Archive for the ‘Product Reviews’ Category

Prickly – Macro Photography and Kenko Extension Tubes

September 9, 2009 5 comments

With this winter approaching I thought I would try something different and get into some Macro Photography. Being that I already had Nikkor’s 105mm f2.8 Macro Lens (Also a great portrait lens) All I needed was some extension tubes and focusing rails to get the REALLY close up shots.

Extension tubes are designed to let a lens focus closer than its normal minimal focusing distance. Getting closer to the subject as the effect of magnifying it allowing more detail to appear in the image.  These tubes allow the photographer to take any lens and virtually turn it into a Macro lens at a fraction of the cost while preserving the optical quality of the base lens.

Being that this was a new area for me to venture into, I wanted to do some research and make an informed purchase. I looked at a few makers of extension tubes and decided to purchase the Kenko DG Extension tube set for my Nikon D700 and D300. The Kenko DG tubes have no optics and are true extension tubes. They come in the same range that the Nikkor tubes come in and have the same  metal Nikon mount featured on the Nikkor tubes. The key difference between the Nikon tubes and the Kenko tubes is that the Kenko tubes have the terminals to allow TTL metering and Autofocus to work through the tube where the Nikon tubes are the same ones they have made for 30 years and dont allow TTL nor autofocus through the tube.

Close up of a weed

Close-up of a weed

Another key difference is construction. The Nikkor tubes are made of the same metal casing that their lenses are made of. The entire tube is metal construction where the Kenko tubes are made of a high-grade impact plastic but are fitted with metal mounts, spring loaded mount clips and the metal terminals for the TTL and Auto focus.

I had read on several sites that some people were afraid to use the Kenko tubes because of the construction. I can tell you that after close inspection I had no doubts about connecting a $1300 lens to these tubes. In fact, not only did I attach the lens to all three, I shot my sample above on my tripod with focusing rails. So, there was a lot of lens hanging off the end of my D700 mount and it functioned perfectly.

Now, having said that, I would not attach a 70-200mm nor the 80-400mm lens on all three tubes with out support provided by a tripod lens support. Both of those lenses are heavy and that would be a 4 inch extension. Thats a great deal of weight being put on the tubes and its unwise to having something that far out from your camera mount with that kind of weight regardless of the manufacturer.

I rate these tubes an 8 on a 10 scale. Why…? simple. They come boxed and connected but there are no caps and no case for the tubes. Luckily I had a few extra body caps and lens caps so I was able to sandwich them together and cap them to prevent dust getting in the tubes and to protect the terminals. Beyond that these things are great. Just use common sense when mounting a big lens on the tubes and enjoy a new world of Macro photography.

Additional Info that relates to the Kenko Tubes

1- When using focusing tubes, you cant focus to infinity. The focusing range of the lens will be limited greatly to very close distances only.

2- There is light fall off when using any extension tubes. This fall off can be 3 f-stops when using multiple tubes together.

3- Nikon “D” information is not transmitted by the tubes. This is due to the fact that the lens is being allowed to focus at a distance it is not programed to focus for by virtue of changing the focusing plane of the lens.

4- These tubes are auto focus compatible with Nikon AF lenses and AF-S lenses.

As always, please send me any feedback or thoughts. If this review helped you please let me know.



Travel Photography – Securing your camera gear

Travel opens up so many opportunities for new images. The terrain, architecture and local culture changes and affords photographers the opportunity to find their “eye” again or get out of a rut by having new things to explore and shoot.

This was the case with me and my anniversary trip to Vegas was the cure. The only problem is that when I travel I tend to travel HEAVY and take everything. My camera bag weighs 42 lbs and when you are in Vegas you don’t necessarily want to talk around with $18,000 in camera equipment for your entire stay.

So, what do you do when you want to take everything but you don’t want to have it with you at all times? The safes in the hotel rooms are too small for 2 bodies, 7 lenses, filters etc and there was no way I was walking around with my shoulder bag or backpack for 4 days loaded with my camera gear.

The answer I found in an article in Popular Photography, its called PacSafe. The good people at PacSafe have a very unique product that’s very functional, priced well and worth EVERY PENNY.

