Yes – I finally got one! It is the Canon TS-E 17mm f/4 L ultra wide angle lens. Here are some technical specifications and unboxing photos:
After evaluating the pros and cons of investing in such a specialized piece of equipment, I decided to take the step and see how it can improve my architectural and urban photography. What kept me from acquiring the Canon TS-E 17mm for a long time was obviously the price – Amazon currently sells this lens for USD 2.100. However, a tilt shift lens offers some really unique features that I would like to mention:
With these features, the Canon TS-E 17mm is predestined for architectural and real estate photography. When holding the lens in my hands for the first time, I wasn’t expecting so much weight – but this is totally fine as it will be set up on a tripod 90% of the time. Due to the L-qualification, the build quality is top of the line. I am fascinated by the precision how every moving part slides when moving the tilt or shift units. There is even a protective rubber-like surface between the tilt and shift parts that prevents dust or spray water from entering the gaps – although I am not planning to use it in the rain. The focus ring has a convenient size and rotates very smoothly. Manual Focus is certainly something to get used to, but it still works pretty good when keeping the shutter button on the camera half-pressed while focusing and waiting for the camera to indicate an in-focus situation with a short beeping sound. Altogether, I am looking forward to taking it on my next journey!!
About two months ago, I have upgraded my smartphone to the OnePlus 3T. OnePlus is a relatively new player in the smartphone industry. While their first launch of the OnePlus One in 2014 is not long ago, the company has quickly gained popularity through it’s simple strategy to offer high-end smartphones at mid-range prices. Therefore, the current price for the 64 GB version of the new OnePlus 3T is around USD 440. As I have already tested it quite a bit, I think it’s now time for a short review. Let’s first take a look at the specifications and some unboxing photos while sharing my preliminary impressions below.
|Operating System||OxygenOS based on Android|
|CPU||Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 821
Quad Core, Kryo™: 2x 2.35 GHz, 2x 1.6 GHz
|Storage||64GB / 128GB UFS 2.0|
|Sensors||Fingerprint sensor, Hall sensor, Accelerometor, Gyroscope, Proximity sensor, Ambient light sensor and Electronic Compass|
|Ports||USB 2.0, Type-C / Dual nano-SIM slot / 3.5 mm audio jack|
|Battery||3,400 mAh (non-removable), Dash Charge (5V, 4A)|
|Buttons||Hardware keys and on-screen navigation support|
|Other||Alert Slider, Custom icon packs, Gesture Control,
(Display On + Display Off), OnePlus Shelf, Vibration motor, RGB LED notification light
|Network||4G LTE (Cat.6)|
|Wi-Fi||Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac|
|Positioning||GPS, GLONASS, BeiDou|
|Microphones||Dual-microphone with noise cancellation|
|Technology||Dirac HD Sound®|
|Resolution||1080p Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) / 401 ppi|
|Cover Glass||Corning® Gorilla® Glass 4|
|Aspect Ratio||16 : 9|
|Features||Night Mode Display, Light / Dark Theme, Accent Colors|
|Sensor||Sony IMX 298 Sensor, 16 MP, 1.12 µm|
|Video||4K resolution video at 30fps|
|Slow Motion||720p video at 120fps|
|RAW Image support||Yes|
|Lens Cover||Sapphire crystal lens cover|
|Features||Auto-HDR, Dynamic Denoise, Manual Control, HQ|
|Sensor||Samsung 3P8SP Sensor, 16 MP, 1.0 µm|
|Video||1080p video at 30fps|
|Auto selfie||Smile Capture|
If there is one thing that can describe the Oneplus 3T – it is speed! Even though I’ve got used to the phone for two months now, I am still impressed by the reactivity and performance. Until today I have not seen any other phone with faster fingerprint-detection to unlock the phone. Another noteworthy feature is the large battery in combination with the DASH speed charger system. The battery keeps the phone powered for almost two days and the DASH system recharges it within one hour.
Software-wise, the OnePlus 3T runs the latest version of Android 7, and receives frequent updates. The apps launch very rapidly and I haven’t observed any software crashes or irregularities since I got the device.
