough to make multiple trips just to capture these flowers in different ways.

Fuji X-E2 taking macro photo of morning glory flowers

Earlier this summer, we decided to grow morning glories in pots on the deck of our home. The light is perfect early in the day, and in a very small area, here were the flowers in all stages of their growth. Two minutes later and I’ve got my Fuji X-E2 with the 60mm macro in place. Five minutes after that, I’ve got a lovely set of images.

Of course, I could have shot this with my Nikon D800 and 105mm Macro, but it was just so much easier to maneuver the Fuji. Another example of why the new generation of small cameras with large sensors have become the dominant source of buzz in serious photography. I bought the first generation Sony RX100 when it first came out, and it is still an amazing camera. But now I have my eyes set on the RX100 IV, for which the reviews have been a series of raves, and whose specs, including 4K, high frame-rate video, are just incredible. At nearly $1000, it’s no casual purchase and should come with a one-on-one week-long tutorial instead of the usual 200-page manual. But do I really need it? (At my age, the answer is probably “no.”)

Steal-Me-branded-camera-strap

One more quick note, this time about SLRs and the straps they come with – I know that Canon, Nikon and others are very proud to have thought of weaving their brand names and model numbers right into the straps, but fair warning: a strap that proclaims Nikon D810 or any other expensive designation is great free advertising and promotion for the companies, but they might as well add the words ‘steal me.’ Out on the street, I look for opportunities to advise unwary shooters to immediately order a top-quality but unbranded strap. (I don’t mind if their parting thought, as I stride off into the sunset, is “just who was that annoying man?”)

Many thanks to Ben Salter for releasing the image of his Canon 50D under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license. Yes, we’ve modified the image a bit! 

Watch Rick Friedman Explain His Portrait Workflow at the B&H Event Space

If you follow his blog, you already know that our friend Rick Friedman held a workshop at the B&H Event Space. He visited to talk about how he approaches his portrait work, particularly when you need to make a great image of a VIP in very little time. (VIPs are not known for standing still for more than a few minutes…)

At any rate, Rick’s been doing this since the Reagan years, so he’s probably got the hang of it by now. Have a look at the video, which has just been posted by B&H, and see if you can pick up a few pro tips! Or, if you prefer to read his blog post, you can do that, instead.

We’re at NAB 2015 in the Dedolight Booth

NAB Show Logo

As in many years previous, we’re in sunny Las Vegas at the NAB Show helping make people aware of new gear from Dedolight. We’d love to meet you if you’re in town! Come to booth C9835 and ask for Russ or Allen. And we’re in good company, as there’s lots of lovely gear also on display by our neighbors: Atomos, Red Rock Micro, Zacuto, and Zeiss. Looking forward to seeing you!

Learning about Dedolight at NAB 2015 Dedolight's booth at NAB 2015

Beautiful, Endlessly Patient Models — Available at Very Reasonable Rates

Yellow orchid flowers

Many photographers dream of the chance to photograph beautiful live models—hundreds of them—each willing to pose without complaint until the shooters are satisfied with their results. It helps if the models are flowers, and in this case orchids.

Every year, the New York Botanical Garden puts on the country’s largest curated orchid show. Even if it’s freezing outside and the Garden’s extensive acreage is covered with snow, the crystal palace Conservatory plays hosts to thousands of visitors, the vast majority of them taking pictures with every level of camera – inexpensive point-and-shoots, iPhones and iPads, and the whole gamut of “big boy” digital cameras. The variety of cameras on display doesn’t quite exceed the variety of flowers…

And what flowers they are. A word to the wise: once you arrive at the Conservatory, set aside a few minutes for your camera to acclimatize to the high humidity. Here’s an example of what happens if you rush the process. (Who needs VSCO filters when you’ve got Mother Nature?)

Humidity caused this hazy effect

And sometimes, interesting images come not from the flowers on the stem, but the ones that have fallen into the reflecting ponds below. These are jade vine flowers — not technically an orchid, but a legume. They look positively otherworldly when they’re on the vine!

Jade vine flowers in the reflecting pond

In two recent visits, I didn’t see a single film camera being used, and there’s no question that if we were still in the film era, there would be a much smaller number of photographers there. In fact, the number of linear feet of film produced by Kodak is down 96 percent from 2007, and GoPro has a market cap six times larger than Kodak.

LumiQuest's Pocket Bouncer added some fill light

Lavender orchid flowers

This year’s show closes shortly (April 19th), and I urge you to see it.

If you can’t make it, remember that the New York Botanical Garden is an extraordinary venue for photographers year-round.

While it may seem remote, set in the middle of the Bronx, it’s actually very easy to reach by mass transit or by car. A comfortable 20 minute ride on Metro-North’s Harlem line lets you leave the intensity of midtown Manhattan behind for a few hours. And who doesn’t need that, once in a while?