Category Archives Photo Gear

I’ve finally reached the point that I’m done with my drobo, which I use for the archiving of my photos. I actually use three drobos: one in my office, one in Brad’s office (onsite backup), and one at home (offsite backup). Now sadly I’m going to have to move to a different platform altogether because drobo finally pushed me to the point of no return.

What I love about drobo
What drew me to drobo in the beginning was the fact that it constantly monitors the health of my hard drives. So if one starts going bad, or gets full, my drobo will warn me, and robotically shift my data to other drives installed in my drobo until I can replace that drive. Keeping a photo archive intact is very, very important to us photographers.

Why I’m done with drobo
Because for the fourth time one of my drobos is a brick.

Wait, are all the hard drives installed in my drobo still working? Yup. Can I access my photos? Nope. Not a one.

When I came into work a couple of days ago, I cringed when I saw an all too familiar problem — my drobo cycling on/off over and over again. It doesn’t mount, and I can’t access my photos — essentially it’s a brick. Again. (see the video of my drobo below, and you’ll see it cycling on/off in what we now call “The drobo death spiral.” Note: This is not an exciting video).

Scott, can’t you just pop those drives into something else and get your photos back?
Nope. It’s a proprietary system that only a drobo can read. Sigh.

I went to their site, followed their troubleshooting guide, and it still just cycles on/off (by the way, as I mentioned above, this isn’t the first time this has happened — drobo has had to replace my entire drobo unit [not including the drives] before).

In fact, this was the fourth recorded incident Brad and I have had with drobo so far. And while you’re waiting for your new drobo, you cannot access any of your photos or files on your bricked drobo. You’re basically locked out.

This is the moment that I knew I was done with drobo
When my photo assistant Brad called their tech support for me, they told him my dead drobo is out of warranty. To get my photos back, I would have to pay nearly $300 for drobocare (an extended warranty program). So basically, while my drobo is supposed to protect my photo archive, what it has actually done is hold my photo archive hostage for almost $300.

I know what some of you are saying right now: “We told you so.” When Brad told drobo how supremely unhappy we were with that $300 hostage-situation, they eventually emailed back and lowered the price to $100. We passed on the “deal.”

At this point, I’d rather give that $100 to you. Seriously.
Rather than sending $100 to drobo on a solution that I’m going to abandon shortly, I’d rather just give the money to you to help me find a better solution.

To that end I’m offering a $100 bounty to whomever can help me choose a new photo archival storage system now that I’m “dumping drobo” (by the way, that would make a great slogan for a t-shirt).

I need about 12 TB of storage, which sadly may be conservative thanks to my 36-megapixel Nikon D800 which eats up drive space like a plague of locusts.

Just leave me a comment here with any advice you have for big storage, and if I go with your suggestion I’ll cut you a $100 check for your time and research (I’m only doing this for one person, so if 50 people say “try dropbox” I’m only cutting one check to one person. Just so you know).

My plea to drobo
I’ve been using drobos for a few years now, and have recommended them to a number of my personal friends. A lot of photographers out here have drobos, and we count on drobo to keep our images safe. But obviously there can come a point where our hard drives are actually OK but our drobos have failed.

If the drobo is a truly well-made product, shouldn’t it work reliably for more than a year? We don’t expect it to last 20 years, but it should darn well work perfectly for at least two or three. In short, drobo (the company) should have enough confidence in their technology and their product to stand behind their product for more than 12 months

My plea to drobo is simple… If our drobo’s power supply goes bad, or our drobos won’t mount, or whatever the problem is (unless we caused it by immersing our drobo in water, or dropping it off a counter, etc.) — we need you to replace it free of charge for a more reasonable amount of time than just one year. Otherwise the whole thing is worthless. Like my drobo is now.

So, that’s my story
While I love a lot of things about the drobo (the industrial design, the idea behind it, and the ability to easily swap drives in/out as needed), I hate that often I can’t get it to mount (ask Brad about this one). And worse than that, I can’t have a solution that protects me when all is well, but when it gets a cold (which it clearly often does), it locks me out and then holds me hostage. That I can’t live with.

