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The CamRanger…

About two weeks ago I got a phone call from a really excited Jody Grober at Roberts Camera here in Indianapolis about a new piece of gear they just got in called: The CamRanger.  With a name like that I was instantly interested, but had absolutely no idea what this thing did so after getting it I had to do some research.  Turns out this is a third party solution for Nikon and Canon cameras to replace Nikon and Canon’s own wireless camera solutions.  Well, that was a mouthful.  Ok lets try this.  Basically it makes any DSLR wireless without being brand specific.  Nikon, or Canon can be done from the same unit.  Same third party unit.  Whattttt?

(Photo Courtesy CamRanger)

Whoa.  Ok so it’s a third party.  Before I get into it all, I should mention that I”m not paid for this.  I am not being paid by Nikon, Canon, Roberts Camera or Cam Ranger.  What I say on here is my opinion, and I am prone to miss things or aggravate someone while I’m at it.  If you have any questions or comments, you can always feel free to email me or leave it in the comments.  Now, ONWARD!

Why would you buy this $299 third party unit vs the Nikon and Canon units?  Lets face it CamRanger realizes there is a price point thing here for functionality.  Exactly like when I’ve bought the Generic Ebay SB-900 battery packs for $20 vs the $200 Nikon versions.  The $20 chinese versions are junk though, and I know I get what I pay for.  Both the Canon and Nikon units depending on your level of camera can be found from $500-$1,000.  The Pro cameras are obviously the more expensive wireless units, but the CamRanger works with the D3, D4, 1Dx, 5D Mark II and almost every other camera in  both manufacturers lineup.  I say almost every other camera because my Canon 1D Mark II is not officially supported because the makers of the CamRanger wanted to stick with the latest and greatest, and that makes sense.  Their website says that even though the camera isn’t on the official list, doesn’t mean it won’t work; you just won’t have some functionality that the camera itself doesn’t have like live view or video.  That being said, My 1D Mark II doesn’t register at all, and I’m not surprised; nor do I care.  Here’s thelist of supported cameras via their website.  So, this is a third party device that’s cheaper than the name brand deal, does it work?  Absofrigginlutely!

OK so lets go straight to the sports part of this review.  I shot that at the beginning of theNaptown Tornado Sirens Roller Derby bout last Saturday night.  I had my Canon 5D Mark II up on a I beam in turn 3 (as a reference for what you can see from the photo) with a 16mm lens.  I was curious as to how the CamRanger would work with 3,000 people using cell phones floating around inside of a giant metal structure.  The Box says it’s good to 50 meters, but I was using easily as far away as 70 meters while I was playing around and getting people to say how cool having a live birds eye view of the arena was from my cell phone.  I shot that frame with my iPhone from just about in my shooting position towards the end of turn 1.  Not much more to be said or done there since lets face it, once you get a wide remote set up like that you really only get one kind of photo unless you’re shooting with long glass; which I wasn’t.  I did notice that if you have a bunch of stuff between you and the cam ranger the range is affected, but how often are you going to be shooting something not in the same room as yourself?  (more on that shortly) Shot a little bit of video with the 5D2, but otherwise the camera in that corner was meant only for this shot, and for that it greatly succeeded.  I experimented with different camera settings while the camera was on the post, but none of them really mattered, either the shot was flat, too dark, or just had uninteresting subject matter.  Not the CamRanger’s fault, my own for not putting it in a more interesting place.

(Screenshot of my original placement test and test shot, This was great because I saw I had to rotate the camera about an inch to the left.)

