|Volume 13, Number 10||20 May 2011|
Welcome to the 306th edition of the Imaging Resource Newsletter. We test an affordable monobloc with a wireless trigger before Shawn shoots with his new favorite Micro Four Thirds camera. Then we explore a new "de-fishing" filter before recapping the news since we last sat down together. Enjoy!
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We're a fan of Photoflex (http://www.photoflex.com) lighting equipment. The products are well designed, well engineered (we've never had a failure) and the price is right.
It's that last bit that intrigued us about the company's new wireless monobloc kits. They make pretty nice (and affordable) starter studio lighting setups including a 150-watt, 300-watt or 650-watt monobloc with a stand and a LiteDome soft box or umbrella or OctoDome.
With a wireless trigger for your flash (whether it's strobes or monoblocs), you're unleashed, free to roam around for the best shot without strangling yourself or tripping to your doom.
The Photoflex kits are built around a monobloc lighting source. But what's a monobloc and how does it differ from the more familiar small external flash you may already own?
Like your external flash it's a strobe, often referred to as a studio strobe because it doesn't like to wander too far from an electrical outlet. As a strobe, it fires a very quick flash of light rather than a continuous source of illumination (although the StarFlash does have a modeling light so you can check your shadows).
A monobloc has all its controls built in. Rather than rely on a control unit on the floor with wires running off in all directions to reflectors with bulbs in them, you have a can-shaped control unit with dials and connectors at one end and at least one tube at the other end.
So what are you gaining when you trade the convenience of a small handheld external flash for a stand-mounted monobloc that dances like a wall flower?
You gain more light and a faster recycle time. So you can use smaller apertures and don't have to wait around for the flash to recycle. That's a big advantage in the studio.
There's also a difference in the degree to which you can modify the light of a monobloc compared to an external flash. A flash has a pretty small lamp housed in a pretty small reflector running off some pretty small batteries. Unmodified, it's going to cast some hard shadows. And modifying it to produce a soft light that's also bright enough to shoot at small apertures isn't simple or cheap.
But a monobloc is built to hang all sorts of light modifiers on the front from umbrellas to soft boxes, from focusers to grids. And you still have plenty of power when you soften the light.
A monobloc setup has traditionally not been inexpensive. Your budget had to have four figures in it to consider even a modest setup. But Photoflex has been engineering very good quality solutions at very modest prices and the new monobloc kits are no exception.
In 1985 Gene Kester grew increasingly frustrated with the softbox options he found. He turned to Scott Reeves, an old friend from their days in the ski industry who manufactured fiberglass rods. Working with Kester's design, Reeves created a collapsible rectangular softbox with extruded, fiberglass rods that improved on the hollow rods of other softboxes.
Kester liked the new softbox and asked Reeves to make a few more to outfit his San Francisco studio and a set for location work. Reeves explained it wouldn't be financially feasible to produce less than 100 softboxes. Kester placed the order anyway.
A few weeks later he took the softboxes to a small photography trade show in San Francisco -- and sold out within two hours. The owner of a major retail store offered to display more at his shop and another 100 sold quickly. A sales rep who saw them at the store said a rep group to which he belonged could sell even more. It did.
Even though he'd developed a commercial photography clientele that included Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Macy's and Bullock's, Kester literally saw the light. He sold his interest in the studio to his partner and teamed up with Reeves to start Photoflex.
Photoflex shipped us its $600 SK-SF300MXT StarFlash 300-watt LiteDome Kit (http://www.photoflex.com/Pro_Products/Strobe_Lighting/StarFlash_Single_Kits/StarFlash_sup__reg___sup__300watt_LiteDome_sup__reg___sup__Kit/index.html), which is a mouthful. It's even more of a kit than a mouthful, with five components, including:
Photoflex also offers single-light wireless kits (http://www.photoflex.com/Pro_Products/Strobe_Lighting/StarFlash_Single_Kits/) that include a 150-watt monobloc ($450) and a 650 monobloc ($850). And you can configure the kits to include two heads, two stands, two umbrellas, reflectors and enough radio receivers plus the transmitter with a rolling case to transport everything, too (http://www.photoflex.com/Pro_Products/Strobe_Lighting/StarFlash_Dual_Kits/).