UPDATE: I wrote this Wednesday night and planned on releasing it today, but when I went to save the post as a draft, I accidentally released the post instead (not the first time I’ve done that sadly). Even though I immediately changed the post release status as soon as I realized the mistake, by Thursday morning news of it was already bouncing around the web, and it quickly made it’s way back to drobo. They contacted me directly to see how they could resolve the issue and I even talked with drobo’s CEO a number of times during the day. He really seems like a very down-to-earth guy who seems genuinely interested in addressing his customer’s issues, but of course just fixing my problem won’t fix the bigger problem of their warranty policy, so I once again declined. However, to his credit he listened to my ideas (and rants) about how drobo might address this going forward so other photographers that get in this situation might be protected, and I even offered him the opportunity to respond directly to my readers here on blog. Hey, it’s a start. :)

I’ve had a lot of people asking which model I ordered; the regular D800 or the 800e where Nikon has removed the anti-aliasing filter (it’s supposed to create a little sharper images but without the filter you run the risk of certain photos having a moire pattern).

Well, I went with the model WITH the filter (the regular Nikon D800). I talked with a few friends that have shot the camera, and they suggested for the range of photos I take (from people, to sports, to fashion to travel), that I just stick with the regular D800 (which saved me a few hundred bucks to boot).

I’ve had to remove Moire from photos in Photoshop in the past and it is a BEAR!!!! Plus, from what I hear (and have seen at high-res) the D800 is so insanely sharp that I’m cool with leaving a few percent of sharpness on the table. After all, there is a program that adds sharpness in later, right? :)

One last thing:
I’ve had people asking:

(a) If Lightroom coming out with a Moiré removal brush is a coincidence or not? I haven’t confirmed this with anybody at Adobe or Nikon, but my guess it that’s a total coincidence (since that feature wasn’t just added to Lightroom 4 last week—-these things take a LONG time to develop, no pun intended). And…

(b) The bad thing is, all the methods for Moire removal that I’ve seen over the years all involve the slight or moderate blurring of the affected area, and I’ve yet to see any of them that do a really brilliant job of it, (including the new one in Lightroom 4, which is actually pretty decent). They reduce it to some extent, but they don’t fully remove it. The last case of Moire I had was so bad I asked our own Pete Collins to help me out, and it took him literally hours to remove it, and it included a lot of Photoshop magic, cloning, copying, and sweat.

So, in short, in the race between a few percent of extra sharpness and fear of moiré; fear won! ;-)

What a few days. It’s amazing how much interest a little piece of metal can produce. As a proud member of the team at Kelby Training, I wanted to share my experience with the D800. This project has been going on for many months. i was approached by my good friends at K&L in Tokyo- Nikon’s agency for decades- and was blown away that they asked me to participate with this project. My job was well defined: Use the D800 in a way that utilizes and highlights the latest features the D800 offers in real world wedding conditions that I’d face week in and week out. Simple, right? Hah. I lost sleep for weeks, literally.

Full Frame

100% Crop

Once the camera arrived back in June, the hardest part was not telling a soul about it. The first image I viewed on my ACD wowed me immediately.  Yes, the resolution was astounding. At 36 MP that was expected. However, I’d like to use this space on Scott’s blog to point out a few other features that are seriously being overlooked. The most glaring thing for me is how responsive it is. I didn’t think it was possible for them to improve on the D3S autofocus. However, they did. It as really obvious to me when I was able to focus my Nikkor 85 1.4 in the outer focal points within the viewfinder. These are not cross sensor points, and in the past were not as responsive as I’d have liked. However, they were really “snappy”. That’s the best way to put it. There was no hunting, and no wasted effort when I tried to focus. After the announcement came the other night, I was prepping to take the blog post live, and all of the traffic to my site crashed my server. I had confirmed with Network Solutions, and they assured me there would be no issues. Heh. Their server choked to death. May it rest in peace. I spent yesterday with my web designer, Brock Martin of Infinet Design, getting my site and blog up onto Hostnexus. Things seem to be holding so far. Brock is the best, BTW. So if you’re looking for a web designer….. back to the camera.