The functionality of the cam ranger is pretty awesome.  I was able to control the Focus, aperture, shutterspeed, file format (RAW, TIFF, jpeg ect) along with the size of the image, I could decide if I wanted to shoot in live view, or shoot video and what video settings to do so at, as well as I could watch what the camera was recording in almost real time.  All on my iPhone or iPad.  How was connectivity?  Lets just say the biggest problem I had was the Superfan next to me taking my phone to play with it.  You should also take note, that the Canon 5D had a Pocket Wizard on it firing my lights.  So unlike Canon’s 6D’s built in WiFi Ability, the CamRanger can trigger a Pocket Wizard via the Wifi.  Bad. Ass.  It’s also worth noting that I wasn’t using just any Pocket Wizard, but one of my Nikon Pocket Wizard TT5?s on this particular Canon 5D Mark II.  You would figure that as a dummy trigger it would work, and it did flawlessly.  It also was able to give my Canon a sync above 1/160th, meaning the Hypersync functionality was preserved somehow.  Don’t know how, but like I said; it’s worth nothing.  Also, I shoot in RAW almost always.  For the CamRanger if you are using it as a remote it obviously takes a few minutes for the 30mb RAW files to flow through so I would recommend shooting RAW+Small Jpeg which makes the files appear on the iPad or iPhone almost instantly while keeping the RAW files safe on the card in the camera.  This is not something that I did while using the CamRanger as a remote, however I could have set the camera to do this at any time from my phone.  Honestly though once I had everything set up I didn’t really need to view lots of the images as I knew what I was getting at that point.  One thing that I was missing though was a battery indicator for the CamRanger.  I had the thing powered up on this Canon 5D Mark II from around 3:30pm until about 10pm and the battery lasted without a problem.  Would it have died 10 minutes later?  I have no idea.  It’s great that CamRanger designed the thing with a replaceable battery so you can carry extras, but there’s really no way to tell how much juice the thing has left in it at any given time.

My only complaint on the actual connectivity has nothing to do with the CamRanger but the iPhone itself.  Unfortunately when you are connected to the CamRanger network don’t expect to get any kind of data in or out of your phone.  The phone thinks it’s connected to WiFi, but really its connected to a dead end network, so picture texts, email, and web browsing is unavailable when you re connected to the CamRanger.  Not the end of the world, but kind of annoying depending on what you’re doing.

For the people that care about the sports aspect of this device, here’s a video showing it at work during setup:

Ok now for the Studio folks out there.  Being able to control the camera is great, but that really isn’t what you want when you’re shooting in a studio sometimes.  Giving the clients control of your camera in the middle of a shoot isn’t high on my to do list of ideas, so I’m guessing it probably isn’t on yours either.  The CamRanger App has a mode that allows you to remove everything from the screen except for the images popping up, and a rating system so that the person/people/art directors watching the shoot can select stuff on the fly.   Cool.  Basically it’s like shooting tethered, except your art director can only see the images as opposed to a tech pulling them in and cataloging them.  The images can be automatically downloaded to your device but that sounds like a wonderful way to fill up an iPad or iPhone now doesn’t it?  Again, this is an occasion where you would want to shoot RAW + Small Jpeg so that the images appear and can download instantly while protecting the precious RAW files on the card in the camera.

If shooting in a studio for people isn’t your cup o tea, then maybe the Focus stacking and HDR Bracketing is?  This is where I feel as though I was finally led a little a stray by the CamRanger (at my own fault).  The cam ranger app is capable of allowing you to set up increments of focus for an automated focus stacking. (taking photos of something at different focal points to put them into another image software creating an image with multiple items in focus, or a deeper focus, that would not be possible in camera).  When I first tried this on my Fiancee’s engagement ring I was sort of assuming that it would layer the images together for me.  Unfortunately I gave it too much credit because lets face it, this was a 5D Mark II shooting RAW files via an iOS app on my iPad.  Did I really think it was going to do the work for me?  Sheesh, I must have been high on how well this thing works at that point or something.  It automatically shot the images at a predefined change in focus, but no it did not stack them for me automatically which shouldn’t be surprising to anybody.  When I went to do the HDR Bracketing,  it bracketed the images beautifully, and I was under no impression that my iPad would layer them together for me (which it didn’t).  All that work needs to be done in the computer still which by far isn’t the end of the world.   You need to keep in mind what I didn’t, and that’s that this is a tool for shooting, not post processing.  As a tool for shooting, this thing is very, very solid.

