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Articles by: Peter Poulides

The number of photographers in DFW

A discussion with someone at the national office of ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers) had me wondering where DFW stands in terms of number of professional photographers in the U.S. The fascinating and useful site run by the Bureau of Labor Statistics lets you slice and dice the country by professions using intuitive maps and data. The map below comes from this page showing employment of photographers in May, 2012

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Hovering over the separate Dallas and Ft. Worth regions (while on the BLS page) shows that we have 800 and 340 photographers, respectively. That total of 1140 photographers places us in 6th place after NY, Chicago, LA, Orlando and Atlanta. Orlando was a surprise but I’d imagine there’s a lot of photography around the theme parks.

The DFW area already has the 4th largest population in the U.S. and we’re the fastest growing area in the country last year. All this points to our area becoming an even larger producer and consumer of photography and media over the next few years. Good news.

iPhoto face recognition gets a workout

Camera Obscura on a Greek island

When I was doing research for the last trip to Greece I read that there was a camera obscura on the island of Aegina, one of the Saronic islands that are close to Athens and easily accessible by ferry boat. I looked up websites for the camera obscura and saw what looked like a familiar location. When I was a kid in high school in Athens I used to go to the islands with friends to explore and hang out. Near the little town of Perdika in Aegina we discovered some old World War II German bunkers that were still largely intact.  As it turns out, the camera obscura is actually built on one of those bunkers.

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As I climbed up the the hill toward the round structure that sense of geographic flashback confirmed that this was the same place. The mostly empty observation bunker had been clad in a new wooden skin and fitted with a row of holes around the circumference. Unbolting a heavy metal door led to a small alcove and through an overlapping set of black-out drapes. The inside of the small space was so dark that I couldn’t see whether there was a floor or any obstructions and had to wait for my eyes to adjust before stepping all the way in. Around the top half of the cylindrical room are a row of rear projection screens, on them are upside down live images of the surrounding scenery. The effect is really pretty stunning. The moving sea, blue sky and peaceful Greek island landscape are projected as a live panoramic movie inside this building of war.

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Panoramic photo of the interior is made up of 8 images at 1/8 second, ISO 6400 shot with the Nikon D600. I didn’t have a tripod so these are handheld and stitched together with Auto Pano Pro, then cleaned up in Photoshop. Angle covered is about 340 degrees. I propped the door open and pulled the black out curtains apart a little to let some light in and show the building structure. Normally it would be black except for the glowing screens. Exterior pano is 6 images. Link to a good definition and history of the camera obscura.

Arca Swiss p0 head modified with Really Right Stuff clamp

I’ve been using an Arca Swiss Z1 ball head on my larger Gitzo tripod for about a year and love it. I added the Really Right Stuff PCL-1 Panning Clamp for panoramas along with a plate and various accessories. The system is great but kind of heavy so I started looking for a lightweight option for traveling.

I had recommended the Arca Swiss p0 (p-zero) head  to a tutoring client based on reviews and specs. This is an ingenious inverted ball design that means you don’t have to have a separate rotator for panos. Because it’s the ball that mounts to the tripod, when you level the ball head the top plate is automatically parallel to the ground and allows perfect panos without an additional panning rotator.  I also suggested that he put a Really Right Stuff clamp on the head.

It turns out there are two product numbers of the p0 head. The 801213 includes the new Arca Swiss Slidefix QS Quick Release which is not compatible with RRS. The 801211 is $70 cheaper and does not include the Quick Release clamp. My client had bought the one with the clamp so the first order of business was to remove the Arca Swiss clamp. This was not easy. The clamp is mounted with a 6mm screw, but the hex allen socket is pretty small and a metric size that I didn’t have. I took a trip to Crouch Sales, a specialty store here in the Dallas photo district that specializes in “bolts, nuts, anchors and more”. This is one of those great places that serves industrial clients, has deep inventory and the guys at the counter know what they’re doing. The salesman finally found a tool that fit but we couldn’t get the screw to break loose. It took clamping the allen wrench into some vice grips and twisting the wrench until it felt like it was going to snap before the screw loosened. Once the Arca Swiss QR plate was off it was easy to replace it with the RRS B2-40 quick release plate. If you do this modification yourself make sure to order the version with the 6mm metric screw. The model number is B2-40-LR-M6.