- a daylight-balanced StarFlash 300-watt monobloc (SB-SF300W) with an aluminum housing covered in a durable rubber paint
- a medium-size LiteDome (XT-2MLD293), with a nearly 2x3-foot removable face revealing a white interior
- a StarFlash connector (SB-B9017SFC) that can mount any Photoflex soft box to a StarFlash monobloc
- a medium-size LiteStand (LS-B2214) made of aircraft grade aluminum alloy, extending to over eight feet
- a FlashFire wireless kit (AC-FLASHFIRE) with a transmitter, receiver, sync cable with Photoflex 1/4-inch phono and 6.35mm plugs, and one adapter with mini-jack and 3.5mm plug used by other major brands of studio flash
The "lite" for "light" is by design, of course. Apart from the StarFlash monobloc, the components are lightweight, which makes them easy to transport. They're also compact enough to pack out of sight at the home studio.
And while this is a basic one-light kit, it's easy to expand. The Photoflex components are modular, easily interchanged among themselves. So you can add a second LiteStand and monobloc with a different diffuser or light focuser.
We happen to have other StarFlash monoblocs here so that's what we did for two-light and three-light setups. But you can do a lot with one-light setups like this kit. The included LiteDome is large enough to give a very nice soft light for small objects. But you can also get very nice results using Photoflex's LiteIgloo or just by bouncing the powerful StarFlash light off a white ceiling. Or by adding a reflector like white foamboard to the opposite side of your set.
So as a kit, it's a bare minimum, but it does have one exotic feature: that wireless kit.
WIRELESS STUDIO FLASH
There's just one advantage to using wireless flash: freedom. There are no cords to trip over, no cords to yank your collar if you stray too far, no cords to break or pull out of a socket. It's just you and the subject.
But there's a big downside to wireless studio flash: expense. A rock-solid, reliable PocketWizard setup requires a big check for someone just starting out.
Unfortunately, scrounging around for a cheap wireless trigger will most likely get you something that just doesn't work reliably. Or very far from the light.
Photoflex did its homework with the $99.95 FlashFire (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0049RS8A4/?tag=theimagingres-20). It won't break your budget and it does work reliably up to 164 feet (we're generally about 50 feet max here) using a 16-channel 2.4-GHz signal so you can avoid conflicts.
According to the specs, sync speed taps out at 1/160 second for focal plane shutters and 1/500 for leaf shutters. We can confirm the 1/160 limit, which was fast enough for our still life product shots <g>. And, as noted above, you can add more receivers to respond to the transmitter you attach to your camera's hot shoe.
One caveat, however. The FlashFire is a trigger. It's not a sophisticated flash control like Nikon's Creative Lighting System or some PocketWizards, which can set the flash power and exposure remotely. You set each monobloc manually not wirelessly, but you trigger the exposure wirelessly with the FlashFire.
Of course, it's a helluva trigger. A radio trigger, which can function through walls (unlike the Creative Lighting System's line-of-sight approach). For one lighting setup, we put two StarFlashes in a room, one with the receiver and the other set in slave mode and fired them both from outside. The walls hid the StarFlashes from view, so the receiver was not in the line of sight. And we were easily 50 feet away.
We did the same from the other side of building, through the walls, with only a door open. No line of sight. Pop, pop, pop. Very nice.
Power. The transmitter is a small boxy unit that takes a three-volt lithium CR2 photo battery commonly available at the neighborhood drugstore. It should last for 2,000 shots.
The receiver takes two AAA batteries rated for 45 hours of standby use. We used NiMH rechargeables.
Parts. The transmitter features a test button on the top panel. The rear has the battery door and the front has a PC socket for a direct cable connection and a status indicator light. On the bottom panel the channel switch offers four recessed DIP switches, initially set to the Off position to communicate with the receiver. The hot shoe has five electrical connectors.
The receiver is oblong, like the AAA batteries it houses. On the top panel, there is a four-connector hot shoe at one end, the DIP switches (set to Off), a Power switch and its status indicator lamp. On the back there's an three-contact output socket for a wired connection to the StarFlash. On the bottom with the battery compartment cover is a tripod socket built into a plastic hot shoe mount.
Installation. To mount the receiver, you can use either its plastic hot shoe mount or the tripod socket if your gear matches either of those options. On the StarFlash, we simply wrapped the connector cord around a knob on the LiteStand and let the receiver dangle. It hardly weighs anything at all.
Mounting the transmitter was simple. We just popped it on to the hot shoe of the camera we were using. We used Canon and Nikon dSLRs and an Olympus Micro Four Thirds camera with the unit.
Channels. We used the default channel setting on the DIP switches because there was no danger of a conflict here. But you can configure the four switches on each unit in any combination of On or Off states. They just have to match.
There's a protective orange film over the DIP switches that must be removed to access them.
