Imaging Tools For Back To School: Time For A New Pencil Box, Backpack, And Software...

“To upgrade, or not to upgrade: that is the question.” —Not William Shakespeare’s Hamlet

As I write this controversy is swirling over Adobe Systems abandoning Creative Suite to focus on Creative Cloud. Even if this is solved by the time you read this, there will come a time when you’ll have to face a decision about whether or not to upgrade your software. There are two different schools of thought on software upgrades: one approach suggests that if a program is working, why spend money to upgrade? The reason behind this philosophy is that sometimes upgrades create more problems than they solve. A second viewpoint is to always upgrade to the latest version—no matter what. The thinking is that since change is inevitable that you should upgrade to the newer version to minimize or eliminate future problems. How Adobe has handled Camera Raw over the past few Photoshop upgrades is a testament to that theory. Over the years I’ve changed from an upgrade-regardless person to a more cautious approach. I may prefer to have the latest version of everything being used on a daily basis but now will wait weeks (months, years?) all the while listening to the drumbeat of grumbles from early adopters. That’s why I’m waiting to see what happens with Adobe’s new policy.

Action Of The Month
ATNX Digital offers an affordable ($25) set of Photoshop Actions consisting of 90 action files that are packed into four different collections—Primary, Mono, Color, and Special. The 20 Primary actions let you boost contrast, darken shadows, dodge, burn, and increase brightness, and in the process turn some of the tedium of photo editing into second nature. The 26 Mono actions give your images a monochrome look that’s coupled with a bit of film grain. The 17 Color actions give you the option to play with colors and see what your photo can become. Remember that Kai Krause once said, “There are thousands of images hidden inside of your photographs just waiting to be unleashed.” The 27 Special actions add light leaks and textures along with scratches, wear and tear for a homemade Lomo look, and, with a per action cost of 28 cents, ATNX Digital’s actions represent a high fun factor per buck.

© Joe Farace

Sigma Micro Four Thirds Lenses
Regular readers know I’m a fan of the Micro Four Thirds system and that enthusiasm continues to grow with the intro of more new cameras and lenses. I recently tried Sigma’s 30mm F2.8 DN and 19mm F2.8 DN lenses that are part of their ART series and are priced at $199 each. Both lenses incorporate telecentric optical designs and have a linear autofocusing motor to ensure accurate and quiet focusing, especially important when shooting video. They have metal exteriors and a focus ring that has varying textures to distinguish each part of the lens and come with lens hoods and a well-made case. The 19mm F2.8 DN is a wide-angle lens with an angle of view equivalent to 38mm. The 30mm F2.8 DN is equivalent to 60mm, features a double-sided aspherical element, and has a minimum focusing distance of 11.8” with a maximum magnification of 1:8.1. I took both lenses to Key West, Florida, to see how they handled the rigors of travel photography but ended up shooting mostly with the 19mm, which proved to be an able traveling companion; not so much for its lens hood, which kept jumping off. I used the 30mm in the studio with great results and you can see examples in my upcoming test of the Broncolor Move studio lighting system.

Courtesy of Sigma Corporation of America

Clever Hard Drive Options
Hard drives are not glamorous devices but out here in the real world they are a necessary part of a photographer’s workflow. Newer Technology’s miniStackMAX is a four-in-one external drive, optical drive, integrated SD (SDXC) card reader, and USB-powered hub. It has an aluminum body and is plug and play with any Mac OS or Windows computer that has a USB 3.0/2.0, FireWire 800/400, or eSATA port. Hard drives are available in capacities up to 4TB with three optical drive options, including DVD/CD/Blu-ray. Three powered USB 3.0/2.0 ports make it a digital hub for connecting devices like iPhones, mice, or keyboards. One of the ports offers 2.1 Amp output for charging an iPad or devices that require more power than typically provided by USB connections. Offered in 0GB—you install your own HD—kits with capacities ranging from 500GB to 4TB, the miniStack MAX is available at prices starting at $149.99.

G-Technology’s new G-RAID mini portable dual-drive external RAID storage system is useful when you’re on the road and need to copy images from memory cards at the end of the day and simultaneously make a secure backup. When you come back from the trip, you can connect the G-RAID mini to your Mac OS or Windows desktop computer using the bundled USB 3.0, FireWire, and eSATA cable before burning a Blu-ray disc or whatever form of cold storage you prefer. The unit features both RAID 0 and fail-safe RAID 1 operation, a high-speed quad interface, and storage capacities up to 2TB. When connected via eSATA in RAID 0 mode, the G-RAID mini is capable of delivering a 120+ MB/second data transfer. A 1TB G-RAID mini costs $249.95 and is backed by a three-year factory warranty and unlimited free technical support.

Courtesy of Newer Technology, Inc.

Courtesy of G-Technology

Bigger Can Be Better
When Mary and I owned a studio the one thing she hated was schlepping all the gear we had to lug around for assignments. Part of the problem was that the selection of bags and accessories available back then was not as wide as it is today. One solution is Think Tank Photo’s Logistics Manager 30. It’s large, measuring 13.75x27.5x8.25-10”, allowing it to hold multiple combinations of cameras and lenses, lighting gear such as studio lights and reflectors, and all kinds of accessories. It has wheels and a handle allowing you to roll the case up to the tailgate of your SUV before (remember to bend your knees) lifting it inside. Logistics Manager 30 has an expandable front pocket for large items—hence the 8.25-10” depth variance—a large front organizer pocket, a side pocket for various gear, interior pockets, two clear accessory bags for miscellaneous items, and a TSA-approved zipper lock for security. A tripod cup, strap, and Think Tank’s trademark rain cover are also included. The price is not insubstantial at $499.75, but I bet wedding shooters could put all of their gear into that one bag, eliminating the need for multiple bags on assignment.

Courtesy of Think Tank Photo

App Of The Month
PicsArt is a free full-featured photo editor for Mac iOS and Android smartphones. It works with Apple’s iPad, too. PicsArt’s tool kit includes a Picture Editor that lets you crop, rotate, color adjust, as well as work with masks, text effects, and collages. Magic Effects lets you add special effects to your images, including stenciler, cartoonizer, sketcher, Lomo, vintage, cross process, HDR, watercolor, contours, comic, neon, gouache, old paper, and others. PicsArt has drawing effects, artistic brushes, and text styles that let you draw directly on top of your Facebook friends’ photos. You can quickly share the results with friends in PicsArt’s social network or by adding images to Facebook, Twitter, or e-mail. There’s even a photo art community where app users can share and discover each other’s photo art.

Courtesy of PicsArt

ATNX Digital:
Newer Technology, Inc.:
Sigma Corporation of America:
Think Tank Photo:

AnnBray's picture

Absolutely amazing concept. This is something new and different to see. People love to do this with great interest.