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I just got mine on Friday and here are my initial thoughts: Take an iPad and make it smaller, thinner and lighter and you’ve got an iPad mini. The experience is really just about identical. OK, 50-sec

onds left:

Q. Is it as light and thin as you thought it would be?
A. Actually, it’s thinner and lighter than I was expecting. If actually feels lighter than my iPhone 5. Once you use it, and then pick up your old iPad, the old one feels like a brick (which it never did to me before, but it sure does now).

Q. What about the lack of Retina display?
A. I thought this would bother me, but you really have to be looking for a difference to notice it at this smaller size. Everybody I’ve shown it to was surprised at how good the screen looked after reading about the lack of Retina display. I guess if you put them side-by-side you’d notice.

Q. How about speed? 
A. Seems really zippy. I’m sure in a bench test it would rate it quite a bit slower, but it doesn’t feel like it.

Q. How do you feel about the price?
A. I think they should have come in at $299 to start, or even $249, but the market will determine if it’s actually too high.

Q. Do books and magazines feel too small on that smaller display?
A. This is one of the first things I checked, and they actually look great, especially paperback books. The size is right on the money.

Q. What are people’s reactions to it?
A. Every single person I’ve shown it to falls instantly in love with the size, thinness and how amazingly light it is. Two said they’re going to sell their larger iPad to get this one. You actually have to see it and hold it to really appreciate it.

Q. What if you already own a different type of small tablet and therefore this review has absolutely nothing to do with you?
A. Then you should take this opportunity to attack Apple, the iPad mini, me, and the other stupid people that buy Apple products.

Q. Are you really suggesting that?
A. No, but it’s going to happen anyway (sigh).

My one complaint with my new Retina Display MacBook Pro is that it no longer has a locking hole drilled in the side of the laptop itself, so you can no longer secure your laptop with a Kensington security lock and cable (like you could with other MacBook Pro models). So far, after searching around the only simple solution seems to be this new clear plastic skin from http://www.macLocks.com which lets you attached a cable lock.

Here’s how it works:
You remove five screws from the bottom of your MacBook Pro, then (using the supplied screws and screwdriver) you attach this very lightweight clear, plastic “skin” to the bottom of your laptop (it has ventilation slats), and it has special locking mount in the back right corner (seen in the photo below). I tried it at the Bucs/Chargers game on Sunday and it worked well (and the lock and cable come with the unit).

If you look it it, of course, this plastic skin is not unbeatable (you could break it but it would take some doing and likely trash the computer in the process) but unfortunately that might not be obvious to a thief at first (it looks more breakable than I think it is), so while you might still have your computer at the end of the day, if they seriously tried to break it, your MacBook Pro will probably be fairly damaged as well  — so think of it more of a deterrent but certainly not a local version of Fort Knox.

Its Achilles Heel
If the would-be thief has a very small screwdriver, they can just turn your laptop upside down, remove five screws, and just slide the plastic plate off, so when you return you’ll find a still-locked cable attached to a clear plastic plate, and your laptop will be gone. Yikes!

If I could change one thing…
…..it would be that it has a combination lock rather than a key-lock, because if you lose that key you’re really stuck (you do get one back-up key, but you’d better have it on you). Other than that, it seems well-thought out and so far seems to be the best solution out there in the absense of the old Kensington lock with a hole drilled in the body (like before) and so it makes a less-than-ideal situation workable for folks who need to lock down their laptop when they step away.

Price: $59.95
From: MacLocks (direct link)

windowshot

Tuesday afternoon I was walking by Kevin Agren’s office (he’s our Director of Sales), and he asks if I ever got a chance to try the Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom he had gotten us as a loaner. I told him I had actually tried it out on a shoot I did back in December for an upcoming book (one of the images from that shoot is shown above), and that I really liked it, (even more so after I looked up the price—-around $725, whereas most of the f/2.8 glass I had been using for the past few years was more in the $1,800 to $2,300 range, which any way you look at it, is a lot for a lens).

The shot you see above was taken with that Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8, and during the shoot I switched back and forth between it and my usual Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 and just looking at the images in Lightroom, at a 1:1 view, neither Brad nor I could see a visible difference between the two (I haven’t printed any out at large size yet, and that’s where the rubber may meet the road, but at least on screen, even zoomed in tight, I was very impressed with the image quality and overall sharpness).

Of course, Kevin was thrilled to hear how much I liked it (especially since they’re an advertiser, and Kevin knows, if I didn’t like it, I’d have to say so—really loudly), but beyond that, I know I lot of shooters would love to have some nice fast glass like this, but can’t really justify spending $2,300 or more for Nikon and Canon brand glass. This lens might just be the ticket to getting some fast glass, and then putting the $1,700 or so you save toward a new camera body or some other fast glass.

Lighting Specs From the Shoot
By the way; here are the lighting specs on the shot above. The main light isn’t natural light. There wasn’t enough light coming into the house (a combination of a cloudy day, and a large overhang over the front porch), so we put a single Elinchrom Quadra battery-powered strobe with a large softbox just outside the window, out on the porch, aiming in toward the subject. I tried to match the light from the strobe with the ambient light in the room for a natural look. I was in the house, sitting on the floor aiming upward, and I triggered the  strobe using an Elinchrom Skyport wireless transmitter (I could control the power of the strobe from my camera position using the Skyport, which kept me from having to jump up and go outside every two minutes).

tam

First Impressions
Overall, I liked it. The lens feels surprisingly well built (especially for the money. Sometimes lenses in this price range can tend to have a ‘cheezy-plasticy’ feel, but this one didn’t at all), yet it also feels fairly lightweight, which I love.