Turn Them On. Finally, you turn on the receiver and whatever it's connected to. Then you turn on the camera and its flash signal. When you press the Shutter button, the remote StarFlash will fire.
The FlashFire does come with a couple of connectors and a cable, which makes it easy to connect the StarFlash. You'll have to use your own PC cord, of course.
It's worth noting that the FlashFire works just as well with an external flash. We triggered a Nikon flash from a Canon dSLR with the FlashFire.
The StarFlash monoblocs have been around a while. The latest versions have an amber infrared filter rather than the original red filter, making them more responsive in fluorescent light. Otherwise, they look the same.
The have a color-coded rubberized aluminum housing (red for 300-watts), a comfortably large handle on the rear, a big release button on top for reflectors and connectors, a nice slide on the bottom to attach the handle and tilt/swivel mount, and a modeling lamp surrounded by a flashtube in front. Each StarFlash also includes extra fuses, a sync cable and a power cord.
The egg-shaped back of the StarFlash hosts the controls. At the top is the infrared slave sensor. Just below it is the power regulator for the flash with 1/8-step power settings from 1/8 to Full over a five f-stop range with a 2-3 second recycle time. To the right are the Charge and Ready status lights. Below them is a Sound button to toggle audio alerts. Below that, along the right side, is the Test/Discharge button. The left side is occupied by the handle.
In the middle, left to right, are the Power switch and to its right a smaller Sensor switch to toggle the slave and a Modeling switch to turn on the proportional modeling light (off, full or matching the flash power setting).
The bottom of the egg has all the connections: a Fuse receptacle, the power cord connection and the sync cord input (which is where we cabled the FlashFire receiver).
A StarFlash monobloc is a well designed unit, easy to manually configure and modify during the session.
The Photoflex LiteStands have become our favorite piece of these kits. They are lightweight, simple mechanisms that spread out in a secure three-legged stance of varying width with a telescoping center post that goes as high as we need.
The knobs are secure and easy to set while the top post is versatile enough to accommodate a tripod socket or a swivel mount.
They do bend a bit with a monobloc and dome attached, but not enough to bother us.
Photoflex's LiteDomes are compact light shapers that, when assembled, form large soft boxes nearly 2x3 feet in size. You can omit the white transparent cover to use the white reflective inside the dome for a variation on the quality of the light.
You assemble the LiteDome by bending its four sewn-in rods into an octagonal metal connector. The connector locks onto the StarFlash. There's a right way to do this and a wrong way, so follow the step-by-step instructions carefully. It can be a little daunting the first time through because it does take some force to bend the rods.
Attaching the small StarFlash to the large dome with the connector is best done off the LiteStand. Put the dome face down, guide the StarFlash modeling bulb through the opening in the connector, seat it and rotate it into the locked position.
Once locked on the StarFlash, the connector can be rotated freely to angle the dome however you like.
USING THE SETUP
We used the kit in several different ways over a period of several months. It was our primary product shot illumination. We appreciated the flexibility the kit provided in coming up with a variety of setups to solve different lighting issues.
Wireless Bounce. The most convenient setup for us was to set the StarFlash at 1/2 power and aim it at our white ceiling. That turned our largest white surface into a source of illumination, casting a very soft but bright light on whatever product was on our posing table.
We were able to walk around the product without fear of casting a shadow because the StarFlash head, mounted on the LiteStand, was higher than we were and the FlashFire gave us the freedom to wander away from the LiteStand.
This arrangement didn't require the LiteDome. But now and then we added a foamcore board to the mix to flood one side or another of the product with a little more light.
Wireless Strobe. We relied on just the FlashFire by itself to trigger a Nikon SB-800 from a Canon Rebel.
We mounted the SB-800 on the receiver and screwed that onto a tripod. We set the flash to Remote mode and Manual with fixed ISO and aperture. And we mounted the transmitter on the Rebel's hot shoe, set it for 1/160 second and the same aperture as the SB-800 at the same ISO.
Yes, it's more convenient to use Nikon's Creative Lighting System. The SB-800 can be set remotely and you don't have to worry about changing the light output if your subject is moving around. But manual flash exposure is nothing new around here. Being able to trigger the Nikon flash from the Canon Rebel was new, though. And being able to do it without requiring a line of sight to the flash was new, too.
Multiple Wireless Monoblocs. Our most ambitious setup required two StarFlash units, two LiteStands and the FlashFire.
As with the Wireless Bounce setup, we attached the FlashFire receiver to the StarFlash using the included cable. And we mounted the FlashFire transmitter to an Olympus E-PL1.