The system worked so well for my client that I decided to try one myself. First I called Precision Camera Works, the U.S. Arca Swiss repair center, to ask them about the difficulty of getting that M6 screw out of there. The technician I spoke to said that Arca really doesn’t want that QR plate coming off and soon would probably use an even stronger thread lock that would make it almost impossible to remove. He confirmed that the 801211 was the same head, just without the QR plate but with a small double threaded bolt that is 6mm on one end and 1/4-20 on the other. That’s the one I ordered from B&H. The next call was to the always helpful people at Really Right Stuff to confirm what I was about to do and make sure I was ordering the right parts.

When the head arrived I was happy to discover that a standard 7/16 socket wrench perfectly fits around the double headed bolt, grabs on the built in nut and makes it easy to remove. (SEE UPDATED INFORMATION BELOW FOR CORRECT SOCKET SIZE) The whole process took about 5 minutes. The head is much improved with the RRS clamp and now compatible with my other pano components.

 

UPDATE: A client had some trouble getting the screw out of the Arca Swiss plate and her experience might help others with the same problem:

I thought you would like to know that I was finally able to get the tripod head conversion complete. I bought a different socket wrench and then it came out easily. I thought I would give you the details, in case you are recommending the same setup to others. I was originally using a 7/16 socket with 12 sides on a 1/2 inch drive. It was not able to grab hold of the bolt. So a friend of mine tried a 7/16 socket with 6 sides, but the walls of the socket were too thick to fit in the space on the Arca swiss head. So I bought a 7/16 socket with 6 sides with a 1/4 inch drive and it worked perfectly. We did notice that there was some lock tight on the bolt. It was the gray lock tight which my friend described as “light use”. Anyway, I’m all set now, and anxious to start taking panoramas!
Linda
UPDATE DECEMBER 15, 2013
I needed to convert another one of the p0 heads and finally bought exactly the right tool. It’s an 11mm thin walled socket. Easy to find at a good hardware store. I’d recommend you take your Arca Swiss head with you to make sure it will fit between the bolt head and the recessed shoulder on the head.


UPDATE JANUARY 25, 2014
I got this email from Allan today:
I got a p0 and have problem removing the double threaded bolt. Do you need to have the pano locked when removing as I noticed it just rotates when not locked and I use a socket wrench.? I even tried the 6 sided socket wrench but the bolt wouldn’t come out. Thanks

My answer:
Allan, I did the conversion again a few weeks ago and had a heck of a time getting the bolt off. Then I remembered how impact wrenches make short work of getting lug nuts off of a wheel. So I locked the pan on the p0, put the socket wrench in place and than firmly struck the end of the wrench repeatedly with another wrench. After about 10 taps the bolt loosened and I was able to get it out. Let me know how yours turned out.
UPDATE NOVEMBER 7, 2014
Dear Peter,
Your post on the Arca Swiss P0 with the RRS clamp was excellent. I own a P0 and think it’s wonderful but, like yourself, was unhappy about the clamp options. At any rate, I wanted to give you some updated information that you may find useful. I removed the double threaded bolt with an 11mm thin-walled hex socket. It fit perfectly. In addition, you can use the M6 bolt – as you mentioned – but it needs to be 20mm or less. I tried the 25mm and it hits the ball.
My regards,
Justin.

UPDATE MARCH 25. 2015
I saw your post but I am not sure I follow on why you are removing the screw and then using an M6. What is wrong with what it comes with and using, for example, the B2-LR-II?  It has a 3/8” thread which would screw on to it just fine? I am looking for this p0 myself and want to ensure I get the right setup! Kaitlyn

My answer:
Hi Kaitlyn. I first tried a B2-LR-II on the p0 but found it too big for that head. It hangs over quite a bit and gets in the way of handling. The blog post is for the smaller BR-LR which I found to be a perfect fit for the p0 and which doesn’t have a threaded center hole. Also, I liked the idea of using a couple of drops of Blue Loctite on the M6 screw. I do have the larger B2-LR-II on an Arca Z1 head on my larger tripod and it’s a perfect fit there. I hope that helps.