The camera app can either be launched via the home screen icon or by simply dragging the camera symbol on the lock screen. For anybody interested in all camera app features and it’s performance, there is a very comprehensive camera review on dpreview.com. For the purpose of this review, I will summarize the camera quality by showing some photos that I have recently taken with the rear camera of the OnePlus 3T:
As far as the build quality is concerned, the aluminum case feels very solid and has smoothly rounded edges. The transition between the case and the screen is precisely made with no large gap. On the side, there are push buttons and a slider, all of which appear to be pretty robust. (I need to emphasize on the button quality because on my previous smartphone it was a failure of the physical power on/off button that rendered the old device unusable. Although the outer material of the smartphone doesn’t give an indication of the actual electronic switch unit that is used on the inside, but the button feels different from the other smartphone when pressed so I hope this one won’t degrade over time). It is a rather large device, but it still feels very safe to hold it one-handed. So far, I am extremely happy with my choice and can recommend it even to demanding users in good conscience.
As I am currently planning to expand my collection of articles on DSLR and Camera Lens Technology, I have decided to increase my productivity by some faster hardware. I also needed a larger and more precise display for image editing. My previous computer was a Lenovo Ideapad I purchased in 2009, and it really did an excellent job without hardware failures or data loss. In order to keep my system compact, I went for a notebook again. I finally decided for a high-performance gaming notebook – the Acer Aspire Nitro Black Edition VN7. Here is a summary of it’s most relevant equipment features:
– Display: 17-inch IPS – LED backlight – Full HD 16:9 – Acer Comfy View Non-Glare (wide viewing angle, matt surface to avoid reflections)
– Processor: Intel Core i7-4720HQ (Quad-Core) – 2,6 GHz – 6MB Cache, 47 Watt TDP
– Memory: 16 GB DDR3L-1333 SO-DIMM
– Hard Drives: Hybrid 256 GB SSD – 1000 GB HDD
– Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M – 2 GB GDDR5 VRAM – HDMI
– Sound: Optimized Dolby Home Theater v4 – 4x Stereo Speakers
– Communication: Gigabit LAN (10/100/1000 Mbit/s) – Wireless LAN 802.11 ac – Bluetooth
– Interfaces: 2x USB2.0 – 2x USB 3.0 – HDMI – Microphone – Line-Out
– Card Reader: SD Card Reader
– Input Components: Acer FineTip Keyboard with NumPad and background illumination
– Operating System: Windows 10 64 Bit
– Specialties: Black Edition (designed for demanding tasks, image and video processing, gaming)
– Extras: 4 Speakers, Dust Defender Technology, Cool Boost Thermal Feature, BluRay Burner
When unboxing the Acer, I felt that the packaging was really designed to offer a very good protection against scratches and wear while in the box. Also, all packaging materials give an impression of high quality: The notebook itself was covered by a black soft pouch, and another soft inlay was placed between the keyboard and the display. The power supply unit was packed separately with the power cable. Unboxing the Acer Aspire was really lovely.
The surface of the Acer is made of fine plastic which feels pretty good but is also susceptible for fingerprints. The keys are made of plastic which is even smoother than the rest of the surface and therefore also susceptible to fingerprints, but these can be removed easibly with a microfiber cloth.
Starting the Acer does immediately turn on the keyboard rear illumination which I found slightly distracting. It can be turned off via the Function-keys (Fn + F9), but after rebooting the keyboard back illumination is automatically turned on again. This is not a big deal, but I had wished for a method to turn the back illumination off permanently (comments are welcome).
Aside from these tiny remarks, I am totally amazed by the sheer performance the Acer Aspire delivers. After installing my usual software and also some games (Portal 2, Half-Life 2), I realized that the hardware is not even slightly challenged judged by the low hardware temperature and low fan speed. For the other software (Photoshop, Lightroom) the additional computational power is saving me so much time as the SSD opens applications almost instantly. The IPS panel is brilliant for its colors and the high resolution increases the effective canvas size in Photoshop. Also, just a neat feature I haven’t expected: The Acer includes four speakers (with subwoofer) and the sound is incredible!
When shooting Interiors, there is always the question of whether to use HDR photography with automatic post-processing or to make multiple shots with the assistance of a speedlight flash and process the resulting images manually.
While HDR is an easy way to achieve uniformly bright scenes, it is also this effect what makes some HDR pictures look unnatural. With a remote flash, an emphasis can be set very selectively in areas that should be highlighted or that suffer from low ambient light. The processing of these manual shots involves some extra time, but the results are often more appealing than those from automatic processing.
However, speedlights typically emit light of a cold temperature that is close to daylight (around 5,600K) as it contains a lot of blue wavelengths. For this reason, artificially added light often doesn’t match the color temperature of light available at the scene. In almost every residential house, the lighting is composed of several tungsten lights that emit some warmer color temperatures. Understandably, adding cold light to this scene would look inconsistent with the overall lighting.