The second StarFlash was set to Slave mode and positioned across the studio from the first unit. We used the LiteDome on the first StarFlash and a smaller LiteDome from Photoflex's Basic Digital Lighting Kit (http://www.imaging-resource.com/ACCS/PHF/PHF.HTM) on the other StarFlash. That gave us a main light and a fill.
In addition to shooting in the studio, we took a walk with the E-PL1, firing the StarFlashes in sync every now and then as we went up the street -- even though they were not visible and behind glass and thick walls. They responded immediately up to 90 paces, a bit more than 150 feet, as the specifications say.
Capacity. On all of our monobloc setups, we typically set the StarFlash to 1/2 power to flood our small studio with light. That suggests that even the 150-watt StarFlash would work well (at Full power) in a normal room size.
If you find your external flash is just not powerful enough to get you to the aperture you want to use in the studio, it's time to consider a monobloc solution.
Photoflex makes it affordable to outfit your studio with a reliable monobloc system you can extend with a variety of accessories from reflectors to soft boxes. And with its new FlashFire wireless trigger, you can inexpensively enjoy the freedom of cordless control.
Photoflex's monobloc kits have impressed us once again with the company's ability to design a full-featured solution at an affordable price. Outright prolonged applause.
By SHAWN BARNETT(Excerpted from the full review posted at http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/DMCG3/DMCG3A.HTM on the Web site.)
It wasn't until Panasonic came out with the small GF1 that I got excited about the Lumix Micro Four Thirds cameras and I gravitated instead to the Olympus Pen cameras for their simpler body design, smaller size and better JPEG image quality.
Note that I said JPEG image quality, because Panasonic's Raws were just fine, but something was going wrong in the camera's JPEG processing and compression engine that was making the yellows green and the oranges brown, gradually worsening as ISO increased.
Panasonic's faster autofocus and slightly better optics made even the GF1 a frustrating proposition because of that JPEG image quality problem. The G1, G2, GH1 and GH2 were just too big to catch my interest, their bodies not much smaller than a Rebel. Sure, the lenses are smaller, but the body had to be smaller too. The EVF was very nice, but that wasn't sufficient to overcome the large size and JPEG green shift.
Enter the Panasonic G3, sweeping all that ambivalence away. It's smaller, it's faster, it's lighter and its image quality is really good, with only a hint of the green shift, so little that it's hardly noticeable. Printed image quality rivals the strongest contenders in both Compact System Cameras and dSLRs. It makes me look on the CSC category very differently. A few quick comparisons will show why:
Ergonomics. The latest truly easy to hold CSC was the Olympus E-PL2, whose grip is nicely sculpted front and back. The Panasonic G3 bests it by just a little, fitting in my hand just right, its tapered grip design meeting my skin and hand shape just about right and the smooth, yet grippy rubber is warm to the touch.
The thumbgrip on the back isn't quite as robust as the E-PL2, but my thumb finds a comfortable spot just left of the Rear dial. Those with longer fingers have found comfort curling their fingers around the grip, something that doesn't quite work for me, but no one so far has decried the grip as too small.
There are no sharp edges on the Panasonic G3, so it's also comfortable to hold with your left hand. Wide strap lugs also replace the noisy D-rings found on the larger G-series cameras, a welcome trend that we hope continues. There's less to jut into your hand and the D-rings won't make noise that gets picked up in videos.
Speed. Speaking of dSLRs, their chief advantages besides interchangeable lenses are an optical viewfinder, a larger sensor and greater autofocus speed. See below for the former two, but the latter item is addressed by the Panasonic G3's surprisingly fast autofocus system. dSLRs are fast because they use phase-detect autofocus, but in their Live View modes, they really lag behind even most point-and-shoot cameras. But the Panasonic G3 uses contrast-detect only and still manages to focus like an dSLR. It's so fast that I often find myself refocusing just for the fun of it. Our testing shows it to be a little slower than the GH2, which is even faster in low light, but it's still remarkable to behold a Live View camera focusing so quickly.
Even in low light situations, where I'd find the Canon T3i seeking for several seconds in Live View to settle on a focus position, the G3 finds focus quickly. A little slower than in normal room light, but considerably faster than any dSLR in contrast-detect live view. And when the light gets really low, the Panasonic G3 has another advantage over the T3i: a bright orange AF-assist lamp. You have to be careful not to block it while holding this very small body, but it makes the G3 acquire focus faster and you don't have to pop up the flash (the T3i pulses its flash for AF assist).
