X Marks The Spot

In my last post before my hiatus, I alluded to a “gear shift” in multiple senses. Late August 2012 was set aside for a trip to visit family in Philadelphia. We were driving rather than flying, there was limited room in our vehicle, and the weight of my SLR rig was becoming onerous when I wanted to be on the move. I was already downsizing my laptop to an iPad + keyboard; could I also downsize the camera to a quality compact?

I had long been salivating over the Fujiflim X100, but the price, the fixed lens, and quirks I’d heard about autofocus performance kept me from taking the plunge. The fixed lens wasn’t such a big issue, as I have one lens I use 99% of the time on my SLR, but the other two problems were deal-killers for me. Just before we went to Philly, I discovered three important things:

  1. Fuji had improved the firmware to make the AF better.
  2. The X100 was on sale for $200 off the list price.
  3. That $200 put it within range of our available cash.

My wife authorized the purchase, and the X100 duly arrived in time for me to test-drive it before our vacation. I quickly developed a love/hate relationship with the autofocus, even in its improved state, and the long start-up time was irritating, but there was no denying that the lens and sensor are marvels of engineering individually and a match made in heaven together. Moreover, the hybrid electronic viewfinder was every bit the advantage touted in the marketing. I was confident that I could come back from vacation with pictures I wouldn’t be ashamed of. A few of them may be found below the cut:

Continue reading “X Marks The Spot”

Getting My Kicks

Once again, I was carrying my camera with me at exactly the right time and place:

Bel Air

I was over at Holy Cross this past Wednesday and found this gorgeous hunk of metal waiting for me when I came out. My camera was not bearing its usual companion, but rather my brand-new Tamron SP AF90mm F/2.8 Di lens. I have long been interested in this lens for general macro use, but also for documenting household valuables should they suffer damage or loss, and the opportunity finally arose to purchase it.

Soaring On The Road

The only annoyance I have found so far is with autofocus in low light, which can be slow and difficult to acquire, but that’s merely an annoyance rather than a flaw. Macro lenses shine in manual focus, and while the Tamron lacks the satisfying feel of an old-fashioned metal helicoid, it’s quite good for a modern lens. Even wide open it’s razor sharp, with great contrast and good color rendition. I look forward to trying it out on a true macro subject after Easter.

Gone Like A Flash

The anxious noises you’re hearing in the background are coming from my bank account, as something I’ve long wanted to buy has become more affordable, but still not trivially so. Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

LENSSSSSSSS FLAAAAAAAARE

You can trigger a flash in three ways:

  1. Direct electrical connection, whether through the hot shoe or through a wire. Pros: rock-solid reliable. Cons: limited by length of cord, number of cords, and people tripping over cords.
  2. Optical slave. A light sensor pointed at a master flash unit detects the master’s pulse and triggers the slave unit. Some optical slaves use infrared receivers, like Nikon’s Creative Lighting System or Canon’s equivalent thereof. Pros: no cords, simple electronics for third-party versions, comes with your camera for manufacturer versions. Cons: works only within a narrow angle with line-of-sight to the master.
  3. Radio slave. Radio transmitter on the camera signals a receiver on the flash when the shutter is released. Pros: no cords, no line-of-sight limitations, good ones will trigger hundreds of feet away. Cons: if you don’t position your antenna correctly, try to trigger through thick concrete or metal, or are subject to RF interference, they won’t work.

The gold standard for radio triggers has long been the PocketWizard Plus II, which has multiple channels, high reliability, long range, and is fairly rugged. The exposed antenna can be bent or broken, but otherwise it holds up well. It’s also expensive at $170/unit, and you need one for each flash plus one for the camera. I’ve had my eye on a set of Plus IIs for a few years now but have not saved enough to buy them.

Enter the PocketWizard Plus III. It’s lighter, stronger, more capable, more reliable, and $30 cheaper (right now; price could drop more later) than the Plus II. This never happens to photo gear; better kit is always more expensive. I’m not going to pre-order these, so my hard-earned cash can breathe easy for a little while, but they’ll probably be in my bag sooner than I thought.