Full Frame

100% Crop

In speaking with Scott, after the announcement, I discussed a few of the concerns and comments people were having after looking at my images on the blog. It amazes me that some people actually thought I would post full rez files. At 36MP??? Anyway, I digress. Features that are overlooked- The face recognition for auto exposure. For someone like myself who uses backlight the way I do, it’s a godsend. I had no trouble compensating before using my exposure comp, but this feature actually uses the 91K pixel RGB sensor and identifies the face to where it attempts to expose for just that face. That’s remarkable, and it will help you obtain more accurate exposures… faster than ever before. I also need to add that the dynamic range increase was quite noticeable- especially in the most difficult lighting conditions. Detail in the veil, gown, face, and other areas under tough lighting conditions put this camera to the test. It passed with flying colors. Two different Auto white balances are also really cool. Auto 2 keeps a little more warmth, rather than cooling the image off. I love that. Speed… this camera, even though it’s fires and writes a boatload of information to the card/s, is quite fast. It’s faster than the D3X and it never held me back when firing multiple frames quickly. There are a slew of other little things that are major improvements. The specs are for real. Check them out.

800 ISO – Full Frame

800 ISO – 100% Crop

3200 ISO Full Frame

3200 ISO 100% Crop

6400 ISO Full Frame

6400 ISO 100% Crop

The pixel counters who left some blog comments need to understand that this camera is not gong to replace a D4. It’s it’s own beast. It does things the D4 wont do. The D4 will do things the D800 wont do. My camera of choice for capturing weddings will be a combination of the two new pieces of technology. The D4 will be the primary camera. It’s low lighting capabilities, responsiveness, and the overall nature of the camera is ideal for what I do. However, we now have old world, medium format image quality inside a phenomenal, incredibly responsive Nikon body. At 36 megapixels, the D800 produces unprecedented image quality and resolution within a body that boasts revolutionary technological advances. The 3D color matrix meter III, the improved auto focus with more cross sensors, additional dynamic range, and the improved AF performance in low light are just a few features that are glaring improvements. From a focus standpoint, I found it hard to believe there could be improvements to the D3S focus system. But, this camera does focus faster and will allow me to make pictures I couldn’t make before.  For those who want to focus on what they think the camera doesn’t do, perhaps you can take a moment and focus on what it CAN do until you have one in your hands, or at least wait until the camera is available. Buy one, or don’t buy one. I wont earn a dime off of the sales of this camera. However, I really believe that I can produce that I never made before with this new technology. Isn’t that what it’s all about? I hope you stop by my blog and see what I’ve done with this camera. I only had it a few short weeks. However, I have both new cameras on order with my buddy Jeff Snyder at Adorama. That’s right. I will be paying for both a D4, and the D800.

One more thing. Many people have been asking me about whether they should go for the D800 or the D800E. Many feel as though the “E” is somehow “better” because it doesn’t have the AA filter. However, unless you’re adept at eliminating moire in post production, you might want to order the D800 and not the “E”. Now, I’m not saying that it’s going to produce much moire. It’s not as if it’s particularly prone to it. When working with files that large, and shooting images that have . However, some people have somehow developed the mindset that the D800 somehow wont produce sharp images. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Just my 2 cents since this was a question many were asking. In closing, I hope people find this camera to be as groundbreaking as I think it will be. It’s a fun time to be a photographer, and the evolution of the tools are allowing us to make better images. Thank you, Scott, for sharing your blog and allowing me to give your readers a taste of what’s to come with this camera.

You can see more from Cliff on the Nikon D800 over at his blog.

Thank you Nikon—–you just turned “I got nuthin'” Friday into “I’m going to have to write a book. Maybe Two, to buy this new D4 because it looks amazing Friday.” Check out the video. This thing looks yummy!!!!