Lenses. It used to be that all Panasonic Micro Four Thirds lenses were superb, but we've found the kit lens we received a little less than stellar, with the upper right corner in particular being softer than it should be. It's not a deal breaker, by any means, but we recommend checking your copy both focused near and focused far (ours is worse when focusing far than when focusing near) before your option to return or exchange the lens expires. One thing in its favor is that it's light and it focuses pretty fast.
We have the 14-140mm lens (28-280mm equivalent) as well, which does pretty well at middle focal lengths and we enjoyed shooting with it again. But we also had some more modern Olympus lenses, including the slim and light 14-150mm M.Zuiko lens (28-300mm equivalent), just a little longer than the Panasonic lens. We liked the image quality and the lens focused quickly and silently and even worked with videos quite well, as it's designed to do. The Panasonic G3 also looks and feels less overburdened by the size and weight of the 14-150mm M.Zuiko than by the 14-140mm Lumix lens.
I also had a little fun with the 9-18mm M.Zuiko (18-36mm equivalent), which is also fast and quiet. Olympus's optical and build quality has reached the point where lenses can be swapped freely between platforms, which is good for everyone. The only disadvantage to using Olympus lenses on the Panasonic G3 is the lack of built-in image stabilization, because Olympus uses sensor-shift stabilization in their bodies, while the G3's IS is built into the lenses.
Interface. Though there are a few good reasons for the Panasonic G3's touchscreen, I prefer navigating with the buttons more than the screen. I also find the touchscreen too often gets in the way. Little educational screens delay my entry into Playback mode, for example, telling me to "Touch screen to enlarge image," yet again. Thank you.
Setting AF points, which is as easy as touching the screen, is a very good use of touchscreen technology, of course, but I still find myself frustrated with it. Scrolling around in the Pinpoint AF mode is more difficult than it should be and the onscreen buttons are too often in the way of the view, so that I can't see if I'm getting all that I want in the frame. Getting them out of the way is impossible, unless of course you disable certain parts of the touchscreen interface. You can enable or disable the Q.Menu, the Defocus Control, Touch Shutter, Touch Display button and Touch Autofocus. Leaving Defocus Control and Touch AF on eliminated nearly all of my irritation with the touch interface.
There's no EV Compensation button on the Panasonic G3, but I remembered to press the Rear dial down and there it was: the dial's function changed from controlling Program shift to the EV adjustment. While making either adjustment, a handy sliding scale comes up showing available shutter speed and aperture settings.
EVF. Switching from the LCD to the EVF is now only possible by pressing the EVF/LCD button left of the viewfinder. The infrared proximity sensor was removed to save space.
I'm not one who requires an EVF on a small camera like this, but I did use it now and then. I found it was quite good and it's hard to get used to the lack of the usual "grid" one sees when looking at most LCDs. This display is just a smooth image, edge to edge. While I did find the EVF handy in bright light, sometimes that ambient light was so bright that I found the EVF image seemed washed out or else insufficiently bright to overcome the light already meeting my eyes from my surroundings.
The articulating LCD is excellent, my favorite kind for just about all purposes. It worked well enough for me in bright sunlight and was handy for shooting from a wide variety of unique angles.
Menus. While from the outside it seems like a fairly simple camera, the Panasonic G3 has a lot of options and as such it also has a lot of menus. Moving through menus is a tedious process, requiring that you scroll through multiple screens, reading sometimes odd descriptions. It's often hard to remember under which tab a given menu item is located. It's a common problem with side-tab menu designs, one that also plagues Nikon and Olympus cameras. The Panasonic G3's menus aren't quite as deep as that, but it's a little too much all the same.
Small Buttons. I didn't have much trouble with them, but I should note just how small the buttons are, as I know it'll drive some folks crazy. Also, if you're using the Panasonic G3 with gloves, you're going to have a tough time unless you take them off. Such is the burden of a small camera.
One small button in particular did drive me crazy: the iA or Intelligent Auto button. Though I say it's very well designed and comfortable to use, the Panasonic G3 is very small, with very little unused surface area, so I kept pressing the iA button while shifting the G3 from hand to hand or even just bringing it up to get a shot.
I'm seldom sure exactly when it happened, but I could tell when the camera started showing little icons in the upper left corner (and a little too much color overall), that I'd accidentally pressed the little button, which glows blue when active. In the Custom menu, you can change its mode of activation from Single Press to Press and Hold, which reduced my tendency to activate the Intelligent Auto mode.