I had read earlier reviews that said they felt it focused a little show, or had a noisy auto focus motor, but I didn’t really notice either during my shoot (that doesn’t mean they’re not true—I just didn’t notice it in my use). The image quality seems very good, and images taken with it are very nice and crisp—-no complaints there whatsoever.

It does have a Macro feature, but I didn’t get a chance to try it, and since I have a dedicated Macro lens, it’s unlikely that I would use the Macro feature anyway—I would get this lens because it’s fast and the price is just so right. So there you have it—my first impressions of the Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 (a version is available for most popular camera brands). Here’s a link to it on B&H Photo or Adorama. It’s around $730 or so.

If any of you out there have the Tamron 70-200 f/2.8—let me know what your experience with it has been. I’d really love to hear from you.

Hey, before I mention Terry’s review, I have to stop right now and give a big thanks to Jamie Smith for yesterday’s totally awesome Guest Blog. I loved it!!!! (and I think Jamie has a second career in writing just waiting in the wings). I loved the insights he gave into working for Jay, and I especially dug the Jay Trivia. What a perfect way to kick off our series of Guest Blogs by assistants. :)

Now, back to the reason for this post: Terry White (over at the popular Terry’s Tech Blog), just posted a review of Westcott’s new Green Screen kit (it’s a crazy inexpensive way to light and shoot people, or objects for that matter, that you want to composite on a different background in Photoshop). Basically, it makes your Photoshop compositing job that much easier (of course, you can use it for video too, where Green Screen is a staple in commercial video and movies).

Here’s the link to Terry’s review.

Last week Mark Astmann from Bogen Imaging came by our studios, and showed us one of the coolest, and most anticipated, new battery-powered strobe systems ever, and well…you’ve just gotta watch the video below to see what all the fuss is about (Note: this is the same kit that Joe McNally was using for his shot of the diver in the water last week at his workshop in St. Lucia).

UPDATE: I just learned that the first shipment of these is due to hit B&H photo any day now, and they’re acceptings orders right now. Here’s the link to the “S” head two-head kit I talked about on the video, but you can find all the Quadra gear there by searching for “Ranger Quadra.”

explorer-xt-profile

I’m calling this a “First Look” review because I’ve only gotten one opportunity to really work with this pack, but since I did use it out in the field (I did an on-location shoot for a book project), I wanted to give you my first impressions.

The Problem
If you wanted to take studio lightning on location, you could do it but there two problems:

1. You had to buy special strobe heads that were designed to work with on-location battery packs

2. Good quality location kits are VERY expensive (you were lucky to get a decent single head and a battery pack for around $1,200).

The Dream
Use your own existing regular studio strobes and take them on location. Unfortunately, monoblocks (also called monolights) are strobes that are designed to be plugged right into the wall like any other appliance, so they don’t have a way to plug into a battery pack, so you can’t take your regular studio gear on location, unless there’s a power plug right nearby. The dream is to have your regular gear, anywhere you want it—out on a boat, at the beach, on an island, in the middle of an airplane hanger, on the roof of a hotel, etc.—places where wall plugs aren’t usually found.

The Solution
The solution we found comes from Innvatronix in the Explorer XT Battery Pack, which lets you plug in most regular monolight studio lights right into the pack. That saves you from having to buy special strobe heads to work with your battery packs. In fact, the reason we chose Invatronix was that we read that they work with Elinchrom strobes, which is all we use.

The Test
So we took one of our regular Elincrhom BXRI 500 monolights out to a nearby beach, and we put the Explorer XT on a rock nearby (we didn’t want to actually set it in the sand, though you probably could). We plugged the BXRI in (it has standard 110v sockets) and it worked first time (it supports up to two strobes). It worked great throughout the entire shoot, and recycled very fast. We were relieved it worked as well as promised.

What it Needs Next
Although it worked great in our somewhat limited test (we only did one shoot, and only used one studio strobe), there are two things it really needs to be a success:

  1. It really looks awful. It’s as if no thought whatsoever was given to how the unit itself looks, but to creative people looks matter (I would be somewhat embarrassed for a client to see me show up with one of these).
  2. It’s name, “The Tronix Explorer XT Pure Sine Wave Inverter,” needs some serious work and while it may be a perfectly descriptive name for what it does, it only appeals to Stephen Hawking. You’d have to really be looking for this unit to find it with a non-descriptive name like that

Other than that—-so far, so good.

Where it Totally Rocks
The price. It’s only $394. I know–that rocks!

The Bottomline
I know there are other units showing up on the market, but some want you to use their specific strobes and only warranty the units if you use their strobes, so we were excited when we found these that would specifically work with Elinchroms.  As I use it more and more on upcoming jobs, I’ll let you guys know if my opinion on the Explorer XT changes, but for now it let us do what what we were hoping it would do—-let us use the same studio strobes we’re used to working with day in/day out out on location, and it did it well.

Here’s the link with more info from the Innovatroix Web site.

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