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Gear Archives - Steven Joseph Photography

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.

Best Purchases / Worst Purchases of 2014

December 27, 2014 | By | One Comment

I made some very large, long-overdue investments in my business this year and mostly I am ecstatic with the results.

Below is a summary of those purchases, what I liked and didn’t like and why, and in some cases I wander off into a mini product review. You’ve been warned 🙂

BEST

Profoto B1 Kit

Image courtesy of www.Profoto.com

ProFoto B1 Kit + AirRemote TTL:

OMG. Far and away the very best off-camera lighting solution (for a wedding, editorial and event photographer) I have ever owned, and I’ve owned many, many types. Each as powerful as 10 Speedlites. With enough battery power to last more than 1/2 a full day. (Best to get extra batteries (I did)). Incredibly light and portable for how much power & functionality they possess. And they are just beautiful, with an almost Apple-like design – just dang pretty to look at and hold. Practical and thoughtful details everywhere abound, things like:

  • a carrying handle.
  • two ways to determine how much battery power is left: a push button LED meter on the battery, and a battery icon on the B1’s display panel.
  • a large soft-touch-clicking dial that lets you change power in 1/10 stop increments or in full stop increments, from 2.0 to 10.0.
  • an LED modeling light that barely drains your battery, and that can be set to be always full on, or to dim until the strobe is re-charged, or to be on proportionally linked to your power setting.
  • the ability to trigger the strobe via old-skool optical slave, or old-skool wired to a radio trigger (like a PocketWizard), or new skool using Profoto’s AirRemote TTL triggers, that give you complete remote TTL control over your strobes.
Profoto Air Remote TTL-C www.whitestudios.co.nz

Image courtesy of www.whitestudios.co.nz

And such wonderful controls from the AirRemote! I can turn modeling lights on or off individually. I can turn individual heads off (say if I’m metering my fill, and then metering my key). I can set differential power (for fill and key), and I can bump up or down each light’s power by 1/10th stops or full stops. Or my absolute favorite feature of the AirRemote TTL is the ability to let the strobe use the camera’s TTL to make a very good guess at differential lighting exposure in any scene, and then (!) lock those strobe settings in with the push of a button on the AirRemote, taking the lights from TTL to Manual. This is HUGE for run n gun wedding & event photographers who sometimes quickly need radically different strobe settings in different environments. I only wish my Canon Speedlites had this feature.

And now, just in the last three days or so, Profoto (through a flash eprom update) has enabled true High Speed Sync in their B1 strobes. This is tremendously awesome.

Another design feature I love and have always envied in Profotos is their bomb-proof rubber sleeve attachment system for all of their modifiers. The system always works, is no-brainer easy, is mechanically simple and elegant, and is truly an example of design brilliance. Whereas Paul C Buff speedrings and such have a four clawed system that makes only slight contact in 4 locations that invariably bend and distort speedrings and that often pop off under load or wind, the Profoto system makes 100% full and snug contact all the way around your strobe for an incredibly sure and strong attachment.

My only complaint about my B1 system is their inadequate integration with Speedlites, something I need to do all the time in my wedding work. It’s important that I have a Speedlite on my camera for intimate dynamic dance floor-type shots where my Speedlite is in ETTL mode reacting to my constant shifting forward and back. Yet I want to trigger my B1s while a Speedlite is on my camera. This requires me to remove Profoto’s AirRemote TTL trigger from my camera and figure another way to trigger the B1s. Currently there is no elegant way. The AirRemote does not have any kind of external port (like a PC or mini sync port), and when connected to a 3rd party hotshoe cube with a mini port this combination fails to trigger the B1s. I see this as a major shortcoming of Profoto’s AirRemote TTL system. That leaves us to use a 3rd party trigger system like pairs of old skool PocketWizards, one tethered to the camera’s PC port and the other tethered to the B1’s mini sync port. Inelegant, and too many dangling wires. I truly hope that Profoto makes integrating B1s and Speedlites easier in the near future. Personally, I think Profoto should buy RadioPoppers!

Canon 5D Mark III - www.imaging-resource.com

Image courtesy of www.imaging-resource.com

Canon 5DIII bodies:

Oh Gosh. I’ve waited so long for these babies. I recently purchased two used 5DIIIs through Amazon for about $1,000 less (each) than new. The one thing I wanted and needed so badly is the upgrade from the 5D’s & 5DII’s pathetic 15 focus points (only one of which is “cross-type”) to the 5DIII’s 61 focus points, forty one of which are cross-type. Finally I can focus my photos exactly where I want to. It’s painful to recall how many otherwise excellent photos I’ve had to throw away in my Canon 5D and 5DII days because of back-focusing, outreached hand focusing, and just plain wrong focusing. What a huge relief it is to now nail my focus almost every single time. Compared to Nikon Canon really sucks in this department when talking 2nd tier pro bodies.

Image courtesy of http://cpn.canon-europe.com/files/product/accessories/speedlite_600ex_rt/header.jpg

Image courtesy of Canon-Europe.com

Canon 600EX-RT Speedlites:

Finally, Canon did everything right on this one. The four biggest a-MAY-zing things about this nearly perfect flash are:

  1. radio control,
  2. mixing ETTL with Manual from back of camera,
  3. support for up to 5 groups (A,B,C,D,E,F) of flashes,
  4. the requirement to assign a unique Radio ID to all of your flashes making it extremely unlikely that you will ever clash with other photographers in the same area.
Image courtesy of www.amazon.com

Image courtesy of www.amazon.com

External Flash Battery Pack Replacement for CP-E4 ($32.99):

I LOVE this thing. While a little awkward having this thing tethered to my Speedlite, it fits perfectly in a dress coat inner pocket, or on your belt (although you have to remove your belt and slide it into the fabric case). And it completely prevents missed flashes from my main on-camera Speedlite and allows me to shoot without changing batteries at a full day wedding or event. And at only 20% of the cost of the genuine Canon CP-E4, I’ve totally gotten my money’s worth. Highly recommended.