Battery Life. It's a little disappointing that the G3's battery is smaller. It results in fewer captured shots and fewer videos per charge. I typically shoot for about an hour at a time when photographing the kids at play and in that time, the battery drops from three bars to two. That's way too quick. For any day long outing, you're going to need a second battery, no question.
Dynamic Range. The lab found somewhat limited dynamic range, despite some excellent image quality and I saw the same thing in a few of my shots. Skies very frequently overwhelmed the foreground, leaving it darker than I'm used to for most cameras and mids seemed darker in bright sunlight, likely to save the highlights. We'll have to look into this a little more before we finish the review.
Artifacts. We ran into some of the same artifacts we've seen in other Lumix G-series cameras, which we attributed to demosaicing errors. The artifacts are blue/gray and appear in our indoor incandescent lighting test images at ISO 160 and 200.
The artifacts disappear at ISO 400 and above and only appear in JPEGs. Images processed from Raw do not show the artifacts. So far we've only seen the artifacts in our INB shot, which includes a mannequin with reddish hair, captured under incandescent light.
Video. As noted, the Panasonic G3 also shoots 1080i video, but only in AVCHD mode, which looks pretty good in good light. We've shot some low light video as well, which we'll be looking at soon in more detail when we post our Video page. Sample videos will be posted soon.
Shooting with the Panasonic G3 was an excellent experience and while I would hesitate to recommend a larger GH or G series Panasonic to most who asked me without asking a few more questions, I will not hesitate to recommend the Panasonic G3. It's not just a lot of fun, it's capable and reliable and satisfies the need for dSLR power and quality in a very small package, finally setting itself apart from the pack.
Overall, the Panasonic G3's JPEG images print amazingly well, rivaling the Canon 60D's images and challenging any concern that Micro Four Thirds sensors would continue to lag in image quality behind their APS-C competition. While upcoming dSLRs may do better, it's clear that Panasonic has met the challenge in the meantime. Very impressive!
You can find our Test Shots at http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/DMCG3/DMCG3A7.HTM and the Gallery Shots at http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/DMCG3/DMCG3GALLERY.HTM.
With the compact system camera market heating up, Panasonic's G3 shows that the drive is toward smaller and smaller designs, as was seen in the Sony NEX-5.
While Panasonic has produced a smaller camera, the G3 marks several firsts, maintaining major big-camera features while reducing the camera's size, increasing its novelty and portability. Improving speed while maintaining the simplicity of contrast-detect autofocus is a major achievement in such an inexpensive camera, one the dSLR makers have yet to match. And while shoehorning the excellent EVF and the articulating display into such a small body was a notable engineering achievement, it's the Panasonic G3's dramatic improvement in image quality that truly impresses us. Micro Four Thirds sensors have long been discounted because of their smaller overall sensor area when compared to APS-C cameras, but the quality we see in the Panasonic G3 turns that criticism on its head.
It is true that we found a flaw here and there in this prototype camera, but we can't be sure whether they'll appear in the shipping model. We're more blown away by the dramatic improvement in image quality that really vaults the $700 Panasonic G3 to the top of our favorites list.
Uwe Steinmueller and Peter iNova have been developing a fisheye flattening process for GoPro Hero HD scenes that "yanks them into being wide-angle shots that look like they were made with a prime lens," according to iNova.
"The trick with DeFishing," iNova told us, "is that you must exactly match the equisolid fisheye distortion of the original with the correction. So every fisheye, every HD format gets its own specific fix."
For the GoPro, the filter was designed to the specs of the Hero HD 1080 when used inside its weatherpoof case using GoPro's dome cover over the lens and shooting in 720p mode. "That combination yields very specific optical performance," iNova said.
Several versions for various optical combinations will be available for use in Photoshop Extended (for the best performance), but Steinmueller has rewritten the scripts for use with non-Extended versions of Photoshop.
The non-Extended versions tear scenes into single frames with QuickTime Pro 7. Those frames reside in a folder and the Photoshop Script loads each frame, waves its magic wand, then deposits the defished frame back into a destination folder.
The current prototype takes about 50 minutes to process 54 seconds worth of material on a two-year old Mac tower running at 2.8 GHz with eight cores. All the shots used in a sample edit (http://vimeo.com/23898684) were 720p30 originals and the whole thing was edited before being flattened. You can batch process a set of clips overnight.
The Photoshop Extended results are identical to the regular Photoshop results, but the Extended version is faster.
Key features are:
The two plan to offer the filter kit for sale shortly in Photoshop Script form.
- Precision. Prime lens quality rectilinear super wide-angle results. Plus or minus pixel straight line perfection.