As a solution for this problem, there are color correction filters – called color gels – that can be placed in front of the speedlight flash. Color gels are available in various colors to create all kinds of effects, but for interior photography, mainly one color is relevant – Orange. CTO – color temperature orange – flash gels are used to make the speedlight consistent with lamps of tungsten light. In other words – daylight from the flash combined with a CTO creates warmer light.
Color gels come in different densities. There are full, half and quarter CTOs that can be used depending on the color temperature available. While a full CTO converts the speedlight’s color temperature to full tungsten light (6,500K to 3,200K), a half CTO roughly converts it to something like a flourescent light color (6,500K to 3,800K) and so forth. Naturally, the stronger the color change is, the more blue wavelengths are filtered out, reducing the remaining light intensity accordingly. For instance, a full CTO blocks around half of the light (1 stop), and half a stop is blocked by a half CTO.
To improve my results for interior photography, I did some research to find a good set of flash gels. I found that the Rogue Flash Gels by ExpoImaging had a good number of CTO gels in their “Universal Lighting Filters” set and consistently received good ratings on Amazon and expert review websites. ExpoImaging was so generous and sent me a set of the Universal Lighting Filters for testing.
The Rogue Color Correction Kit includes a total of 18 gels in three sets of six gels.
The set also includes a cardboard disc with some useful instructions.
To balance your flash to the dominant ambient light source in your scene:
1. For 3,200K ambient light use Full CTO
2. For 3,800K ambient light use 1/2 CTO
3. For 4,600K ambient light use 1/4 CTO
1. For 3,600K fluorescent tubes use Plus Green + 1/2 CTO
2. For 4,300K fluorescent tubes use Plus Green + 1/4 CTO
3. For 5,700K fluorescent tubes use Plus Green
Finally, every gel is placed next to a thin white separator sheet that helps finding the right color. I found it nice that all filters, the separator sheets and the cardboard disc had already been packed into the small fabric purse, and therefore doesn’t require any preparation. Also, it is particularly useful that the relevant characteristics of each gel (type, f/stop loss) are printed on a side flap of each gel.
The gels are applied to the speedlight flash by one of the rubber rings provided with the kit. The rings fit tightly on the flash and hold the gels firmly in place. I like the concept how the gels are applied to the flash because they cover all of the flash aperture so that no uncorrected light can leak out. A further, notable advantage is that each set of color correction gels are provided in triplicate, so it won’t matter too much in case that one gets damaged or lost. Thumbs up!
Over the years, the tripod became one of my favourite pieces of photo equipment. I got used to take it with me for travelling and other occasions and it has always paid for itself. Sadly, my tripod I have used until now has been worn out. Admittedly, being a cheap tripod for around USD 100, it has done a good job for many years. However, the black coating flakes off on some areas and the clamp mechanism that holds the legs in their extended position can’t always securely hold the legs so they randomly slide in. While the first point is only an optical defect, the second flaw is a true concern for the safety of my camera. For these reasons, I decided to go for a professional tripod.
There are hundreds of tripods available and depending on individual requirements and personal preferences, one should at least take the following considerations into account:
The weight of a tripod can have various implications on its performance. While a heavy tripod offers greater stability and can typically carry heavier cameras (see load capacity), they are less suitable for taking them to travel. Conversely, a lightweight tripod is ideal for travel, however it will be more suscepible to wind and other vibrations, and can affect sharpness of the images. Therefore, it can be recommended to weight it down with ballast (small bag filled with stones and attached to the center column), although the weight of a DSLR should usually suffice to achieve high stability.
The materials that a tripod is made of will affect its weight, stability and durability. For modern materials, it is typical that reduced weight and improved characteristics will in turn increase production cost significantly. For the legs and center column, the three primary materials used for tripods are aluminum, basalt and carbon fibre. Still, independently from the primary materials, other components on a tripod are usually made of aluminum, magnesium, other metals and composites. Especially the connecting parts are made of different materials than the telescopic legs.
A tripod is normally designed with telescopic legs so that it can be expanded to various heights. The most interesting specifications of a tripod are the maximum tripod height and the minimum height. For tall photographers, it is recommendable to use a tripod that covers a camera height of at least 1,60m. On the other hand, macro photographers might be interested in the minimum height at which the camera can be set to the ground. Therefore, some tripods allow to mount the camera upside down to the lower end of the center column so that it can be brought to the ground very closely.
The folded height of a tripod refers to its size when the legs have been fully retracted and is an indicator of whether a tripod is suitable for easy transportation. Tripods that can reach a small folded height have an increased number of leg sections than standard ones. Most tripod legs have three sections, though some have as many as six.