For a more complete idea of how the CamRanger works overall, as well as a bit of studio related stuff, check out this next video below where I set up a ridiculous shooting scenerio.  I set up Shannon’s ring with the camera on a tripod in the livingroom, and then proceeded to do the photoshoot from out in my car in the driveway.  If that doesn’t give you an idea what this little device is capable of, I don’t have any idea what will.  The Ruby ended up a little pink since my Speedlight ended up shooting through it, but for demonstration purposes it does it’s just perfectly.  Also, the original idea was to do the video in one cut, but as luck would have it I ended up getting called by my dad during recording, and you’ll see where it breaks.  For the future if I record something on my phone, I need to remember to turn it into Airplanae mode to keep our photo/video conversation from being interrupted.

Is the CamRanger perfect?  No.  It’s damn close though.  For $299 you can get a device that provides just about all the functionality of the Nikon or Canon Counterparts; direct to your phone or iPad.  For a lot of people I’m sure it will be a dream come true.  For sports photographers that use a lot of Remotes this could be really great because they can look at their take from the sidelines without needing to get out their laptop.  Select an image, download it, and send it from your phone (after disconnecting from the CamRanger network of course).  You can even check the focus of your images in the app, without needing to download them and put them into photoshop touch, or snapspeed to check them.  The in studio client mode is fantastic, giving people the ability to see their photos but not touch them if you know what I mean.  Really I feel like the CamRanger fits into a spot that Nikon and Canon have attempted to get into many times but failed honestly due to price point.  I’d have bought a Nikon or Canon wireless transmitter years ago if the one I needed wasn’t $700 with reports all over the internet about being incredibly inconsistent…

I do however feel like I would like to see some things added/changed.  As far as I can tell, you can only use one CamRanger at a time on one device at a time.  Not a problem if you’re triggering your remote with a pocket wizard because the editor can still look at stuff, but if I wanted to trigger the cam ranger from a phone and have someone editing on an iPad I couldn’t do it.  It would probably be too hard on the WiFi signal that way, but I’d still like to see it as an option.  I’d also love to see you be able to set up your rangers all on one network and be able to manage several of them in a single running app on a phone or iPad.  Not sure if it’s possible or what it would take, but for the really hardcore sports folks, or folks that do a lot of remotes like my pal Andy Hancock being able to only use one at a time is kind of a bummer.  Maybe a CamRanger PRO or something in the future that allows you to name and specify parameters on your own network allowing you to put them all together as one?  Then you could just select which one you want to use and view from a menu in the App; or even to fire all of them at once.  Not sure, I will have to see what the CamRanger people say about something like that, I’m not a WiFi engineer so I could be breaking the laws of physics with that suggestion.

In order to use your ranger for the first time  you need to pair it to your device which is pretty simple, but seems like it’s 2 steps longer than it needs to be.  Once its paired it’s a function of turning it on and waiting for it to start up before you can use it.  Stupid easy, and I like that.  Every time you want to use a new device (iPad, or iPhone) to control your ranger you have to register your device online, so unless you have a WiFi hotspot, or 3/4G ipad, make sure you try to set it up at home first to make sure you can even use it once you get into the field.  Once it’s registered on one device, it should just be registered and you should be able to pair it with whatever device you have.  Not that I have a ton of iOS devices and would run into the problem of wanting to pair a device in the field regularly, but I hadn’t paired my iPhone to the CamRanger before the Roller Derby bout and it was annoying to have to connect, disconnect, and reconnect the CamRanger in order to get it to work.

Honestly.  Any of the things that bugged me about the CamRanger are minor, and none of them prevent the device from doing what it is supposed to do.  You plug it into your camera via USB and it works.  No joke.  I really was curious as to how this third party device would stack up, but honestly I’d be much more inclined to buy this than the Nikon or Canon counterparts, for quite a few reason other than the price.  The ONLY thing that the CamRanger doesn’t do (to my knowledge) is allow you to access the files via a Computer.  If they had an App that allowed you to connect your laptop to the cam ranger  (CamRanger Pro?) I could see them totally dominating the market in terms of Wireless Camera interactions.  There would be no reason for someone wanting that functionality to not buy one because lets face it, half the price of the competition for a product that works just as well if not better is tough to beat.