UPDATE MAY 27, 2015

Today I heard from Didier in France about his experience with modifying the Arca Swiss heads. He includes a new way to tackle this problem along with a link to a similar article from a French website.
About Your very interesting article ”Arca Swiss p0 head modified with Really Right Stuff clamp” on your Blog. I made this transformation of the Arca-Swiss head p0, there has several years and I just do the same thing on an Arca-Swiss d4 head. Since 2012, the screw of the clamp is mounted with, I think, epoxy glue. To remove this screw without risking to tear the threads of the hole, I locally heated the head of the screw with a ”Pyropen Weller” equipped with a nozzle ”hot air”. This will soften the adhesive and can easily unscrew the screw, without forcing.

Regarding the head Arca-Swiss p0, I noticed that the black synthetic washer between the head and the clamp degrade stability. I highly recommend to remove it (just attached by a double side adhesive film). Note that the Arca-Swiss heads sold with a clamp do not have this washer.

The same subject on a French forum:
http://www.chassimages.com/forum/index.php/topic,127261.0.html

Sincerely,
Recto38 (from France)

Fuji XPro1 Review

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I’ve been shooting with a Nikon D4 which is an amazing camera but an incredible pain to haul around on trips. A few months ago I bought a Canon S100 which I think is the best pocket camera out right now but not really up to serious shooting. If it only had an optical finder. . . .

I started looking for an alternative travel camera and after researching dozens of models settled on the Fuji XPro1. I wanted a camera with interchangeable lenses, an optical viewfinder, high quality sensor, good low light capability and a quiet shutter. The Xpro1 fit that spec list and has been getting largely rave reviews on many sites and blogs. In October I took the camera to Santa Fe while I was attending a Writing for Photographers workshop to see what it would be like to shoot without a DSLR. It took some getting used to. I just got back from a three week trip to Greece and shot with the Fuji along with the new D600 (which will be another writeup). This is what I like and dislike about the XPro1:

Like:

  • Size and weight: The camera feels good in my hand and doesn’t create shoulder or neck fatigue after a day of shooting. I added the Really Right Stuff hand grip which is essential for me to avoid the cramped hand position that this camera body requires on its own. Fuji makes a hand grip but it lacks the vertical Arca Swiss clamp for shooting panoramas and inexplicably covers up the battery and memory card compartment on the bottom of the camera. As usual, the Really Right Stuff option is well thought out and blends beautifully with the camera body. I use the Think Tank belt system and I can get the body/lens combo, the second lens, 2 spare batteries, Manfrotto 209 table top tripod with 492 ball head, cleaning kit, flashlight and a couple of other tidbits in the compact Skin Body Bag. This worked out well when I wanted to put the gear away while walking through a dicey neighborhood in Athens last week and let me keep the gear dry when we got caught in the rain.
  • Sensor image quality. The new Fuji sensor with randomized pixels and no anti aliasing filter lives up to the hype of creating sharp images with no moiré. It makes me wonder why it took so long for a company to do this and I’m curious to see if this chip design shows up in other brands soon. The low light performance is just fantastic with low noise up to ISO 1600 and very useable images through 6400.
  • Lenses: I bought the 18 and 35mm lenses, equivalent to a 27mm and 50mm on full frame. The 35 is just exquisite and I agree with all the other glowing reviews of this little gem. The 18 has a reputation for being soft at the edges which is true but not near as bad as I expected.
  • Hybrid optical/video finder: This is a super cool bit of technology and one of the biggest attractions of this camera. Being able to see data overlaid over a live optical image is helpful and sets the bar for all other cameras of this type. The surprise for me was how often I used the EVF which I thought I would hate. It makes shooting in very low light not only possible but fun by offering a full brightness image in dark environments that are almost impossible to view and frame with the optical finder.
  • Overall build quality: Fuji has done a great job putting together a solid looking and even more solid feeling camera. If you haven’t handled one of the models in this line you might be in for a surprise.
  • Shooting style: Holding a rangefinder style camera really does make you see, think and shoot in a different way. It’s more deliberate and this camera tends toward a subtle picture making machine rather than the big artillery feel of a pro Nikon or Canon body. It’s a nice feeling.