- Image quality. Exotic steps preserve the maximum per-pixel detail even into the corners of the frame.
- Transparency. What you started with in color and tonality is what you get in the final result.
At http://www.imaging-resource.com/NEW1.HTM you can keep track of what's new on our main site. Among the highlights since the last issue:
- Reviewed: Sigma 24mm f/1.8 EX DG (http://www.slrgear.com/reviews/showproduct.php/product/206/cat/30)
- Reviewed: Panasonic G3 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/DMCG3/DMCG3A.HTM)
- Reviewed: Sony H70 (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/H70/H70A.HTM), a very low-cost long zoom option that doesn't sacrifice much.
- Reviewed: Sigma 28mm f/1.8 EX DG Aspherical Macro (http://www.slrgear.com/reviews/showproduct.php/product/214/cat/30)
Visit the Imaging Resource discussion forums at http://www.photo-forums.com to find out what people are saying about the latest digicams, hard-to-find accessories, friendly suppliers, clever techniques, you name it! Recent hot topics include:
Read about the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.eeb4435
Visit the Nikon Forum at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?14@@.ee6f781
Read about the Canon PIXMA Pro9000 Mark II printer at http://www.photo-forums.com/WebX?50@@.eeacf6a
Read about Tamron lenses at http://forums.slrgear.com/index.php?showforum=7
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RE: Streaming Videocams
Can you recommend a video camera that will stream video through its USB port? It's nearly impossible to find this piece of information on the manufacturers' Web sites. It makes perfect sense to use a high quality videocam with an optical zoom lens and tripod mount for webstreaming events, but I can't find out which ones will do it. Even my local electronics store staff don't know. Most cameras will only transfer files through USB, not stream.
-- Tom Winger(Any camera -- video or still -- with a video out port can stream. Make, for example, the video cable connection to your TV and you'll be seeing what the camera sees on your TV screen rather than the camera LCD. If the USB port is essential (and sometimes it is around here), you may need an inexpensive converter box like the EasyCAP or Belkin AV dongle. -- Editor)
Thanks for the reply. Yes, I have figured out that you can use an A/D converter (video capture device) to get the signal from the RCA outputs on the camera to a USB port on the computer. However, that involves an unnecessary digital to analog conversion, followed by an analog back to digital conversion. I was hoping there would be a proper video camera that would stream directly to USB (as all webcams do), thus avoiding the loss of quality involved in the D/A and A/D conversions.
-- Tom(We asked Canon about their gear and was told that current "Canon camcorders do now allow for USB video and audio streaming." And any camcorder can stream video via its FireWire port. -- Editor)
RE: Digitizing Film
I have an Epson Artisan 800 printer. Can I just put my 35mm film in the copier and copy it to my hard drive and from there to a CD or DVD?
-- Elizabeth(No, Elizabeth, you can't. You would just get a picture of a roll of film because the light is being reflected by the surface of the film from the scanner bed. Multifunction devices that can scan film use a transparency adapter, which is a light source in the lid that shines through the film to the scanner sensor behind the glass in the bed -- with the lamp under the glass turned off. So to scan film, the scanner has to project light from behind the film. While to scan prints, it has to project light onto the print. -- Editor)
Adobe has released its first three Photoshop Touch apps -- Color Lava, Eazel and Nav -- for the Apple iPad in the Apple App Store. The three apps were developed using the Photoshop Touch Software Development Kit to demonstrate the potential for new interaction between Photoshop and tablet devices.
The company also released its free DisallowFlateCompressionPSD.plugin plug-in (http://kb2.adobe.com/cps/902/cpsid_90248.html) for the latest version of Adobe Photoshop to save PSD and PSB files without compression, which creates larger files but much faster saves.
Finally, Lightroom Product Manager Tom Hogarty has reported an obscure Lightroom 3.4 and Camera Raw 6.4 bug (http://blogs.adobe.com/lightroomjournal/2011/05/potential-jpeg-bug-in-lightroom-3-4-and-camera-raw-6-4.html) that "could cause image corruption." Updated versions of the software should be available by Friday, May 27, he said while pointing out the issue is very rare. In fact, Adobe is aware of only one camera affected by the issue, the HP PhotoSmart R607.
Phase One (http://www.phaseone.com/media-pro) has released is $199 Media Pro, the latest incarnation of iView Multimedia and most recently known as Microsoft Expression Media. The new version features Phase One's Raw image rendering engine, Windows Imaging Compenents and Mac Core Image processing rendering engine compatibility, support for 100 new cameras, catalogs larger than 128,000 files or 2GB and a redesigned user interface. The Virtual Earth geotagging feature has been dropped.