By the way: B&H Photo is taking pre-orders. Here’s the link (and more details on the camera).

Nikon also introduced a new lens: an 85mm f/1.8 which at just $500 is less than 1/3 the price of their 85mm f/1.4 (which is around $1,700). Here’s that link. 

It’s here! It’s finally here!

If you’ve been a faithful reader of this blog for the past five years, you probably remember back when it was called my “Gonzo Holiday Gear Guide,”but last year I dropped the Gonzo because, honestly, I really have no idea what Gonzo actually means. However, I know what Awesome means, and that’s exactly what’s in this year’s edition (Yay—-wild cheers ensue!).

I think what makes it extra awesome is that I purposely avoided choosing any really expensive gear for the guide, and instead, I really tried to focus on choosing great value-for-the-money gear. Anyway, the Gonzo is out, the Awesome is totally in, and this year’s guide is packed with some really cool stuff that we absolutely, positively don’t need on any level, but we desperately want nevertheless because that is, after all, half the fun!

The Rules:

These are my self-imposed guidelines for which products make it into the guide. It’s just two rules actually. To be listed here, they have to be: (1) Products that I use myself, and that I absolutely love, and now can’t live without.(2) If a product makes the guide, it has to be one I would recommend to a close friend without hesitation.

With that being said, we’re ready to take the wraps off these year’s Gear Guide picks. Here we go:

ExpoImaging Rogue Universal Gels

I hate cutting gels. I hate messing with gels. That’s why I love these precut, super-easy-to-use, and clearly marked gels for hot shoe flash. Very cleverly and simply designed.

Price: $29.95

ExpoImaging Rogue Grid

If you use hot shoe flash, these little metal grids let you focus the light in a concentrated beam, and like their gels, they are cleverly designed and simple to use. The stacking grid design provides 16°, 25°, and 45° spot lighting control. I use the 25° grid.

Price: $49.95

Nik Software Color Efex Pro 4 Complete Edition

Version 3 of this Photoshop plug-in was my go-to plug-in for effects. I literally use it every single day, and I love it. My one complaint was you couldn’t stack effects—you had to relaunch it every time you wanted to add an effect. Version 4 lets you stack ’em high, but that’s only part of what they added to this major update. They made the best even better! This is many top pros’ secret weapon.

Price: $199.95

onOne Software Perfect Photo Suite 6

onOne has taken all of their amazing apps and tied them together into a suite of very powerful, flexible, and easy-to-use tools that you can access from Photoshop, Lightroom, or as standalone apps. Amazing stuff. The Suite includes Perfect Portrait 1, Perfect Layers 2, Perfect Effects 3, Perfect Mask 5, Perfect Resize 7, FocalPoint 2, and PhotoFrame 4. (Disclaimer: I’m totally biased, as I helped with the development of the Perfect Layers part of this suite.)

Price: $299.95

Topaz Detail 2

If you really want that high-contrast, total compression look for your images, this plug-in (which Calvin Hollywood turned me on to) is really fantastic—and really affordable. I also like Topaz Adjust 4, which kind of a does a similar thing, only different. Luckily, you can download free, fully working demo versions of both and find out which one suits you.

Price: $39.99

Lumodi 14? Soft White Beauty Dish for Hot Shoe Flash

The beauty dish might be the hottest lighting accessory right now. It gives you a really nice, punchy light that’s not as soft as a softbox, but not nearly as hard as a bare reflector. Plus, it’s fairly inexpensive (as light modifiers go). I use the Elinchrom Softlight 80° 17? White Reflector beauty dish on my studio strobes, and I recommended it back in my “4th Annual Gonzo Holiday Gear Guide.” This time I’m recommending a beauty dish made by a company called Lumodi. They make a lightweight 14? version for hot shoe flash.

