Category Archives: Review

An Affordable Remote Controlled Time-lapse Camera

The Contour GPS has an easy on/off slider switch to start recording and a RED LED to let you know it's rolling.

If you’re looking for a new time-lapse solution, I encourage you to check out the Contour GPS camera (http://www.contour.com).  This camera was originally designed to be used for sports enthusiasts (like skiers and snowboarders) but it has some unique features that make it a strong contender.

This suction cup mount opens up lots of options for shooting. Contour sells several mounting options for their cameras.

  •  The unit is very small (95x58x34mm) and can easily be attached to a variety of mounting points.  It’s also super light,  weighing just over five ounces.
  • It has good battery life at 2.5 hours, plus you can swap batteries in it for a longer day.
  • For its size, it offers a capable 5 Megapixel Sensor.  It’s designed to shoot HD video in the H.264 codec, but it creates adequate JPEG files for still workflows.
  • A 135 Degrees Wide Angle Lens captures a wide field of view.

A freely rotating lens and dual laser system make framing the shot easier.

  • Freely rotating lens.  You can rotate to line up the picture and level the frame.  This is great as your mounting point may not be level.
  • Built-in laser sights let you check if the shot is straight.
  • A built-in GPS can tag your photos.

Remote Control

The image is a little choppy due to Bluetooth, but works well for framing the shot.

The camera also supports a Bluetooth connection.  You can use native iOS or Android Contour app to connect to the device.  This gives you a great live preview of the camera.  If you’re an iOS user, be sure to pick up the Contour Connect View Card.

Hold the top button down for 5 seconds to enter pairing mode.

The preview only works when you’re not recording, but its easy to set up.  Just hold down a small button on top of the camera for five seconds. You can then connect using a phone’s built-in Bluetooth connection. You can also change the camera’s settings easily.  Changing frame rate, exposure, contrast,white balance,  and more.

I’ve got the camera with me on a trip.  I’ll post some shots in the coming weeks.

 

 

Retrographer = Great Presets + Versatile Engine

One of my favorite plug-in discoveries of 2011 is Retrographer from Mr. Retro.  The plug-in designed to create authentic vintage photography effects. I’m already a big fan of Mr. Retro’s Machine Wash plug-in which ages text and images, and this versatile package really delivers. The manufacturer claims that users can perfectly re-create any vintage camera look including Lomo, Dianne, Holga, Polaroid, Brownie, Kodak, and Daguerreotype.  I’d say the claims are true.

To start there are a wide range of presets – over 1,100 preset camera settings to choose from.

But the presets are just starting points.  You’ll find total contra over all aspects. You can adjust:

  • Lens – Control focus and distortion.
  • Flash – Control light and spot effects.
  • Film – Control tone and grain for a unique look.
  • Lab – Control exposure, color, and hue.
  • Effects –Add vignettes, light leaks,and  halftones.
  • Finish – Add detailed textures and frames.

I really liked the toning and grain controls.  They are some of the most versatile I’ve ever found.

I found that the filter was very versatile…  although some of the controls were almost too deep.  Also, a small drawback, some effects require you to enter X and Y coordinates into field (hopefully sliders or draggable controls will appear in the future). The only other drawbacks that it is an 8-bit only filter…  but I guess the logic goes if you’re going to age or stylize your image this much, 16-bit color fidelity goes out the window.

I really liked the Finish Controls. a great library of textures and vignettes really added to the image.  I also found the natural media approach to be truly refreshing and inline with how I would do these techniques manually (whether digitally or physically processing).

The controls definitely show how serious the developer was about the product.  While there are a few oddities and gaps, this really is an amazing product (especially for a discerning photographer who wants precision).  If your brain wants to just roll the dice… one nice option is clicking the Auto button (the second button in the top bar).  This will generate random looks and is a great way to experiment.  The other two buttons link to a detailed user manual and a useful preset gallery online.

The plugin sells for $99 USD.  But you can take 10% off using the code RHED at checkout.

To find out more and see more examples of Retrographer in action, simply head to: http://www.misterretro.com/filters/retrographer

Kessler Philip Bloom Pocket Dolly™ Kit – Mini Review


I’ve used most of the sliders and other products aimed at helping video shooters, particularly DSLR video shooters, introduce fluid motion into their shots.