A tripod head is a fastening device that holds the camera on the tripod and secures the angle of the camera. A tripod head may be inseparably connected to the tripod, or may be sold separately. There are two main types of tripod heads. Pan and Tilt heads allow to adjust the dimensional axes separately. This can be useful if one axis position should be held in position while the camera should only be rotated, this can be done without misplacing the other setting. A ball head allows for adjustment of multiple axes at once. This is ideal if many different adjustments have to be made to the camera without operating separate axis levers. In addition, ball heads usually have an own rotation axis.
The load capacity is an important piece of information on whether the tripod is suitable to hold larger DSLR cameras and lenses. The force applied by the camera weight does not only act on the tripod head, but also the leg fixation mechanism.
Leg Fixation Mechanism
The quality and effectiveness of the leg fixation mechanisms, so it is If the mechanisms seem to be made of a low-quality plastic, chances are good that they will not hold up over long periods of time.
As always, the price is directly related to quality and durability. It should be considered that inexpensive tripods may be well suitable for the intended purposes, but might lack some of the properties explained before. On the other side, professional tripods are likely to become a long lasting companion. Still, it is recommended to read or view product reviews on the internet to ensure that even the more expensive tripods are reasonably priced.
Review Sirui N-1204X and Sirui K-10X
Thinking about my requirements, it was clear that I need a tripod that is compact, lightweight, extendible to a fairly high camera height and that has a durable leg adjustment mechanism. My other aluminum tripod has a weight of 2,0 kg. Having made some long walks on city trips, I can tell that this weight should not be underestimated.
After quite some comparisons on the internet, I purchased the Sirui N-1204X carbon fiber tripod for around USD 460 (EUR 406) and Sirui K-10X ball head for USD 146 (EUR 129) last week. I created some unboxing snapshots to share the first impressions.
At the first glance, the Sirui N-1204X is consistently well manufactured and feels very luxurious to the touch. The legs swing very firmly which gives a feeling of security. To position the tripod, the legs have to be turned to the opposite side at an angle of roughly 160 degrees. While turning the leg, the locking clamp snaps in with a pleasant noise whenever a calibrated position has been reached. All parts are joined together so well that no part feels loose. Especially the leg clamps feel surprisingly safe – they appear to be a lot more durable than the ones on my previous tripod.
The tripod itself has a weight of 1,12 kilograms which is incredibly lightweight. However, the ball head adds 0,35 kilograms to this, so the total weight of the Sirui tripod and head is 1,47 kg which is great in my opinion. The ball head feels very solid and holds my 7D with 17-55mm lens firmly in place. I am looking forward to working with these new pieces of equipment!
Here is an introduction of a new gadget I have acquired last week. It is a Network Attached Storage by Western Digital called My Cloud EX2. In addition, this post outlines my general thoughts on data storage requirements for home networks. There is a slight possibility that the following comments are off-topic for a photography website, but taking into account that a photographer should not leave his images unprotected from loss, here is a presentation of different solutions.
Data Storage Optimizations
In the early years of personal computers, data storage has always been directly integrated in the computer case. For a very long time, this has been sufficient to store both operating system files and other data. In recent years however, increasing amounts of data demanded more efficient options. I have been using external hard disc drives for a long time to store large quantities of data such as my music collection. An outsourcing of large data collections can increase both the performance of a PC and data security for the following reasons:
1. Performance: A personal multimedia collection can easily require several terabytes of storage capacity while a computer operating system typically requires 16-20 gigabytes (Win 7). Given that most files in a multimedia collection are not used very often – such as a music album that is played just once in a while – the space consumed by a multimedia collection is only rarely accessed. By contrast, the files of an operating system are loaded every single time the computer starts up. Therefore, keeping a multimedia collection on the same drive like the operating system is inefficient because it combines a large portion of disc space that is rarely needed with a much smaller portion that is permanently needed. So far, this is of no great concern. However, the computer does not store consolidated and continuous packages of file categories, but saves these files distributed over the entire storage. This dispersion of files – called fragmentation – even affects files that relate to the same application or belong together for other reasons. With the computer fragmenting files all over the physical storage, response time is reduced because file fragments are intersected with large fragments of other files. As soon as a file shall be read, the read head of a hard disc drive must find all fragments which noticeably slows down the response time. It is understandable that this effect is further increased if the files regularly opened are fragmented among rarely used files 100-1000 times larger than the core applicatons.