Price: $65.00


I’ve owned a few different light meters, but this is my favorite. It’s simple to use, and if you have Elinchrom lights, it has built-in Skyport support that triggers your strobes to make getting a reading even easier (though you don’t at all need Elinchrom lights to use it). Plus, it’s the best-looking meter out there (and looks matter to us).

Price: $449.99

Tether Tools

If the photographer on your holiday list shoots tethered, she needs to have some Tether Tools gear. I use their laptop stand (Tether Table Aero), the two-drive holder (Aero XDC Duo) that attaches to the stand, and a handy strap (SecureStrap) that holds my laptop in place. I really love their stuff, and so will the photographer on your gift list.

Tether Table Aero: $175.95–199.95 (stand not included)

Aero XDC Duo: $54.95

SecureStrap: $17.95

Westcott 7′ Parabolic Umbrella

This may be the best value in the entire gift guide this year. The Westcott 7′ Parabolic Umbrella is so huge and creates such beautiful light that, either way, the photographer you buy it for will think you spent a lot more for it than you did. The megapixel race is over. Now, whoever dies with the biggest softbox/umbrella wins.

Price: $99.90


The Olloclip is quick-connect camera lens system for the iPhone. If you buy this for the iPhone-carrying photographer in your life, you will be his hero because this small, slide-on set of lenses is nothing short of brilliant, and it lets you create images with your iPhone you’d never imagine could be done: wide-angle, fisheye, and macro. And the price is right.

Price: $69.95

The Joe McNally Ezybox Hotshoe

This is my go-to softbox when shooting hot shoe off-camera flash. It’s like the regular Lastolite Ezybox Hotshoe softbox except that the interior is white instead of silver, so it provides a softer look. First disclaimer: Joe’s a personal friend. Second disclaimer: That’s not why I included it.

Price: $256.00

Think Tank Photo AirStream Rolling Camera Bag

I so love this camera bag. I also have their Airport International Rolling Camera Bag, and it’s great, as well, but it’s not small enough to fit in smaller regional aircraft—but this puppy is. It holds an amazing about of gear for something so small. Love it!

Price: $299.75

The Latest Books from Matt and RC. And Me.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our own books, because they make really great gifts. Matt Kloskowski’s new book, Photoshop Compositing Secrets, is—I truly believe—the best book ever written on the topic. Period. People are losing their minds over this book. RC Concepcion’s book, The HDR Book, focuses on postprocessing in Photoshop, and it’s been a megahit. I have two new books out: Light It. Shoot It. Retouch It. and my Professional Portrait Retouching Techniques for Photographers Using Photoshop. My company produced all these books (just so you know), but I asked a random reviewer (my wife) what she thought, and she said, “My husband’s books are awesome. Buy both.” It doesn’t get any more unbiased than that.

Light It. Shoot It. Retouch It.: $44.99

Photoshop Compositing Secrets: $49.99

The HDR Book: $44.99

Professional Portrait Retouching Techniques for Photographers Using Photoshop: $49.99 or Barnes & Noble or

Hoodman HoodLoupe 3.0 with the Cinema Strap

If the photographer on your list shoots digital video with his DSLR, he’ll love this strap-on loupe that makes shooting DSLR video so much easier. If this is for a loved one, you might go ahead and spring for the Cinema Kit Pro instead, but they both work really well.

HoodLoupe 3.0: $79.99

Cinema Strap: $19.99

Cinema Kit Pro: $189.99

Professional Portrait Retouching Techniques for Photographers Using Photoshop: $49.99

Tiffen Variable Neutral Density Filter

If your photographer is into long exposure black-and-white images (and it’s a decent bet that she is), then slap one of these puppies on your gift list, and she’ll be shooting at the seaside at 2 p.m. It provides 2 to 8 stops of light control.

Price: $239.99

Westcott Magic Slipper

This adapter lets you use just about any softbox that Westcott makes (and there are plenty!) with your hot shoe flash. This opens up a whole new world of light modifiers for off-camera flash, and the photographer on your gift list will love you for it.