The PacSafe is a Steel Mesh (called eXomesh) cover for backpacks and camera bags alike. This steel cable mesh covers your entire camera bag and allows you to lock it to something stationary with a padlock. It prevents anyone from taking items out of the bag, or accessing your gear. It installs in 2 min and folds up for storage just as fast. I can honestly say that it’s the best security add-on for traveling photographers I have ever come across. If I could remember who wrote the article that turned me on to the PacSafe I would send them a Thank You card because this device allowed me to take all of my gear, leave it in my room in plain sight while being totally secure. All I had to do was carry a key with me for the lock and remove the steel cover when I was ready to go out to the Valley of Fire National Park.

the PacSafe

the PacSafe

Everything is included in the PacSafe. It comes with the steel cable wrap, the cable to close the wrap and lock it as well as a carrying case and three keys. When ordering the PacSafe, take a moment to measure your bag. They offer several sizes and getting a PacSafe that is the right size is important. There is plenty of room in these so it doesn’t have to be exact. The idea here is that you want the safe to close and be secure. If there is too much slack then the bag is accessible. So be sure to look at the sizes listed on the web site and measure you bag for a good fit. I purchased a PacSafe 120 which completely covers my Tenba (Shootout Large) Backpack and or my LowePro  (Commercial AW).

There is a video on the PacSafe web site that shows you have to install or cover your bag properly and how to stow it away when done.


  1. The device is simple. Its simple to install, use and put away.
  2. Its Sturdy. You really need a set of professional cable cutters to cut this thing. A knife or box cutter wont do it.
  3. Its relatively inexpensive. When you consider the cost of a professional bag or backpack to be around $300 US another $80 to protect that investment as well as the gear inside is a reasonable expense.
  4. Its built well. I looked for signs of frayed cable, bad joints or poor construction. I couldn’t find any. The device is well made, solid and sturdy.


  1. The biggest limitation of the PacSafe isnt the PacSafe itself, but where you anchor the bag. You REALLY need to secure this to something solid. A sink drain pipe wont do it. It needs to be a solid piece of heavy furniture, to a mounting bracket in your car or too a pipe that is welded in place. The best security is only as good as the weakest link. Where you anchor your bag is critical.
  2. The lock could be more robust. While it is a very good lock, a thicker pad lock or Master Lock would be better. If you replace the lock, make sure the bolt size will fit through the cable end. Otherwise you cant lock the bag properly.
  3. The beads on the cable which keep it taught in the locking bracket are plastic attached to the cable. I haven’t disassembled one of these yet to validate they are plastic throughout, but if they are then a hammer could crush one allowing the cable to slip and open up a bit. I need to look into this to validate the beads construction.

On scale of 1-10 (10 being the best) I would honestly rate this product a solid 8.

The PacSafe worked great for me, protected my gear, while giving me the freedom and security to have a great trip and all my gear at the same time.

If you have comments or questions about the PacSafe, I am happy to answer them. While you are here, please take a second to look at some of my images.


PS- Thanks to my friends at DPS and Popular Photography Forums for their comments and requests for additional information in the review.

CS4 Issues – Installing on a DELL Inspiron 9400

Recently, I left and took a new position at a new company. This new position requires me to commute to work…. 5800 miles a week. Being that this puts a damper on my photography since I am away from my studio and digital darkroom, I decided to install CS4 on my DELL Inspiron 9400 notebook. This notebook is one of DELL’s Dual Core, 17″ machines that is well suited for image editing. Being that I have CS3 on the machine I thought there would be no problems installing Photoshop on this box.

Well…. I was wrong.

It seems that CS4 likes to blue screen this box. I have checked the video requirements as well as memory requirements and everything is in order. However, regardless of what I do the only part of CS4 that I can install is Acrobat. As soon as it starts to install Dreamweaver, Photoshop or Illustrator it crashes, starts dumping to disk and is done.

The specific error I get is a Windows Driver error (A stop error) for the windrvNT.sys driver with the following error message:

STOP: 0x0000008E (0xC0000005, 0xBAC21703, 0xADD50c70,0x00000000)

More on this ASAP. There is a logical reason and I am certain its a hardware limitation/issue and not CS4. I have had good luck with the 32 and 64 bit version of CS4 once I discovered the NIK software issue and fixed it. (click here to read that post). There are some great suggestions located in the Adobe Forums. If you are experiencing the same problem take a look in the forums first.