So to make a long story even longer; I dig it.  I dig it a lot.  I don’t know what the price increase might be for some of the features I suggested for a CamRanger Pro (or if a price increase is even required for my suggestions), but even if they had it at $400 for the Pro version I’d see it as a very reasonable price for what you get.  I feel likeCamRanger really nailed it with this product and I really look forward to seeing what they do in the future.  The CamRanger I have will be going back to Roberts Camera for people to play with in the showroom so if you’re curious go check it out in person.  It’ll be there for anyone to play with, so just go in and ask Phil about it.  If you’ve ever thought about adding wireless functionality to your camera this is the product without a doubt.   Roberts Camera here in Indy has them in stock, so check them out online, or go visit the guys in the store.  Good people there.  Happy Shooting, and More soon.


Nikon D4 AC adapter - Yes, you CAN!

A little birdie told me that, if you look at page #391 in your  Nikon D4 manual, you will read that the EP-6 adapter is compatible to the EH-6 AC adapter as well as the EH-6B.  The 6B is the newest pro DSLR adapter from Nikon and is unfortunately on the "hard to get a hold of any stock what-so-ever" list.   So here's a tip from your friendly, neighborhood camera store:  The Nikon EH-6 (originally for use with the D2H and replaced with the EH-6A) will provide constant power to the camera when used with the EP-6.  If you have made the leap to a D4 from a earlier model Nikon pro-sumer (D200, D300) or pro (D700, D2x, D3) level camera, its entirely possible that you have purchased one of the previous EH-6 adapters.  The EP-6 adapters are available.


First Wave of NPS Allocated Nikon D4 bodies - 16GB XQD Card and Reader Included

Surprise of surprises, as the first wave of Nikon D4 bodies arrive (so far every one of them has an NPS member's name attached to them), our floor manager noted that the carton indicated that there was a 16GB XQD card and reader included in the box. Curiosity arcing like electricity, we opened one up and found the pictured. We don't know whether this will hold true for every D4 body in the USA or if it is an NPS exclusive.


Sony Adds 3 E Mount Lenses, a New A-to-E Adpater, and New EVF

In addition to the two nex NEX bodies, Sony is further expanding its NEX system with a few news lenses, a new Alpha mount adapter using the same pellicle technology as their SLT Alphas, and a new FDA-EV1S external viewfinder with the vastly improved 2 million dot (anyone tired of reading that yet? I'm certainly tired of typing it, anyway) OLED 0.5" display buried inside.

The most exciting of the three lenses is probably the one bearing the name of Mr Carl Zeiss instead of the Sony brand, and this one is the CZ Sonnar T* E 24mm f1.8. See pros, I told you there'd be some nice stuff to perk up that NEX-7 here.

The other two lenses are both Sony branded, and are both "OSS," indicating they add in-lens stabilization to the mix. The first is the E 50mm F1.8 OSS, which works out to a 75mm 1.8 portrait prime. The other s the more pedestrian E 55-210mm F4.5-6.3 OSS, which exists as the consumer-level telephoto compliment to the 18-55mm kit lens.

If you've got a bunch of Alpha or Minolta A glass around, but don't like the crippled AF functionality offered by the current mount adapter, Sony's new mount adapter has the solution to your woes. It has Sony's SLT semi-translucent mirror built in, which can direct a portion of the light to an autofocus sensor, which is also built in. It is named, in a rare moment of lucidity for the camera industry, the LA-EA2, or "Lens Adapater, E to Alpha, revision 2." Craziness.


Its time to polarize!

If i had a nickel for every time someone asked if they need a polarizing filter...i should change my name to Jefferson.  The thing about polarizing lenses is that you really do need them, when you need them.  I should change my name to Cryptic Jeff.  A polarizing filter is designed to do one thing very specifically and it is truly (so far) the only way to achieve the effect.  I say "so far" because software is becoming more competent every day and could, at some point in the not to distant future, replace the need for optical filtering.  The image to the left is from my recent trip to the National Street Rod Association's annual hot rod event.  Using a polarizer is a must for an event like this.  The ability to cancel out the reflective value and allow the color of the paint to show will make a HUGE difference in the look of your image.