Dislike:

  • Slow focusing speed: This was the biggest criticism of the XPro1 before the firmware update in October but since the camera uses contrast detection instead of the faster phase detection on DSLRs, it just takes a little longer to focus. Often the lag is unworkable and results in lost shots.
  • Shutter lag: Yes, there is a bit of shutter lag which goes against the street style shooting that this thing seems built for. I found myself trying to anticipate movement to get the moment I wanted but was often frustrated by the small delay.
  • Battery life: After reading positive reviews for the Pearstone after-market batteries I bought two of them to supplement the Fuji battery that came with the camera. Both brands work about the same but I found myself using all three batteries some days with moderate shooting and some use of live mode and quite a bit of image playback. Battery life is definitely a problem for me.
  • Placement of the Q, AF/EL and Focus buttons. The first two are just in a stupid place, right under the edge of your thumb and far too easy to hit accidentally which is a big surprise when the Quick menu pops up or your exposure is whacked because you inadvertently hit the Exposure Lock button. I got better at it but this is a major irritation with this camera. The Focus mode button, as many others have noted, is in the crazy position in the bottom left corner of the camera. So when you’re in shooting position you can’t really get to it to move your focus point without breaking the traditional and stable left hand cradling, right hand shooting posture. I usually shoot with just the center focus point active and was able to bypass this problem most of the time but when I needed to move the focus point it was difficult. There is a programmable FN button on the top deck right next to the shutter release which would be a great place for the Focus select but of all the things you can program it to do, Focus is not one of them.
  • Price: This is an expensive camera. Body and one prime lens are $2,300. Yes, much (much!) cheaper than a Leica which I think it competes with and often bests, but still expensive. Disclaimer: I’ve never shot with a Leica so the above statement is based purely on trolling websites and reviewing specs. I know there is something special about Leicas but I’ll never know since I likely won’t ever pay that kind of money for a camera. I also drive a Toyota instead of a Mercedes or BMW.
  • Lack of diopter adjustment and shallow eye relief: Fuji left off the diopter adjustment for some reason which meant that I had to buy a +2 screw in diopter to make the camera usable while wearing glasses. This mostly fixed the problem but when using the optical finder with the digital overlay the real image and the data image are not in the same virtual plane. If you have young eyes that are still flexible enough to quickly shift focus distance then this probably won’t bother you. If, like me, your eyes have a few years on them then the difference in the focal planes is at the least an irritation and for some will be a deal breaker. Add to this the fact that with glasses it is almost impossible to see the whole image at once because of very shallow eye point and the finder can be a real frustration. I did adapt after a couple of weeks but it is not anywhere as intuitive and natural as looking into a DSLR prism and focusing screen.
  • Remote shutter release: Here’s where they took the old school idea too far. This camera has a threaded cable release which is kind of neat and a throwback to earlier film cameras. But to leave out an electric or infrared remote is just silly. I use the self timer set to 2 seconds for all tripod work but it would be nice to be able to trip the shutter with no physical interaction or vibration.

On the fence:

  • Traditional lens aperture ring: When I first picked up the camera my old muscle memory came back from shooting for years with the aperture ring where God intended it, on the lens. So I was initially thrilled to have this feature again. But then I found myself accidentally changing f-stops when I picked the camera up and had to start really watching out for this. So maybe God was wrong about this. Nah, it’s probably me again.
  • Prime lenses: This isn’t a Fuji thing at all. I was looking forward to the creative constraint of shooting with a pair of prime lenses. I’ve always believed and taught that limiting your tools puts you in a smaller creative box which makes you work that much harder and often yielding more interesting photos. I still believe that but, boy, I sure got tired of switching back and forth between just the two lenses I bought! Now I really understand the allure of the Fuji X100 with it’s single, non-interchangeable 35mm equivalent lens.

Lots of people stopped to talk to me about the Fuji. There’s huge interest in this size and style of camera and many other photographers are right where I am, wanting something of high quality but small size and quieter than a DSLR. I think and hope that Nikon and Canon will have to answer to this breakthrough camera and maybe in a year we’ll have something this good but faster and better laid out.

If you own one of these I’d be interested in your experience with this brilliant but frustrating camera.

