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Best Purchases Worst Purchases of 2016

February 10, 2017 | By | No Comments

For the last 12 years I have been a full-time professional photographer, supporting my family of six entirely with my photography.

Here’s my family a couple years ago. My wife does nice work, right?fogarty-family-first-visit-to-el-cap

 

I do Las Vegas Wedding Photography & Las Vegas Elopement Photography, Las Vegas Event / Exhibit / Trade Show Photography, Las Vegas Headshots, Las Vegas Food Photography, and Las Vegas Photobooth photography.

You could say that I’m pretty into photography.

So I am always investing in my business, purchasing the things that I hope will improve my biz and make me a better photographer. Sometimes the things I buy are a big win, sometimes kind of ‘meh’, and sometimes a flop waste of money.

As we roll into the new year 2017 here is a fairly random list of some things I purchased for STEVEN JOSEPH PHOTOGRAPHY in 2016 and my thoughts on their value as products and to my business.

microsoft-surface-pro-4-plus-dock

thumbs-upthumbs-upthumbs-upMicrosoft Surface Pro 4: This computer has not only paid for itself many times over and been very profitable for my company, it has changed the way I shoot by making me a better shooter, a better communicator, by expanding the kinds of photography I offer, and by encouraging me to involve my clients more in the photography process.

As a touchscreen this laptop is perfect for self-driven photobooths like my Las Vegas Photobooth. Touchscreens like this PC combined with one of the several photobooth software applications out there are what’s behind most photobooths you see.

The portability and power of this laptop makes it easy to shoot tethered on commercial jobs, like Las Vegas Food Photography jobs, and Las Vegas Headshot jobs, so that I can show the client their photos as they are being shot. I encourage clients to select their favorite right on the spot so that I know which photos to edit and re-touch when I get back to my office. In the past I’ve relied upon people selecting their favorites afterwards on their online gallery, and that can be a slow back & forth process that takes weeks. Now I know everybody’s favorite before the job is over.

Because I never bring just one of anything to a professional photo job (the Navy Seals have a saying: “two is one and one is none”) I bought two of these Surface Pros, so that I always have a backup.

thumbs-upthumbs-upthumbs-upNeewer Mini Magic ArmNeewer-magic-arm: I’m always trying different ways to attach my Speedlites to things in discreet ways. When I do Event Photography and Wedding Photography in hotels, while there’s not always a smooth surface to attach a suction cup to, there’s always a lighting sconce up high and out of the way. It’s good to get our lights up and out of the way because we’re not there to be pests and to cause obstacles for staff and guests to navigate. We’re there to discreetly document what’s going on.

This little baby is PERFECT for getting my speedlites up and out of the way, yet incredibly adjustable so that I can get my Speedlites in exactly the position and pitch I need. LOVE ♥

delkin-fat-geckothumbs-downSpeaking of suction cups, I am very disappointed in this Delkin Fat Gecko suction cup I recently bought locally. While it does a good job of staying attached to any non-porous smooth surface you connect it to, positioning your attached Speedlite is very cumbersome and frustrating. I basically don’t use thing unless in a pinch. While it is much less expensive than my favorite Speedlite suction cup, the Novoflex, it isn’t even worth what I paid for it because I don’t use it.

novoflex-suction-cupthumbs-upthumbs-upthumbs-up The Novoflex Suction Cup Kit is hands down the best suction cup for Speedlites I have ever tried, and I’ve tried LOTS of them. It’s expensive – like $60-$90. But it’s very well constructed, mostly of metal, built like a tank, and it is very flexible and adjustable. It also has a very small footprint so it can be adhered to narrow surfaces like the plastic viewing window of a fire extinguisher case. I’ve had the first one I bought for 6 or 7 years. Other than treating it with some lithium lubricant once in a while it has held up incredibly well.


thumbs-upCamRanger Wi-Fi Dongle Wireless Camera Remote Controller
: I love the idea of this WiFi wireless tethering solution. But the execution has not worked well for me.