Price: $229.90

Paul C. Buff Vagabond Mini Lithium

At 240 bucks, this is one of the more expensive things on this year’s list, but it’s a much cheaper portable battery pack for studio lights than just about anything else out there, so it’s still a great value. It lets you plug regular studio lights into the standard 120VAC plugs right on the top. I’ve used it on location and it works surprisingly well (for the small size and small price).

Price: $239.95

Well, there ya have it folks—this year’s ideas to fill your holiday gear dreams. Shop early. Shop often. ;-)

Hapyy Holidays everyone!

(Above: RC took this shot of me standing in front of the Westcott booth with a video of me doing a lighting demo on the wall right behind me).

Hi Gang: As you read this I’m already on my way back from a quick overnight trip to New York to spend the day checking out all the goodies on the Expo floor at Photo Plus Expo. This was a fun trip for me, and since I didn’t have to do any speaking, my wife and two friends came along and after the show we all had dinner at my favorite restaurant (Carmine’s on West 44th) and then we caught the Broadway musical “Memphis” (which was awesome!), plus my big brother Jeff joined us, so it was really a blast.

The Show Floor
Although I wound up having a few meetings while I was there, there were two things I really wanted to do: (1) Check out all the latest gear from the vendors, and (2) watch some demos and presentations at some of the booths.

Westcott was getting a lot of attention
I caught bits and pieces of Jim Schmelzer’s demos over at the Westcott booth, and I’ve gotta tell ya—every time I watch Jim I learn something new, and was no exception. He was demoing and teaching lighting in general, and was showing off Westcott’s giant 7 foot parabolic umbrellas (they only cost around $100) with their Spiderlite TD-6s, and they looked really great. Jim had a huge crowd the entire day and I was peaking over people’s heads just to get a glimpse of what he was showing.

(Above: Mark Astman snapped this iPhone photo of me posing in front of one of my photos on the wall of their booth. It was such a kick to see one of my shots displayed that large).

Manfrotto keeps growing
Manfrotto had a large theater and it was packed all the time. Although I missed seeing Joe McNally present, I caught a little of Bobbi Lane’s presentation, and she had a really informative live lighting demo.

Sony was rocking
Once again, Sony had a huge booth with some really interesting Demos—they had Japanese dancers in traditional costumes out front, and hows of their cameras so you could shoot stills and/or video, and they were doing small demos in the back of the booth, and I watched two really interesting live lighting demos there as well.

Nikon was….well….
Of course, everybody and their brother was expecting Nikon to reveal something big at the show, either a replacement for the D300, or the D3, or both, but it was not to be. The natural disasters in Asia this year have really wreaked havoc on the camera industry, and while nobody at Nikon told me that directly, everybody else I talked with was talking about that being the reason we didn’t have any new Nikon gear this year.

Canon however…
Was showing off its just announced Canon EOS 1-DX and I actually got my hands on one. I have to it, it looked and felt pretty sweet, but just holding one in the booth, and not getting to test drive one pretty much left you with the spec you’ve read about on the Web, which are really impressive. Can’t wait until March to try out the low-noise and speed of that puppy, but until then…..I just got to hold it.

Epson Was Busy As Usual
Their booth was hopping, and they had some amazing prints every where you looked, and a huge backlit wall of photo of boxers that was really interesting.

Miller’s Imaging launched some cool new stuff
Miller’s Imaging (the high-end lab from the same folks who do MPIX), introduced some blind-embossing, and we saw some samples that looked beautiful. Really cool to see, and feel this type of stuff in person.

There was so much more—Peachpit Press was there and I signed a bunch of my books. I ran in to all sorts of folks, from Vincent Versace to Rick Sammon, from Syl Arena to Erik Valind. DJ Brad Moore was there with me at the show, and RC Concepcion was absolutely everywhere (he covered that place like a carpet).

Lots more to share, but I’ve got to hit the sack. It was fun to get away, the show and dinner were great, and it was great to learn some new stuff, to see some old friends, and get to enjoy a little of my favorite city. I love New York!