For a fancy description of what a polarizing filter does to the light that makes your image see this incredibly boring wikipedia article.  For those of us that cant call MIT our Alma Mater, a polarizing filter allows certain wavelengths (colors) of the visible light spectrum to come through the lens and bounces other wavelengths away.  These filters are very effective at reducing reflections and this is why polarized lenses are used in sunglasses.  Here is the tricky part though, you can purchase $10 sunglasses or $200 sunglasses and there is a major difference in how efficient the glasses are at polarizing the light.  The same holds true for lens filters.  A high quality filter (which will cost more than a few Jeffersons) is going to deliver consistent results across the entire field of view of the lens.  This is especially important when using wide angle lenses.

Wide angle lenses have a very large field of view which means the light that makes that image is collected and bent into the camera lens at a steep angle.  High quality camera lenses are built to correct for optical aberrations that occur as a result of the light being manipulated in this manner.  Low quality filters are not.  A cheap polarizing filter will not provide a consistent effect across the entire field of view of the image.  Instead you will be left with the effect in one area while the rest of the image remains unaffected.  Keep in mind a cheap polarizing filter for an average sized consumer lens can set you back about $50-70 .  Typically you will invest another 25-35% for a pro-grade filter like the B+W or Hoya HD brands.

So, while most photographers think of using polarizing filters for landscape shooting because it produces a rich blue sky with nice contrast in the clouds,  it is also minimizing unwanted reflections and glare in your scene.

The image to left is shot with exactly the same camera settings, lens, camera body, position of camera, etc as the image to the right.  The only difference is the use of a polarizing filter on the image to the right.  Note how the reflection of the sun is not completely hidden.  No polarizer will do that.  Pick your battles.  More importantly, notice how the beautiful color of the classic Corvette comes through with a properly used filter.

Both of the following images were shot with a polarizing filter, but the filter was set to different position in its rotation.  The top image was set to reduce glare on the hood of the car.  In this case the color wasnt being drastically affected by the reflection of the sky, but the reflection was extremely annoying to see.  However, notice the glare on the side of the truck to the right side of the image.  Because  these two surfaces are perpendicular to each other, you cannot polarize to reflection on both surfaces simultaneously.

The image below shows the reflection on the hood of the car but omits it on the truck.

As always, click on any image to see it larger.


SpyderGallery Calibrates Your iPad Screen

If you could be a color, which one would you be? Whatever your choice, you want it to be accurate and true.

If you happen to be in the group of people who own both a Spyder3 calibrator and an iPad or iPad 2, then you're exactly the sort of person DataColor would like to show their new-ish app to. It lets you calibrate your display... sorta. Obviously it can't access the root level functions of your iPad, Apple's toys don't work that way. But, it can calibrate the screen while it is open itself, and that's what it does. You run the app, and you access your photo library from inside it, and so long as you're doing that then you can show your pictures off with accurate color calibration.

It's a free bit of software, so, it's worth the try if you've picked up a Spyder3 along the line for your other calibration needs. You can grab it from the Apple App Store via the external link.


Induro Announces Three New Adventure Tripod Outfits

Induro, while perhaps not carrying the same brand recognition Manfrotto and Gitzo do, is nonetheless a very quality manufacturer of tripods, and they have also announced three new additions into their entry-level Adventure series, which features portable tripods with integral heads. The three new Adventures, the AKP0, AKP1, and AKP2, may vary in size but contain a virtually identical set of standard features. According to their site, you're looking at:

  • Wide Stance Cross-braced Magnesium Alloy Spider
    provides ultimate core system stability
  • Oversized Center Column Lock
    adds vibration reducing structural support
  • Matched Precision Unique Three-Way Panhead
    with quick release plate and folding handles that allows precise camera positioning and easy transport
  • Non-Rotating Double-Keyed Leg Sections
    advanced new tubing design provides extra strength and permits easy setup
  • Quick Lock Legs
    tripod height can easily be set by a flip of the quick lock leg levers
  • Reversible Center Column
    allows low angle shooting
  • Spring Loaded Weight Hook
    allows additional weight mounting stability during windy conditions
  • Adjustable Leg Angles with Lock
    accommodates uneven surfaces and awkward shooting situations
  • Grooved Center Column
    prevents unwanted column rotation
  • Integral Bubble Level
    allows adjustment to prevent uneven pans and tripod head movements
  • Snap-in Quick Release Plates
    interchangeable QR system assures effortless and rapid camera changes
  • Closed Cell Foam Grip
    provides comfortable handling during cold or hot outdoor conditions