More later


Photoshop CS4 – Automating Photoshop with X-keys

December 11, 2008 2 comments

Everyone knows I am a huge fan of Adobe products. In fact I have been using Photoshop since version 3 and have never missed an upgrade or new release. The reason is simple, I believe in the products and like what Adobe has done to mature their products. CS4 is no exception. There is value in this upgrade and once I got my issues with XP64 resolved I can say without reservation that the money spent was well worth it.

So, why then write an article about speeding up Photoshop? If you were one of the people invited to the webinar featuring Adobe’s new CS4 line of products prior to the release then I am sure you caught the theme that was used to back this release. While there were new features and major changes, Adobe was on a marketing mission and that mission was to let everyone know that the real value was in optimizing their tools to enhance the workflow and make people more productive. While I agree that many great strides were made in enhancing the Photoshop workflow, I can tell you that NOTHING adobe did in this release enhances the speed of working in Photoshop more than an X-keys keyboard from P.I. Engineering. In fact, this was easily the best $169 I have ever spent on my Photoshop workflow.

The X-Keys Professional (58 Key) Keyboard

The X-Keys Pro USB (58 Key) Keyboard

While Adobe has gone to great lengths to make Photoshop more productive and faster the program still has over 300 Keyboard Shortcuts. Today, in the modern consumer software world the only applications that are more complicated to use are CAD and 3D modeling applications. It is the complexity of Photoshop that lets the X-keys keyboard shine. This keyboard along with Actions in Photoshop (or simple keystrokes and short keys) has automated my Photoshop workflow and allowed me to increase my speed within the application easily by 200%. Certainly this isn’t any different than creating actions and using the drop downs or assigning keys to function keys on your regular keyboard. But, with the X-keys keyboard you can have individually labeled keys that are programmed to work with Photoshop and eliminate the memorization of function keys or new keyboard shortcuts (especially the ones that require CTRL+SHIFT+ the actual key or compound keystrokes). When Photoshop can have a 4 page document outlining keyboard short cuts you don’t need to be creating your own.

I purchased the X-keys Professional (58 Key) USB keyboard. Both USB and PS2 are offered and each come with the software needed for easy programming of the keyboard, cords, user manuals and instructions.  Both keyboards plug right in, are immediately recognized by Windows and offer quick configuration and set-up. The software for creating and customizing the keyboard is extremely simple. You literally select the key on the keyboard you wish to program, and then type. That’s it. Once you are done typing, you select OK and the button is assigned. (the PS2 version has the software built in where the USB version comes with Macroworks II)

Once you are done creating your Photoshop actions and then programming the keyboard, you need to create a template that labels your keys. Templates are available online as well as blanks for making your key descriptions in a variety of formats. I use the MS Word format, color code my text and fills and have all of my shortcuts organized by type and function on the keyboard. This makes remembering where they are and what they do simple (increased speed).

X-Keys Templates

X-Keys Templates

The keyboard itself is made of a durable high impact plastic. In every sense of the word it is made like a consumer keyboard in terms of design and quality. The keys are removable (it comes with a simple tool) and each key has a clear top to it that is removable so that you can place your key designator underneath. No mess, no fooling with stickers and nothing that will fade over time. Additionally, each keyboard has a concept of layers. There is a green and red layer. Each key can have a command recorded for each later. That’s a 114 commands on my keyboard alone you have to program one key on the keyboard to switch between layers. An LED designates which layer you are actively using.

What can be done with this keyboard? Literally anything, it’s not limited to Photoshop, it can be used with any application that has keyboard shortcuts, macros or a programming language. All you have to do is record or type the trigger and the keyboard will send the right key strokes to the parent application and your shortcut, automation or function is immediately executed. I have my keyboard set up with my most used compound commands, complex save and re-size routines, effects and conversions.  So if I am saving for my on-line store, JPG Magazine, MyShutterspace and my blog all I have to do is select one keystroke and the image is flattened, re-sized and saved in the right format with my signature in the bottom (or not for some sites) all automatically.

Adobe did a great thing by speeding up CS4, offering some new and compelling functionality and continuing the development of a great application. However, if you are looking for real speed for CS3 or looking to automate your workflow more in CS4 this is an excellent tool of tremendous value and a very easy addition to your creative system.


GOOGLE Chrome, The Browser and why I like it

November 14, 2008 1 comment

Now, I know this is my photography blog, but part of my blog is to review new products and software. I was recently on Linked-In and answered a question with regard to the new browser from Google named Chrome. The question was basically, do you like it and if so why. The following is the reply I gave on Linked-In and thought it would be a good review while also providing some insight into the product at the same time.
Hi Christina,

I use the Google browser and I like it. The simple reason is that it is compliant and wicked fast. Having said that I also use Firefox, IE, Opera, and SeaMonkey. But when you do any kind of web development it’s a good thing to test on multiple browsers.

