Saturday, April 01, 2006

PREVIEW: Lastolite TriBalanace

The Lastolite TriBalance is a handheld calibration tool that, to me anyway, looks handy for digital shooters. Many times when I have to shoot under several different lighting sources I'll bring the image back to my computer and open up the RAW file only to find out that there isn't a speck of white anywhere in the image to calibrate the white balance from. This would definitely be handy for that. The black and gray slices are for exposure calibration, also very handy.

This item is available for around $70 from B&H Photo and other sellers online.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A "higher end" Lensbaby">Zörk Multi Focus System

This looks like a higher-end (read: more expensive, and probably sharper) version of the Lensbaby. Interestingly enough, it seems to come in a Hasselblad mount. Though why anyone would want to make a Hassie soft and blurry is beyond me...

Thursday, March 16, 2006

MUST-HAVE: Roscolux gels

Not only is this one of the most useful things you can buy for your bag if you frequently shoot flash indoors, it's also by far the cheapest photo gadget you'll ever buy.

The Rosco Roscolux Swatchbook is a swatchbook of gel samples from Rosco, and you can pick it up from B&H Photo (and some others) for $0.01. Yes, that's right, 1 shiny penny (plus shipping, of course).

With the Rosco swatchbook, you can easily slide one of the gels in front of your flash (it fits perfectly in front of the Canon 580EX Speedlight) to match the color temperature of the ambient lights in the room.

For example, when shooting indoors under incandescent lighting, I put the #3407 Roscosun CTO filter in front of my flash. This converts the color temperature of my flash (roughly 5500K) to roughly the color temperature of the room lighting (around 2900K). Then I change the white balance on my digital SLR to 2900K and voilà – everything in the photo is lit by the same color light source. No more daylight-colored faces with orange backgrounds.

In my photojournalism bag I carry a few of these gels (cut out from the swatchbook), and use the #3407 Roscosun and #3304 Plusgreen each on a daily basis. Best penny I ever spent.

Click here to view this item at B&H Photo

Sunday, March 12, 2006

An even cheaper macro solution has an even cheaper macro solution than what I suggested with the Macrobel kit.

Check it out here. Would definitely be a fun project to try.

REVIEW: Spiratone Macrobel

Can you get a macro bellows kit for under $100? Of course - anything is possible on the internet.

Pictured above on my Canon EOS 20D is the Spiratone "Rapid-rail" Macrobel Bellows system. I found it online for around $60 last year. For someone who doesn't do much in the way of serious macro photography, it's a great solution for the one or two hours a year I spend photographing flowers and bugs.

The Macrobel systems you're likely to find online will be in all manners of conditions, and I doubt that the lenses included will be standard. The kit I bought came with a mint-condition bellows and three lenses (which are really M42-mount enlarger lenses): a 35mm f3.5, a 75mm f3.5, and a 150mm f4.5. For what I use the system for, the 150mm gets the most use, and I occasionally whip out the 75mm if I'm photographing really tiny spiders. So far I haven't had much luck with the 35mm. It lets in so little light that it's impossible to focus the 35mm lens. The 150mm and 75mm lenses let in enough light to focus.

For $60, the system is impressively sharp. I honestly wasn't expecting much. It requires stopping down on both the 75mm and 150mm lenses, of course, but the end result is definitely good enough for the beginning macro photographer, or someone just looking to shoot a few bugs and flowers once in awhile.

If you're thinking of getting more serious about macro photography, you may want to consider a dedicated autofocus macro lens. Using the Macrobel system, unfortunately, is brutally slow. To shoot a photo of a grasshopper, for example, you must:
  • Attach the T-mount adapter to the Macrobel
  • Attach Macrobel and T-mount to your SLR
  • Attach lens to Macrobel bellows
  • With the aperture wide open, extend the bellows to get the image roughly in focus
  • Use fine-tuning knob to get image perfectly in focus
  • Stop down aperture
  • Put finger on shutter release (or remote)
  • Watch grasshopper hop off
  • Repeat until you actually get a photo
I may be exaggerating, of course, but the process definitely isn't as fast as using a Canon 100mm Macro USM or MP-E 65mm 1-5x Macro lens. Of course, both of those lenses retail for more than $600.

Overall, the Spiratone Macrobel Bellows system is a fun gear bag addition for less-than-serious macro shooters. It can be found mostly on eBay and through some online camera dealers.

REVIEW: The Original Lensbaby

I still haven't found a good use for my Original Lensbaby other than making objects in a scene look like the space chase scene in "Spaceballs." The Lensbaby is essentially a piece of flexible plastic tube with a single-element lens in it. By flexing, bending and compressing the Lensbaby, you can focus objects in a scene while making everything else blurry.

By bending the Lensbaby to one side or the other (or up and down for that matter), you can make one object in a particular plane of focus in somewhat-sharp focus while the other remains out of focus. By manually changing the aperture rings in the Lensbaby (for which a small plastic tool is provided), the effect can be enhanced or minimized.

I'm sure I'll find a fun use for this gadget someday, but so far its purpose in my gear bag has mainly been to gather dust. I wasn't expecting Zeiss-quality optics, but nonetheless, I've been less than satisfied with its sharpness in the "sharp" spot. Stopped down it's sharper, but then the holga/zoom/blur/sweet spot effect isn't as noticeable.

According to some reviews, the new version of the Lensbaby, the Lensbaby 2.0, is much sharper, and has a maximum aperture of f2.

The Original Lensbaby with a Canon EF mount (which I use) is $96 directly from the manufacturer at The Lensbaby 2.0 is $150.

Welcome to Photo Gadgets

I'll admit it, I have an addiction buying, using and stockpiling all manner of photographic gadgets. I love filters. I love weird cameras. I love different lenses. I love anything that screws on to the front of those lenses. This is a place for me to compile the various pieces I collect and post reviews for other equipment addicts who may be considering purchasing any of the gadgets I own.

I'll also post some previews of cool things I find online, and I'll be completely open and honest about anything I review or preview.