Also note all three of these new ones are panheads. It looks like the previous generation with ballheads will continue to exist alongside this new strain. They'll set you back between $164 and $220, depending on how big of one you need, but for that price you get the complete tripod and head set, so, it's pretty good for those of you starting to get serious about photography. A cheap tripod will wobble enough to actually add shake to your photos instead of lessening it, so, it's really worth upgrading to a proper quality set of legs for your shooting.

Roberts Imaging

Tenba Announces Very Brightly Colored 'Vector' Series Bags

Tenba, having clearly decided that understated, incognito bags just don't make enough of a statement for some people, has come out with it's new, boldly colored 'Vector' line of bags. Which are also the first bags to feature their new logo, as you can see. While we're looking at the logo, Roberts Raw would like to be the first to make the following observation:

OK, that out of the way, here's what Tenba has to say about this new collection:

VECTOR is a unique collection of prosumer bags with a striking monochrome design. Every zipper, clip, D-ring, rain cover, lens cloth and piece of fabric is custom-dyed in three of the latest trend colors (plus black) and made to match. Vector bags are extraordinarily lightweight, and constructed of water-resistant fabrics for protection in wet weather conditions. The materials and hardware used in each bag meet the “Crafted Without Compromise” level that has continued to be Tenba’s signature. All bags are available in Krypton Green, Oxygen Blue, Cadmium Red and Carbon Black.

The system will be made of three pouches, two top-loaders, three shoulder bags, and a daypack, all available in Cadmium Red, Carbon Black, Oxygen Blue, or--our favorite--Krypton Green. Tenba makes good bags, and my Messenger has been doing me quite well since I bought it last summer, so, I'm rather excited to see these vibrant beasties start coming to shelves.


Super-zooms Still Exist: The Olympus Stylus SP-610 Ultra Zoom

So, this just in, the superzoom point-and-shoot market isn't dead, it seems. Olympus has announced a new entry to their SP- UZ series of 'superzoom,' 'ultrazoom,' or 'bridge' style cameras. The bodies have gotten much smaller these days, but with their still notable lens barrels these cameras look a bit more like a DSLR, and pack in way more zoom than is probably healthy. This year, we're looking at a 22x zoom lens here, covering 28 - 616 mm and ranging from f2.8- 5.6. So, pretty respectable there. And, er, it's got like, 14 megapixels, and 8 art filters, and 3" LCD with sadly low resolution, and it shoots 720 p and you totally stop caring about the other details after that zoom, didn't you? It's OK, it's an impressive zoom, and it's really the selling point for this camera.

"Why, hello sir, do you need an obscene amount of zoom to revel and romp in?"

"Why, actually, I do."

"Aha! Well, the Olympus Sp-610 UZ it is for you then, sir! Right this way..."

It'll be about $230ish, and should come out "soon."


Power of Light - Small Flash Pt. 2

To continue our small flash theme from last week, lets talk in detail about some regular uses of speedlights.  In an effort to keep this simple, i will limit this post to two styles of photography: macro (close-up, high magnification) and portrait photography.

Macro photography offers a view of the world in a way that most people don't have a chance to see it.  The trouble is you are often shooting into dark places and a little extra light can make a really big impact on your photograph.  In the image above, i used a single SB900 Nikon Speedlight triggered wirelessly with the built-in Nikon CLS control, a Nikon D90 and the AF-S 105mm f/2.8 VR Micro.  CLS is the "Creative Lighting System" and it offers some of the very best abilities in the flash photography market.  Nikon has always been pretty serious about speedlights and the role they carry out in photography.

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