There is a point to the Google browser its entire design premised was to be optimized complaint and fast so that web developers could build next generation applications (think web 2.0 and cloud computing) as opposed to just augmenting our already bloated browsers. This isn’t a “Me Too” effort, this is something new, something different and something designed to take not just the browser to the next level but something to empower developers to create “What’s Next” on the web. One of the largest issues with the AJAX web sites (early Web 2.0) sites is that they browsers now are too slow at running the JavaScript. As a result, the applications are slow and sluggish and have been met with relatively low success. Now, with Chrome, the JavaScript engine has been completely re-written and optimized for JavaScript (reportedly 57 times faster than IE). That is the power that will allow developers to go forward and create the web apps of tomorrow now. If Google took this and put it on your phone the speed of web applications on mobile devices would then be to a point where a desktop isn’t necessary but that’s a different discuss for another time.

When I think about it, it’s clear just how deep Google planned this new approach to promoting web and cloud development. The team went to a huge effort to protect the tabs and ensure that the application running in individual tabs didn’t affect each other. Meaning, if a web page or app dies, rather than taking down the entire browser only that tab is affected. This was yet another significant design step in making sure that web applications could run in an isolated space and not be at the mercy of someone else’s poorly written site or app. Now, a site can crash and you can close that tab and everything just runs, its really nice to see work and honestly, its about time. While tabbed browsing has been around for awhile, this approach is more like virtual machines on each tab and is a fantastic step forward. Another really neat feature is tab dragging. If you want to see what a web app looks like, go to Gmail, drag a tab out to create a new window and set it to create an APP Shortcut. This makes the browser look like a regular application window (meaning the UI from the browser is removed and you work as if it’s a desktop APP). This is real nice feature that further demonstrates the thought and detail that was given to creating web applications.

So, for some, Chrome could be a real nice replacement for their current browser of choice. For others who are married to IE or FireFox and each browsers respective add-ons they may not like it much. But I tell you this, neither of those browsers are doing anything to promote the future and entice the growth of rich applications on the web. (well FireFox is closer) Chrome sets a new standard and it will be something that forces Microsoft and others to take a good look at what they are building and change their current development approach. While Google (and now… imagine this Microsoft) are getting heavily into Cloud computing the drive will be to change the container in which these applications operate in. Chrome is that first step and man-oh-man is it about time and it makes perfect sense that Google would do this.

While the industry has speculated that they would create their own browser for sometime its no wonder that it didn’t come out until they were positioned with the infrastructure they now have in place to create something “completely different.” Now Google has everything they need to truly go to new levels in the industry. With their massive investment in datacenters and infrastructure, their deep and talented development team and now a highly optimized presentation layer to do it in.

Check it out, but when you play with it, don’t make the mistake of looking at it as a competitor with IE or FireFox. Rather, take a deeper look and see it for what it really was intended to be.

I know I sound like a Google evangelist here, but I am not. I am just an old school developer that really appreciates products and application that make a difference, had a vision and executed to that vision well. I promise you, Cloud computing is coming; Amazon has spent a ton in DEV and infrastructure getting into this space. Google and Microsoft are next and even companies like RackSpace (Mosso) are getting into the promise of Cloud computing. Chrome will definitely have a place in your browsing future. Maybe not this release, but remember this was only version 1.0.

I should have blogged this.  Hope it helped.


Categories: Product Reviews Tags: , , ,

Texas Tech Football – In The ZoNe! with Photoshop CS4

November 6, 2008 3 comments

What better way to start off a new image than using a new tool. Finally after all of my issues with CS4, I can happily write and show my first image produced using the new tools. This image is of Heisman leading quarterback Graham Harrell of Texas Tech. This September for my birthday I was given a trip to Reno to shoot Texas Tech football. While there I had the distinct pleasure of photographing and watching two Heisman candidates while also enjoying a win for Tech. (TTU Grad 90′)