Image courtesy of http://bit.ly/1tqksfC

Image courtesy of http://bit.ly/1tqksfC

Cheetah C-10 10 foot collapsible stands:

I own all three sizes of Cheetah stands, and like Goldie Locks I’ve found these wonderful collapsible stands to be too small, too big, and just right. The C-10 is just right. Strong enough and tall enough for most situations yet portable. The C-8 is very small, not very strong, I don’t trust it with big lights or big modifiers. And the C-12 is just overkill. But automatically collapsible c-stands are a wedding & event photographer’s dream. Love them.

 

Photek Softliter 60 Inch Diffused Umbrella:

Image courtesy of B&H Photo

Image courtesy of B&H Photo

Buttery, gorgeous light in a very portable collapsible modifier. This is my Desert Island modifier. The only complaint I have is they should provide some sort of plug or cap for when you unscrew and shorten the shaft. Being able to shorten the shaft is very useful, so that there is not a long metal rod sticking out from the back of your strobe ready to poke someone’s eye out. However the shortened shaft tends to slide out of my B1s, dropping the modifier on the ground. An easy fix would be to insert a screw into the end of the shortened shaft, if it were not such a bizarre and impossible size to find (6.5mm x 0.05mm).

“Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life” by Eric Metaxas:

Image courtesy of http://bit.ly/1BgBMCm

Image courtesy of http://bit.ly/1BgBMCm

I’ve always struggled with faith, I’m a deeply skeptical and rational person by nature. I can honestly say that this book – through many pages of scientific review of astrophysics and many first-hand highly credible and very varied retelling of genuine miracles, has done more to strengthen and solidify my belief in God, in a super intelligent designer, and in the utter obviousness of a Creator who loves us, than any book I’ve ever read, including The Bible. If you’re curious, or want to believe in God and Christ, give this fascinating book a read. At the very least you’ll catch up your astrophysical knowledge about how the universe and solar system and Earth and the moon and the physical laws of nature were created.

Image courtesy of www.Amazon.com

Image courtesy of www.Amazon.com

Fstoppers Flash Disc Portable Speedlight Softbox.

Events, Wedding Receptions: Probably the best on-camera modifier I’ve tried yet, and I’ve tried many. It does what we want many modifiers to do – make a small light source larger and diffuse. And it’s perfectly collapsible so it fits in a back pocket or a side pocket of my Boda bag.

 

Image courtesy of lexar.com

Image courtesy of lexar.com

Lexar Professional Workflow HR1 Four Bay USB 3.0 Reader Hub and 4 Lexar FCR1 Readers:

These things are fast, they look good, and they never fail to read my CF cards. Excellent purchase for a busy photographer.

 

 

 

Liquid-Cooled Gaming PC:

Image courtesy of http://bit.ly/1H6wttb

Image courtesy of http://bit.ly/1H6wttb

Research shows that the most important factor in Lightroom performance is CPU clock speed. Everything else is less important: RAM, SSD drives, fast ethernet, fast thunderbolt or USB 3 connections all pale in their ability to speed up your Lightroom performance. I bought an overclocked Gaming PC from a very smart young man who was about to report for duty into the US Navy. He overclocked the 3.4Mhz CPU all the way up to 4.8MHz. Try that with your overpriced, pretty Macintosh. This PC (not the one in the stock photo) also has lots of RAM, many SSD drives, and fast USB 3.0 connections. But the blazing fast overclocked water-cooled CPU is what has turned my Lightroom slavery from painfully slow drudgery into snappy almost real-time performance.

Westcott 7′ Parabolic Umbrella 3-Pack.

Image courtesy of eBay http://bit.ly/1BdSBOD

Image courtesy of eBay http://bit.ly/1BdSBOD

I picked these up at the WPPI 2014 Tradeshow: I bring one of the three umbrellas to almost every shoot. They give big beautiful soft light, perfect as a fill light. There is a white shoot-through, a black outside white inside, and a black outside silver inside. Even though I never use the silver, and the shoot-through broke on location a while back, at $99, this purchase has been an amazing value all year long. If Westcott offers this deal again at WPPI I’ll probably buy two sets of three.

WORST

Used Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 from “Get It Digital:

“Get It Digital” advertised this lens on Amazon Marketplace as “pristine”. In fact it had a terrible light leak that I only noticed *after* a very important wedding. Fortunately the leak was not enough for the client to notice and they love the photos. But it was a badly flawed used lens that obviously was not tested before being offered as “pristine”. Worse still, when I tried to return it, the company was difficult and surly and evasive. Eventually I appealed directly to Amazon who took care of me immediately with a full no-questions-asked refund.

Two thumbs up Amazon. clipart-thumb-up-with-arm-de0dclipart-thumb-up-with-arm-de0d

Profoto Disc Umbrella Reflector:

Image courtesy of Adorama.com

Image courtesy of Adorama.com

This modifier is not meant for the B1 or D1 Profoto strobes, yet nowhere is this mentioned on the selling page. I guess it was stupid on my part, but honestly I didn’t see any warning that this is incompatible with ProFoto’s two best strobe lines. I ended up modding it so that an umbrella shaft (sort of) fits while using this mod, but I don’t use it much. Not a good use of $100. BTW, Profoto modifiers are famous for being over-priced. Fortunately there is a robust market of 3rd party parts that work just fine on Profotos for substantially less $. For example, I purchased some Chinese honeycomb grids for less than 1/3 the price of the official Profoto models. They work great.