Allen's Blog

Posts tagged ‘macro’:

Old Friends, New Perspectives (or: From Exoskeletons to ExoLenses)

Over the past weekend, I had a long catching-up phone conversation with my friend of several decades, former assistant, and great photographer Jock Pottle, who now lives in North Carolina. A few years ago, I wrote in this space about Jock and his Digging Man series of illustrations…

Jock Pottle: Free Me

I still think the conception and execution of Digging Man are truly unique and the finished works are absolutely phenomenal. I also wish I had a connection to the art director of The New Yorker because that is one publication (among many) where the fit would be perfect. Hope you visit his site and agree.

Anyway, after our phone chat, Jock emailed this photo. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how it was done, although that may just speak to my lack of imagination at the time. Can you figure it out? (If you prefer to believe it’s simply one of the great photobombs of all time, I won’t try to stop you.)

Jock Pottle: grasshopper

On to another matter… Earlier this year, during our annual trip to the NAB show in Las Vegas, I spent time at the Zeiss optics booth. As always, their lenses for virtually every format in motion picture, television, and still photography continue to be at the pinnacle of optical design and manufacture (just look at this “sliced Zeiss” they had on display). Over the past 50 years, I’ve used Zeiss lenses on almost every camera I’ve owned and many of those I still work with.

But here’s the reason for this bit of unrestrained fan mail: I discovered that Zeiss has designed a series of three accessory lenses for the iPhone. Not one of those cheap 3-in-1 clip-on lens sets you’re probably aware of; think of these as prime optics (they certainly don’t come cheap.) The brand name on the lenses is Exo and you’d do well to check them out at exolens.com. I carry the iPhone 7, and the inherent macro capabilities of the phone’s camera are really impressive. However, mounting the Exo Macro-Zoom lens (with its integral diffuser) takes iPhone macro shooting to a whole new level.

There is a range of options for mounting the lenses to iPhone models going back a few generations. I use the case with a threaded screw mount into which each of these lenses mounts. The wide-angle and portrait (2x) lenses are just as impressive… here are some before-and-after demos of each:

This is as good a time as any to invoke the old adage that any professional photographer has used to answer a question asked hundreds of times — “What’s the best camera?”

And the answer, true now as it has always been — “the one you have with you.” And since I always have my iPhone at hand, it’s what I rely on every single day.

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.

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! 

LitePad Loop – Rosco’s LED Ring Light – Is Great for Macro, Portrait, and Product Photography

Rosco LitePad Loop, a new LED ring light, perfect for macro, portrait, and product photographers

LitePad Quality, Convenience, and Value… Finally Available as a Ring Light for Beautiful Portraits and Macro Shots!

It’s no secret that we’re huge fans of the LitePad product line from Rosco Labs. What’s not to love about these lightweight, low-power, slim-profile, no-heat, versatile, flattering, and — by the way — attractively priced light sources? For years, LitePad has been available in sizes from 3″ squares and circles all the way up to massive four-by-eight-foot custom-made panels, but has never been available as a ring light… until now! LitePad Loop is a ring light with the soul of a LitePad.

Looking to buy LitePad Loop? Click here for a list of dealers!

Why Use a Ring Light?

Macro photographers — those who take extreme close-up photos of things like flowers, insects, and body parts (you know who you are) — prefer to get very close to their subject. With standard light setups, that usually means the tip of their lens will cast a long shadow across the subject. A ring light, on the other hand, can be placed at the very tip of the lens, so it’s impossible to cast a shadow.

Comparison of a portrait lit with standard light vs. a ring light

In fact, since ring lights are “on axis” lights (meaning that since they’re parallel to the camera’s lens and image sensor), they create almost no shadows at all, giving a very pleasing, clean look. This works out very nicely for portrait photographers and product photographers, as well — and it’s well-known that good photography results in higher sales, whether on you’re selling on Amazon or eBay.

How LitePad Loop Works

LitePad Loop, viewed from the back with camera attached

LitePad Loop was designed to work with hundreds of cameras — from entry-level SLRs up to full-blown motion picture cameras. (And yes, Virginia, it even works with the iPhone, if you have a tripod mount.) Included with each LitePad Loop is a mounting sled which accommodates all these form factors. The sled provides a standard 1/4″-20 tripod screw to mate to your camera, and a strong magnetic plate mates to the LitePad Loop. The rig can then be mounted on a tripod or other gear via the 1/4″-20 socket underneath. For extra security, a safety cord (included) can be attached to guard against accidentally knocking the LitePad Loop off its magnetic mount.

Once attached, the mag-plate slides back and forth along a set of 4″ rails (8″ rails also available) and can also be raised and lowered to position the LitePad exactly where you need it, no matter what size your camera or lens is. See the video below for a demonstration:

LitePad Loop Kits and Accessories

LitePad Loop is available as a standard kit, with just the essentials, and in a Pro Kit, which adds useful accessories such as a AA battery kit, dimmer, color filters, and more. The standard kit includes a drawstring storage pouch, while the Pro Kit comes in a full zippered soft case with shoulder strap.

LitePad Loop Pro Kit contents

Other accessories include round color-correcting gels used for color balancing and enhancing (included in the Pro Kit), and pre-cut light masks, which can influence the shape of “catchlights” (reflections) in your subject’s eyes.

LitePad Loop Color Correcting Gels and Stencils/Masks

Where to Buy LitePad Loop

Are you as excited about LitePad Loop as we are? Want to be the first on your block to own one? The premier dealers in the US to carry LitePad Loop include:

Since LitePad Loop is so new, you may find that your favorite dealer hasn’t had a chance to update their online database, yet, so be sure to call or email if you find that’s the case. If you don’t see your local dealer listed, tell them to get in touch with us so we can tell them about LitePad Loop.