This shot is roughly 30 layers in CS4 and finished up being 600MB when completed. I used both the 32 and 64 bit versions to create this image. The 32bit version of CS4 works fine in Windows XP64 (now that the Nik Select issue is resolved). The new UI for CS4 is great. It didn’t take me anytime to get up and running. Now, while this particular edit didn’t make use of any of the new wiz-bang features of CS4 I did get to enjoy the new UI and replacement of modal dialogs. One of the new features they don’t mention online nor in the write-ups is the healing tool. With the new version when you ALT+Click an area to sample as you move the mouse over the area to be fixed you get a preview of the pixel pattern inside the circumference of the brush prior to placing the edit. This is a great new feature especially when you are editing areas that have lines or patterns in them and you want to make sure you place your cursor in the right place. The zooming in and out really is a huge improvement over CS3. Despite the limitations of OpenGL in WindowsXP64 there is a very noticeable gain in speed when zooming, rotating etc. You do have to experiment with the GPU settings and your individual video card (in XP64) to find the sweet spot of performance but its well worth playing with. As I dive into CS4 more I will write about my experience as well as how the tool is performing and focus on some of the new functionality. As for right now, I am real happy with how this shot turned out and with my investment in CS4.

The original image was shot with my D700 and my 80-400mm f4.5-5.6 lens. ISO 800.

The goal of this shot was to visually depict what it’s like when an athlete is in the ZONE. This Zone is this mystical place where your senses are razor sharp and you isolate all distraction and focus on the play or the game. It’s like moving in slow motion and taking everything in while in reality a split second has elapsed. I had tried this once already, but this is a new effort and focuses on the top of the Heisman list Graham Harrell, the best quarterback in Texas Tech school history if not the country.

In The ZoNe!

In The ZoNe!

As always comments and feedback are greatly appreciated.

This image is now available in our online store for sale. To order this image go to the FPT web site or go straight to our online store: Here


Issues with PhotoShop CS4 (take 2)

November 4, 2008 1 comment

Welcome to round two of my battle with Photoshop CS4. In the first round, I expressed some issues with performance, menus and 64bit usability/testing and support. As I mentioned in my first post it was time to take the issue to the Forums as the email support Adobe has (while appreciated) isn’t that great.

The Adobe forums are FANTASTIC, the people are very helpful, full of information and ideas to try. I tried them all and despite several people trying to give me an idea of what could be causing the screen and menu redraw issues was beyond me. After three days of fighting with the program I got out my old developer tools and did some spying on the windows message loop. I discovered what was wrong and wrote a small program to fix the issue. Then in my triumph over the issue I discovered the root cause and am here to tell you, it wasn’t Adobe.

The real culprit was Nik Software’s Select tool. Apparently, the select tool for Nik’s Color Efex and Silver Efex software caused several issues with the Menu’s in CS4 and the programs ability to re-draw the screen. (My symptoms exactly). I discovered this when I was searching for 64bit versions of my plug-ins. I eventually (even though I fixed it the hard way) reached a point where my frustration with the speed of the 32bit version of CS4 on XP64 was too slow and I wanted to use the 64bit version. So, in my search for 64bit plug-ins I discovered a KB article on the NIK web site that mentioned this display issue. The company has it fixed in the Define product. Since the Select interface is common amongst Color Efex, Silver Efex and Define you only need it once. A quick update of my software and the problem was gone. (Now I had to go eliminate my program which forced a WM_PAINT message to be sent to Photoshop so it would re-draw its screen, but that’s another story).

So, if you or anyone you know is experiencing re-draw, re-fresh or menu access issues in CS4 32bit and use these plug-ins, go download the free trial of Define and you are fixed. The reason this issue never presented in the 64bit CS4 is that the NIK plug-ins aren’t compatible in the 64bit version yet and so the issue never showed up when running that version.

The performance of the 32bit version in XP64 with a Dual/Dual Core Xenon Server with 8GB Ram is TERRIBLE. It’s useable, but terrible when compared to CS3 32bit. The 64bit version of CS4 works fine (so far) in Windows XP64 and is much faster. Only a handful of my plug-ins are compatible. When I can get them all in place, I won’t be using the 32bit version anymore. Yes, there is that much of a difference in the two. Especially when you need that extra RAM to work on files that are between 300MB and 1GM each.

Now that I have the basic UI issue solved and have to deal with the speed issue for the time being, I will focus on writing a review on the actual program. Thanks again to everyone in the Adobe Forums, the help was sincerely appreciated and thanks to the team at NIK for quickly identifying the issue and having a fix in place.