Blurb (http://www.blurb.com) has announced its ProLine, a range of premium print packages adding two linen hardcovers in Oatmeal and Charcoal, plus two new papers from Mohawk Fine Papers.
Apple (http://support.apple.com/kb/DL1379) has released iPhoto 9.1.3 [M], a 106.29-MB update to fix a problem "that could cause some events merged in iPhoto to be split back into multiple events on iOS devices after being synced."
The company also released its 6.62-MB Digital Camera Raw Compatibility Update 3.7 (http://support.apple.com/kb/DL1386) for the Fujifilm X100, Nikon D5100, Olympus E-PL2/XZ-1 and Samsung GX-1S.
And a 15.7-MB ProKit 7.0 update (http://support.apple.com/kb/DL1385) addresses interface issues affecting a number of pro applications, including Aperture, iPhoto and Final Cut Express.
Western Digital (http://www.wd.com) has upgraded its free WD Photos with support for the WD TV Live Hub media center from an Apple iPhone, iPad, iPod touch or Android compatible smartphone or tablet.
Rob Galbraith has reviewed the new 21.5-inch model of the Apple iMac (http://www.robgalbraith.com/bins/content_page.asp?cid=7-11532-11564), calling it "an awesome photo workstation option."
Yale is making its collections of online resources from its museums, archives and libraries freely accessible. Already over 250,000 images are available via its new catalog (http://discover.odai.yale.edu/ydc).
JetPhoto Studio 5.1.2 [M] (http://www.jetphotosoft.com) adds "very fast GPS geotagging," support for more time zones and bug fixes.
See a Leica Tri-Elmar-M 28-35-50mm sliced in half (http://www.petapixel.com/2011/05/13/cross-section-views-of-leica-lenses/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+PetaPixel+%28PetaPixel%29). Wouldn't an MRI have been more cost effective?
Reinvented Software (http://reinventedsoftware.com) has released its $9.99 Poster 1.1.1 [M] to upload photos and videos to Flickr and Facebook, with support for multiple accounts and export plug-ins for iPhoto and Aperture.
Stolencamerafinder (http://www.stolencamerafinder.com) uses the serial number stored in the Exif header of your photo to search the Web for photos that have been taken with it. Very clever.
Topaz Labs (http://www.topazlabs.com) has released its $79.99 Topaz Lens Effects 1.0 [MW], a Photoshop-compatible plug-in providing 20 camera, lens and filter simulations with over 150 presets such as Bokeh, Vignette, FishEye, Tilt-Shift, Chromatic Aberration and Motion.
Neat Image (http://www.neatimage.com) has released its $79.90 Neat Image Pro 7.0 [M] with GPU acceleration; automated optimization of performance settings for multi-core, multi-CPU and multi-GPU systems; support for 32-bit per channel images; profiling by two different methods with the best result selected; better Exif metadata compatibility with the latest Nikons; and support for Photoshop Elements 9.
Houdah Software (http://www.houdah.com) has released its $30 HoudahGeo 2.8.7 [M] with a GPX export option to use image titles, file names or file paths for waypoint names.
The free JAlbum 9.4 [LMW] (http://jalbum.net) adds new extension support, updates to the album engine, an updated plug-in API and more.
Canto (http://www.canto.com) has released Cumulus 8.5 [LMW] with native support for metadata in more than 20 languages, creation of PDF contact sheets that include direct download links behind each thumbnail, 64-bit support, performance improvements for the Cumulus Vault version-control engine, support for uploads in Cumulus Sites, metadata entry validation and more.
Visit Russia in 1909, courtesy of Murray Howe and his Graflex (http://www.flickr.com/photos/cranewoods/sets/72157626191454674/). Arrested for taking "unauthorized photos," he still managed to smuggle a few out of Moscow.
The $24.95 DIY Ring Flash Kit (http://www.diy-lighting-kits.com/ring-flash) is compatible with most external flashes.
Visit the Online SLR Camera Simulator (http://camerasim.com/camera-simulator.html) to see how camera settings (sort of) affect the image you capture.
If you're using our Exif contextual menu (Feb. 11 issue), you can assign a Keyboard Shortcut to it using the Keyboard panel in System Preferences. Seems to run faster that way, too.
We note the passing of Willard S. Boyle who, with George E. Smith, won the Nobel Prize in 2009 for their work on the Charge-Coupled Device, the sensor used in many digital cameras and scanners.
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Mike Pasini, Editor
Dave Etchells, Publisher