Some are better than others. Not surprisingly, you get what you pay for. The cheap, inexpensive sliders are usually not stable or smooth enough for my taste. They are also quite bulky and heavy. The high-end units tend to be plenty portable, stable and smooth, but many of them are simply not very user-friendly. I’ve written about this before. The folks who make grip gear are simply surprisingly out of touch with their audience. They send photographers a box which amounts to a bucket of bolts with a warm wish for success and expect the photographer to know how the thing goes together. Photographers who shoot video or time-lapse simply don’t tend to possess the experience with grip that most video people do. And I’ve been looking for a company that gets this. I found one – Kessler.

When I ordered the Philip Bloom Pocket Dolly™ Kit (Traveler Length) $1,095.95 from Kessler  I was pleasantly surprised – no make that shocked – to find out I didn’t have to put anything together. The dolly comes in a very nice, very compact, very well-made fabric case. Everything you need to get started is in this bag. The only thing you have to install is the strap on the bag. The pocket dolly itself is set up and ready to use right out of the box. THANK YOU KESSLER! I hope other grip makers take notice. This is the way to do it.

I also ordered the All-Terrain Outrigger Feet to add stability outdoors, and the motor and Oracle control system with all the trimmings necessary to automatically move the camera platform without human touch.

All told, the box came to $2640 and change. Spendy to be sure, but in my opinion, very well worth it. This is a portable, rock solid, easy-to-use slider that can fit in the overhead of any airplane. It’s quick to set up, comes with everything you need to both bolt it to a tripod and to mount a ballhead or other camera mount to the slider’s camera platform. If you just need a slider, this kit as is will do the job just fine with nothing to add.

The unit is surprisingly lightweight for as sturdy as it is. It includes a full-adjustable arc diameter handle and drag control so you can make moving the camera platform easier or harder to move. The Kessler people say the unit is designed to support camera systems up to 15 pounds. I used a Nikon D7000 with various lenses and never got close to the 15 pound limit.

I ordered this setup because I want to do time-lapse photography that includes motion. I wanted smooth, unattended operation so I included the motor. For those without the budget or the interest, the slider by itself will serve many purposes. If you’re going to use it primarily on a tripod, you don’t need the special outrigger feet either.

I have just experimented with the motor so far. I’ve spent more time just using the slider as is, without the motor and I’ll say without a doubt, this is one of the best compact sliders I’ve ever used. I also like the Cinevate sliders, but this particular Kessler product offers something I haven’t yet tried from any other manufacturer – i.e., a complete, user-friendly, ultra-portable kit that includes a travel-length slider and motor. It’s the perfect setup for remote or travel-based time-lapse work and I look forward to testing it more in depth later this year at Bosque del Apache.

Other than the price, I have nothing negative to say about this product. It works well, is smooth, stable, easy-to-use and transport and didn’t take a PHD rocket scientist to put together. Highly recombined.

SPECS

Traveler size

- Length: 29.5″ (74.9cm)
– Weight: 6 pounds (2.7kg)
– Travel: 23″ (58.4cm)

The Philip Bloom Signature Series Pocket Dolly™ comes as a kit with the following items.

- Philip Bloom Signature Series Pocket Dolly™ (Standard or Traveler)
– Self-Adhesive Measuring Tape
– Outrigger Feet
– Flat Mount Adapter (provides 3/8″-16 threaded mounting stud)
– Custom Padded Soft Case

(NOTE: This review is for the travel size. There is a larger unit with the following specs:

Standard size
– Length: 41.5″ (105.4cm)
– Weight: 7 pounds (3.2kg)
– Travel: 31″ (78.7cm))

How Good Can a $9.99 HDR App Be?

I’m always on the look out for new software…. I also got to experience the joy of the Blue Light special as a child.  For those of you not in the know… those were random sales for a short time only that went unannounced… if you were at K-mart for those 15 minutes… you got the deal.

This… is a blue light special. HDR & FX Studio

This week only (at least that’s what the Mac App Store says) you can pick up HDR & FX Studio By Union Well Limited.  They boast that it’s 75% off.

I felt like gambling…. $10 I’ll give it a try (the app is only sold through the App store which doesn’t support demos or trials).

Speed

The app loads fast. I mean instant fast.

It merges fast.

And it has a ton of useful presets that give you results fast. If you just like to play around and experiment, this app is well designed for those who crave quick feedback as they play with their images.