Travel Tip

Travel Tip: Next time you’re hiking on a barren island of volcanic rock (in this case the dormant Nea Kameni of Santorini, Greece) and you want a souvenir piece of lava to take home (even though there are signs insisting “don’t remove the rocks”) you might not want to drop it in the same pocket with your sunglasses.

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Number one reason to use a filter on your lens.

This is why you might want to have a filter on your lens! One day, at the end of a beginners workshop, one of the students had a Tamron 70-200 f2.8 zoom that was making some scary rattling noises. I gently pulled off the lens cap to reveal a shattered filter. The lens had taken a hard hit on its front edge. I carefully unscrewed the filter and the slightly bent mounting ring, pulled out the shards of glass and blew off the remaining glass powder. All was well. If the filter hadn’t been there would have likely been serious damage to the lens itself.

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Patience pays off at Volcanoes National Park.

I was in Hawaii a few weeks ago on vacation. Well, a vacation with 40 pounds of photo gear. . . .  My wife and I were blown away by Volcanoes National Park. We were told to come back around 6:30 to see the glow from the lava pit. By 7:00 it was still not much to look at and by about  7:30 it was so dark that I had to manually focus on the glow. The clouds and stars were barely visible to the eye. I tried some long exposures and got a nice surprise. This is a 2 minute exposure which turned out pretty nicely.

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Miss Corkern’s 3rd grade class

I was going through some boxes of papers and photos that my Mom left behind when she passed away and came across this little gem. This is Miss Corkern’s 3rd grade class at Richardson Heights Elementary in 1962. Yup, that’s me, looking off camera and probably wondering if that key light is at a 2:1 ratio with the fill.

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Just a little retouching

I had a chance to do another large banner project for the YMCA. This time it’s for a 13x17ft rear-lit sign to hang on the corner of their newly remodeled building in downtown Dallas. The last banner job was going to be viewed from close enough that I decided to shoot with the 24.5 megapixel Nikon D3X. This new banner would be viewed from the street so I shot it with my 12 megapixel D300.

We shot several setups, knowing that one of the shots would be used on the building and the others would be part of a billboard and bus campaign. This photo of a group of Y members was the one chosen for the big sign. There were several changes and repairs to be made.

Quite often on discussion groups you’ll hear people get snarky and say something like “I would have just shot it right in the first place instead of spending so much time in Photoshop”. The people who take that attitude may not have shot in a live, slightly chaotic location with a dozen people waiting to have their picture taken. With paid models you can sometimes take a little longer getting things “right”, but you don’t often have that luxury. Also, what’s “right” may not have even been decided yet!

We shot this group of people near a railing, in front of a glass wall with the basketball courts in the background.

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Once the shot was selected it was time to clean it up a bit: (from L to R)
– Stretch the top part of the frame to match the aspect ratio of the sign.
– Repair the woman’s eye which was hidden under her bangs. I found another eye from a different shot.
– We didn’t have a good shot of the second man looking at the camera so decided to replace him with a woman from another setup.
– Replace the logo on the man’s shirt with a Y logo and change the shirt color.
– Remove logo from the red jacket.
– Remove logo from shorts.

The idea was to have some good background action happening on the basketball court. I had the actors step out of the frame and I shot a couple dozen frames of court action at 1/8 sec to get some blur. Keeping the camera locked off made it a little easier to composite the background elements:

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– The woman with the blue shorts was used in place of the man from the original image. I had to first clear out a space for her by cloning over the edges of the man to give her some extra background. Then the adjacent actors were masked and she was placed behind them. Shadows were painted in to match the lighting from the left. The client also asked to add some color to her shirt.
– The basketball court was placed into the main shot, along with background action from three shots.
– The last inset shows a photographer friend of mine with the Lastolite Easy Balance card for white balance. (Wiley is his name and you can see his work here.)
– My client sent over the background graphic as a Illustrator file and I dropped it in as a Smart Object and needed to do some masking around the actor’s head
– Then there was skin retouching, some clothing repairs, local and overall color balance, hair trimming, sharpening. . . the usual ;-)
– The file was sized up to final print size at 50dpi, which is the native resolution of the XL Jet printer.

Here is the final composited shot after about 3 1/2 hours of work:

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