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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Cheetah CL-180 bare bulb flash - long term performance review

It's been about 9 months since I bought my first Cheetah CL-180. I use these battery powered strobes primarily for travel work or for a small studio set-up where my large Profoto strobes are not needed, particularly for close-work on smaller objects, like the crown detail on the watch pictured below.


Last week I was shooting at Caffe Aficionado, a craft coffee shop here in Rosslyn Virginia. I had a space about 6' wide in which to work, adjacent to the barista station. The small profile of the strobes was perfect for this assignment. I set up two CL-180 units, one about 90 degrees the other closer to 45 degrees.  I had the Westcott Octobox on one and the Cheetah collapsible 20" soft box on the other. Unfortunately I didn't have the presence of mind to shoot the set up, but you can see it worked well by the photos below. 




One of the features that comes in handy shooting in a compact situation like this, is the ability to vary the output of the strobes individually without touching the units. The remote on the camera can adjust the receivers on each flash head independently. Up to 16 flash heads on four channels can be controlled by one transmitter. This far exceeds my need of course, but adjusting the light output in .3 f stop increments to adjust the shadows, without approaching the flash heads was sweet.

If there was one thing I could change it would be to make the remote receiver integral. As you can see by the photo below, the outboard placement makes it vulnerable to breakage or loss. 


After all of this time, for me, the Cheetah CL bare bulb flashes are still an ideal solution. They are easy to use, consistent in color and power output and a bit less expensive than some alternatives like Quantum. Cheetah also offers the more powerful CL-360 and has a new rechargeable on-camera flash, the V850 coming out next week. 

Still highly recommended

Thursday, April 10, 2014

CPS - Canon Professional Services VS. Creative Cloud Support

Today's article is not about another piece of equipment or software, but about the support we get from  the companies that sell us all this cool stuff. 

All things being equal, the camera systems I buy are based on the glass I need for my work. About 70% of my work is architecture related, so about 18 months ago, wanting Canon's full rotation 17MM TS-E and 24MM TS-E II lenses, I switched from Nikon to Canon systems. As I did with Nikon before it, I signed up for a CPS membership. Since Adobe has gone to a membership format, I signed up for Creative Cloud and their "enhanced cutomer service."  Let the games begin!

I've called the CPS hot line for a number of reasons so I offer up three examples. I believed I was having an issue with my 17MM lens and sent it in for repair. I figured I would send in the 24MM at the same time (both lenses were about 6 months old) just to have it checked over. The 17MM was fine, my issues were more in the way I was using it than anything else, but they did find an anomaly with the mount on the 24MM, something I had not known about and kept it for repair. While it was waiting for parts they sent a loaner in time for a scheduled assignment.  Shortly thereafter the 24 was back in my hands. Score one for CPS. 

A few weeks ago I called for advice on the best way to use the AI servo to shoot a pro basketball game. Pro sports are not in my wheel house, buildings do not often move, and these images were to be used for my ongoing Washington, D.C.  project. I wanted to be sure I was using the system properly to get the highest number of keeps. Being the dinosaur that I am, I didn't have a grasp on the AI Servo and the various tracking settings. again, I called CPS, talked to a specialist and got the skinny for the best way to shoot it. I got to the arena, picked up my floor pass and got to work.  The advice Canon gave me, along with a couple of tips I picked up from one of the pro sports shooters at the game was spot on. Score another for CPS.   

Canon 1Dx, 200MM 2.8. ISO 6400

Yesterday I was trying to print a portrait of a friend on my Canon Pro-10 printer. This is the one I got bundled with the 6D I bought a few months ago. I had used it a few times and some fairly good landscape prints, but I did notice some color variation compared to the monitor. No matter what I did in trying to adjust everything in Photoshop, it came up a bit off. I gave Canon a call and they suggested that I download Canon's Print Studio Pro, a plug-in for Photoshop. Not only is it a lot easier to use than the print dialog in Photoshop, but it has a nice feature called Pattern Print for determining the best color settings for an image.  In this particular case the skin tones had a magenta cast. Based on the printout below I adjusted the color with a plus 5 setting on both cyan and magenta and a minus 5 on yellow. The print was exactly as I wanted it. Third time's a charm, CPS leads 3 - zip.  




Contrast this to Adobe's support for Creative Cloud. Today's incident was typical of the times I have called while having problems with the Creative Cloud. Dial up and you will press a multiple of keys to get to different menus which are supposed to get your to the right person. I usually end up getting the recording advising me that there is a wait in excess of 24 minutes so I am told to leave a message. Today's call concerned the inability of Lightroom CC to load images from any memory card, from any camera I was using. The import dialog would show on screen, the images would then show for selection, I would check them off, hit import and then get a message that the files could not be read. I would then move over to ACR and load the images without a problem. When the call back came, from India of course, I had to go through three people, holding an average of three minutes each to get transferred, to get the guy that might be able to address my problem. Three times I repeated my name and email address.  The third person put me on hold twice as he researched the issue. While he did that I reinstalled LR Creative Cloud and restarted the computer. By the time he picked up the phone to tell me I had to check the preferences and he was sending me instructions by email telling me how to do it, I had solved the problem. As Adobe's support is offshore, I will mention that I often have a hard time understanding their staff and they often can't understand me. I imagine Adobe does this to save money, unfortunately it shows. Adobe whiffs again, score nothing. If I could I would give them a minus score. Canon 3, Abobe minus 3.  

Canon uses well trained personnel based here in the good ol' USA. I should also mention that I've never had a Canon CPS specialist put me on hold to refer to some database to resolve an issue. If a company offers technical support, it is always nice when the support person knows how to use the product.

All in all, I find Canon Professional Services support the best I have ever experienced and Adobe's Creative Cloud support one of the worst and certainly the most frustrating. In the beginning of this article I wrote that I decide on which camera system to buy based on the glass I need. I'll revise that. I'll buy the camera system based on the glass I need as long as I can use in on a Canon camera.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

My Pictures at an Exhibition


Last prints installed in gallery space

For the past three I have been working on a portfolio of photographs of Washington D.C. I am a native of our nation's capital and am familiar with most of the sights around here. I moved to Philadelphia in 1985 and when I moved back to D.C. in 2010 I found that I saw the city with refreshed eyes. A few new photos of familiar places, seen in a new perspective, became the seeds for this ongoing project. 

Last year I was approached about installing a permanent exhibition of my work in a luxury apartment building in Arlington, Virginia. The exhibit consists of many of the images from the existing body of work and new aerial images created in October of 2013. 

The exhibit started with two 17 foot by 3 1/2 foot panorama pieces installed in October and was finished yesterday with the installation of 32 more pieces in a new lower level gallery. The prints vary in size from 28 inches to 48 inches long and are plexiglas faced with recessed box mounts so they float off the wall about one inch.  



One of two panorama pieces in the lobby 



New floor covering and wall treatment to come soon.

What next? Well, I am not done yet. The photos are to be the foundation of a coffee table book. I have a bit more shooting to do in the next few months and then build the galley proof for the book. If all goes well, I'll publish in 2015.