The Merge

What’s a little confusing is how you load images in for a merge. Drag and drop doesn’t work…

  1. Choose File>Open or File > Open Folder and navigate to the image.
  2. Click OK to  add them to a waiting area (or queue) . Loading 6 raw files took around 3 seconds.
  3. Click the HDR tab.
  4. Choose Alignment and/or Ghost Reduction (to compensate for wind or slight movement)
  5. Click  the Start to Merge button
For a high-res HDR with 6 Shots and Ghost Reduction, it took about 25 seconds on a 2 year old laptop. Once merged, there are to HDR tone mapping modes modes to choose from.

Fine Edit

After merging, you graduate to the Fine Edit tab.  You have several choices here.

  • More than 15 parameters are organized into 7 categories
  • You get user interface feedback like Curves and a Histogram
  • Can adjust Color balance, color temperature and tint adjustment
  • Remove, lens distortion and reduce noise
  • All offer real-time feedback

My only complaint is that it was hard to make selective adjustments in the skies.  Obviously a tool like Nik’s HDR Efex Pro gives you greater control here (but it costs a lot more).

Effect

What will appeal to most users will be the several effect presets you can access. These are broken up into:

  • FX: This mode offers both color and texture overlays.  They are diverse but offer no controls
  • Vignettes: A nice collection of edges, again with no controls to modify.
  • Frames: From useful to cliché, you’ve got several to choose from (with surprise, no controls)

The Bottom Line

This is a good $10 spent that offers some fun methods to experiment and some good presets.  It does work well with raw files and can even output its own format to 32 and 16 bit files.

The UI is fun, but somewhat limiting once you leave the Fine Edit area. The whole application is very fast and appears to be GPU accelerated. I really like its black and white options and as a fun alternative to a more hardcore tool, it was enjoyable to use and made some pleasant as well as “out there” HDR conversions.

© Richard Harrington

Again, how it handles skies seems to be the only big issue…  I got a little more banding and texture in the skies than I like.  Not an issue with black and white or effects-like HDR, but may be for some of you.

© Richard Harrington

Is it worth $10…   absolutely…

Is it worth $40…. probably not.

Check it out on the Mac App Store. Here’s a detailed features list too.

The company also seems to be behind some more full featured tools that are cross platform – HDR Photo Pro and HDR Darkroom.  These products do have demo versions to try,

Photo Book Review – High dynamic Range Digital Photographies for Dummies

Author: Robert Correll

Publisher: For Dummies (Wiley)

Review by Conrad J. Obregon

I’ve always had a problem with the “For Dummies” brand. I often read on the subway and I didn’t want strangers thinking I was dumb. If you suffer from this syndrome and want to learn the basics of High Dynamic Range photography (HDR) get over it, or you’ll miss a good introduction to an important aspect of photographic technology and even art.

HDR is a method of combining multiple digital exposures of a subject to create a range of tones in a photograph closer to what the human eye sees than a single camera shot reveals. In High Dynamic Range Digital Photography For Dummies Robert Correll explains the process of creating such images. While he doesn’t waste page space explaining photography fundamentals, he does cover the process in small easily accessible steps for the photographer who already understands how to capture images with his camera. After describing the equipment and software involved, the author tells the details of capturing HDR images and then processing these images, first in HDR software and then in post-processing software, like Photoshop Elements, including so-called pseudo HDRs. He also discusses creating HDR panoramas and black-and-white HDR images.

The book follows the usual jocular style of the “For Dummies” series (does the publisher have a special “wiseacre” editor?) including the cartoons and the usual “Part of Tens”. Correll demonstrates computer processing using Photomatix Pro, which is becoming the standard for HDR software, and Photoshop Elements. Photoshop users will not have much difficulty making the translation from Photoshop Elements but users of HDR software like FDRTools, which uses a different paradigm, may have a harder time. (Demo versions of most of the software are available for download.)

Although the book discusses each of the sliders and buttons in Photomatix Pro and what it does, it was almost impossible to tell the subtle differences from the tiny illustrations often provided. I also felt that the author should have spent a little more time explaining the wide range of image outcomes possible in HDR processing from realistic to surrealistic, and which sliders effect those results. I suppose there is no substitute for sitting down in front of the computer and playing with the sliders in Photomatix Pro with live images. Even though I’ve used HDR software successfully for several years, I still have a hard time wrapping my mind around exactly what some of the controls in Photomatix Pro do. But for someone new to HDR, this volume is one of the best ways presently available to step into the process.
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This post sponsored by the Digital SLR Store

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