Ideally, it would work directly with Lightroom tethering, directly as a substitute for a wired tether. But alas to get full functionality you have to use the controller software that comes with the CamRanger, and the CamRanger software is less than elegant.

First, CamRanger’s software is not just one app. It’s four different apps. Which I find a little confusing, and cumbersome. There’s the “CamRanger Application”. Then the “CamRanger-Share for Windows”. Then the “Adjust CamRanger Settings”. And finally the “CamRanger Launcher”. And that’s just for the Windows platform. IOS and Android each have two more apps. Kindle has another app. And Mac also has yet 4 more apps.

Using it in the real world I found it to be buggy and unreliable, often failing to give me menus and functionality that the user manual said I should expect.CamRanger
Plus, using it while continuing to have Internet access requires a geeky tweak of the unit itself, setting up an internal bridge to a known Internet-connected WiFi. I was able to do it at home carefully reading the instructions. But I don’t want to do it for every on-location shoot I have, which is most of my shoots.

In the end, I now use a traditional USB cable tethered directly into Lightroom. Except for the risk of tripping over the cable and smashing my PC or camera to the ground, I love how well a cable tether works in Lightroom. I’m also looking forward to upgrading to Canon 5D Mark IVs that have fast USB 3.0, instead of the sluggish USB 2.0 native to my 2 Canon 5D Mark IIIs.

So, I really like the IDEA of wireless tethering. My experience of it has been underwhelming such that I really don’t use my CamRanger. You wanna buy mine? 🙂

Neewer-wireless-trigger

thumbs-upthumbs-upThe Neewer Wireless Remote Shutter Release Trigger is a good little purchase. Very inexpensive ($18), it does what it does, remotely wirelessly trigger my camera. I use it mostly during Event Photography when I need an overhead bird’s-eye-view shot looking directly down or from a very high perspective. I attach my camera to a monopod, hike it way up there, and trigger the camera with this little doo-hickey. I’ve also used it recently for a light painting I did at a bride’s request and it worked like a champ. While not as well-built or robust as a PocketWizard, it’s eighteen bucks, and it does the trick. Very good purchase that has added value to my business.

 

 

thumbs-upthumbs-upWestern Digital My Cloud EX2 UltraI’m kind of a backup hardass, priding myself on the fact that – in 12 years of professional photography – I have never failed to deliver a client’s images to them.

WD-MyCloud-NASMy workflow starts with a professional camera body that writes my images to 2 different media simultaneously (a CF card and an SD card). Then when I return home I ingest those images using PhotoMechanic, renaming and embedding the images with relevant Keywords to appease the Google search bot gods, and backing them up to 2 additional places – a local SSD working drive, and a local NAS. My off-site backup service CrashPlan then immediately begins backing up both of those local locations to the cloud. So, before I go to bed most days my clients’ images live on 4 different physical drives and are being backed up to a superior cloud service.

One of the local NAS systems I’ve used with great success is the Western Digital My Cloud EX2 Ultra. I had some big hard drives lying around, so I bought the diskless version. It set up easily, and is easy to manage. I’ve used el-cheapo NAS cases before and seen them crash inexplicably. So, when it comes to drives and backup solutions, I prefer name-brand stuff to el-cheapo.

thumbs-upNeewer 3-Way Triple Hotshoe Mount Tilt Flash Bracket: Kind of a ‘meh’. Good idea. Made of metal, this is of a much higher build quality than the garbage plastic triple speedlite mount from Westcott I discuss below. But still not quite there. The heads always swivel loose, unintentionally, requiring an odd torque wrench to set right and tighten, causing your lights to point in weird directions. And the hotshoe tightening screws are just too small, making it difficult to tighten and loosen them.

Neewer-3-way-speedlite-mountAlso the swivel ball head is a good idea, but just not up to the task when using any kind of a modifier with your three speedlites, like an umbrella or an Octabox. The whole mechanism is just too small and flimsy for the task.

If the the coldshoes were welded on rather than screwed on, if the tightening knobs were bigger or more of the wing-head type for easier gripping, and if the ball head was significantly larger and more robust, this would be 2-3 thumbs up.

