Archive for the ‘Tips And Tricks’ 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.

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.