2. Data Security: Another consideration is that a computer does not only keep multimedia files and operating system files, but also important documents, passwords, emails, and other work files that must not be lost. Unfortunately, there is a permanent risk of data loss and there are multiple factors to be addressed. According to Kroll Ontrack, the worlds largest data recovery firm, around 26% of all data is lost because of user errors such as unwanted file deletions. But also hard disc drive failure can occur because of material degradation or impact. Drive failure related to degradation is more likely for a drive permanently in operation than for an external drive only occasionally in use. Last but not least, loss of data can occur due to software corruption or virus attacks.
Storage efficiency and data security should be good reasons to check your storage system. To increase the performance of a computer, it is advisable to use solid state drives (SSD) as the internal storage. These devices are incredibly fast in both reading and writing. Solid State Drives do also fragment files but as they operate without moving parts, their response time is not noticeably affected by fragmentation. The downside of SSDs is that they are usually quite expensive and do not feature as much storage space as HDDs. For that reason, the internal storage should only contain the operating system and associated files (Windows, Updates, etc.), applications (Office, etc.) and other files that can benefit from quick loading times. Largescale data such as a multimedia collection should be stored on an external hard disc drive.
To increase the data security, it is strongly recommended to create backups of all files that should not be lost. Any directory of files the user finds important should be copied to another individual (!) hard disc drive. A backup can be done manually in certain intervals, but can also be done automatically by a special setup called RAID (redundant array of idependent drives). RAID requires at least two individual drives (mostly HDDs for space reasons) and will distribute file duplicates in a way that everything can be restored in case that a single drive fails. The easiest RAID system will simply store identical data on each disc (RAID 1 Level). It would go beyond the scope of this post to explain all levels of RAID, but it is interesting to search the internet for more technical articles on the RAID technology. In addition, data security can further be increased by turning the external drives off when not in use. This is to minimize the risk of user errors and virus attacks.
Another current trend of modern homes is to have multiple and mobile devices to be used for different purposes. Some devices might primarily be used for office work (stationary workstations, notebooks) while others are designed for entertainment (HTPC, TVs, tablet computers, game consoles). With a selected computer storing the central multimedia collection, a home network can be established to grant other devices access to media files. However, these files can only be accessed with the storage computer turned on. In case that the storage computer is turned off, it can be activated by an incoming network signal (Wake On LAN), but is then only running to provide other devices access to the multimedia collection which is inefficient again because the other hardware components are also running, consuming power and making noise. A far more effective solution of this problem is a Network Attached Storage which is basically a mini-computer that is connected to the WLAN network router of the home network. The entire device is optimized for fast and efficient data access, data security and silent operation.
Therefore, I have decided to replace my various external HDD drives for a Network Attached Storage Device. After a week of internet research, I found that the Western Digital My Cloud EX2 would be ideal for my requirements. This device offers 2 bays for hard disc drives, an included RAID-controller and a network connection. I finally purchased the Western Digital NAS for around USD 420 – 2 hard disc drives with 2 terabytes each included. Here are some pictures I took during unpacking the NAS.
The Western Digital MyCloud EX2 comes in a dark gray case and shows a precise build quality. The clean design includes three blue LED indicators at the front, one to display the standby/on status and two to indicate the activities of the single drives. The drives included are Western Digital Red models that are specially designed for operation in storage servers. With their relatively low rotational speed of 5.400 rpm, noise is almost imperceptible. The Cloud comes with a switching power supply, a network cable and an instruction manual. The network cable is connected to the NAS on the back of the device, just like the power supply.
As I am not a professional when it comes to network settings and remote access devices, I have actually expected the setup to be challenging. In fact, the Western Digital My Cloud EX2 was surprisingly easy to set up. It took me not longer than a minute to connect it with my WLAN network router. With the power connected, the Western Digital Cloud automatically started up and dialed into my home network. On my network computers, the new storage instantly appeared in the network folder and was ready to go. Nevertheless, I have installed the recommended software package to use the entire scope of functions (status display, RAID controller and others).
The Western Digital Cloud offers several storage concepts: RAID level 0 splits documents into stripes and stores them on both drives in an alternating order. This increases read and write speed, but results in a loss of all data if one drive should ever fail. Data can also be stored without RAID, but I prefer to use RAID level 1, a redundancy concept where all content from one drive is simply mirrored to the other drive.
If storage extension is desired, there are two USB 3.0 connectors on the back of the NAS to connect additional drives. The Western Digital My Cloud EX 2 is an independent computer device with a 1,2 GHz processor included and 1/2 gigabyte memory. It features Wake-On-LAN and media streaming to any compatible device. So far, I am totally happy with My Cloud EX2!