As it is, I rarely use them because I know they will partially fail during the shoot.

Westcott-3-way-speedlite-hotshoethumbs-downthumbs-downthumbs-downWestcott 2223 Triple Threat Shoe Mount Adapter: This is a piece of garbage. I bought two. Both failed catastrophically upon first use in the same way. The brass 1/4-20 screw tore out of the flimsy plastic body, rendering it useless. Not a good look with paying clients are present. Fortunately I always bring backup of everything and my client never even noticed the fail.

But the product manager at Westcott who green-lit this piece of junk is in the wrong business. Why go to all that trouble to produce something they know will break and be returned for credit? Ironically, while still cheap, it was about twice as expensive as the all-metal Neewer triple hotshoe mount above. Boo Westcott on this turd.

Portable-HDD-ruggedthumbs-upthumbs-upthumbs-upSilicon Power 1TB Rugged Armor A30 Shockproof Standard 2.5-Inch USB 3.0 Military Grade Portable External Hard Drive: This is a big win. These babies make me money. They increase the reliability and professionalism of my commercial shoots. They make moving work from on-location to my office very easy. They are rugged as described, very portable, and they fit right into my Surface Pro 4 carrying case. Like everything, I always bring two, because Two Is One and One Is None.

5x7-Impact-collapsible-backdrop-black-whitethumbs-upthumbs-upthumbs-upImpact Collapsible Background – 5′ x 7′ (Black / White): Another big win. This make me money all the time. Super portable pure white or pure black backdrop for headshots. It’s quite large at 5 feet wide by 7 feet tall, yet folds up into an easy carrying case. I’ve got two. Love these. ♥

YN-E3-RTthumbs-upthumbs-upYongnuo YN-E3-RT Flash Speedlite Transmitter for Canon 600EX-RT (clone of the Canon ST-E3-RT): Another big win. As far as I can tell this is actually better than the Canon ST-E3-RT that it is a shameless ripoff of. With all the functionality of the genuine Canon trigger, it adds infrared focus assist! SO USEFUL in a dark hotel reception hall.

I actually don’t use these too much because I prefer having a light on my camera for fill that also acts as master to my wireless slave Speedlites. But when I don’t need an on-camera speedlite and I want to put more slaves into play around a shoot, this thing is excellent. No complaints at all.

snowboard-racks

thumbs-upthumbs-upSnowboard Wall Rack Mount: My wife did a little YouTube research on how to organize my home studio and she came up with this clever use of snowboard racks as a place to put all of my c-stands and booms and other long clumsy things that were always in the way.

Instead of storing snowboards on these, I store all of my poles and c-stands and umbrellas and such, horizontally. Discreetly out of the way, yet easy to access. Love ’em. ♥

thumbs-upthumbs-upthumbs-downthumbs-downNeewer TT850 Li-ion Battery Flash Speedlite for Canon: Really excellent when they work. A fire hazard when they don’t.

Neewer-Dumb-FlashThese are dumb flashes that do not communicate with my two wireless systems (Canon 600EX-RT, and Profoto Air Remote TTL-C) other than through dumb optical triggering. IOW, I have zero control over the power setting of these flashes from my camera, other than to trigger them by popping my flash.

Their downsides include:

  • Anybody else with a pop-up flash triggers my flashes, too.
  • I must walk over to them to adjust their power up, down, or off.
  • They have a reputation for dangerously overheating their li-ion battery to the point of deforming and ballooning the battery, rendering the flash useless and risking burning your house down 🙁

Their upsides include:

  • Re-chargeable lithium ion battery that lasts for many all day long photo shoots.
  • Very powerful, they put out a lot of light.
  • They take all of the modifiers I use on my Canon Speedlites, like MagMod Grids and gels.
  • Very inexpensive.

So because of all of their upsides, I like these and own them and plan to buy more.

And because of their downsides I keep a careful eye on them when they are new and I am charging them for the first time. If I notice any deformation in the battery at all I immediately stop charging and I return them to Amazon. Neewer gives me a full refund.

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