Category Archives Reviews

After my review here on the blog of the Lucis Pro 6 plug-in (link), I had a number of readers asking if I had tried the Topaz Adjust plug-in, as they felt it gave a similar high-contrast look for a fraction of Lucis Pro’s nearly $600 price tag (Topaz Adjust sells for $49).

So, I downloaded the Topaz Adjust Photoshop plug-in a few months ago and have been using it when I got the right type of image to edit, and I wanted to share my thoughts on the plug-in and give some examples.

DISCLAIMER: If you hate this high-contrast, under saturated, over-sharpened looking effect, please just skip this post altogether.

Initial Thoughts
When I first started using Topaz Adjust, it was still on version 2 and while I liked the effects themselves, the interface was….well….it needed some work. Luckily, the latest version (version 3), is a big improvement when it comes to Interface issues and most of my gripes from the previous version have been addressed.

While I know that both Lucis Art’s plug-ins and Topaz Adjust do numerous effects, what people seem to be buying these for primarily is the extreme contrast, almost illustrated, hyper-sharp look that’s so popular, so I’m going to focus on that area of the plug in.

The Results
Taking the plug-in through its paces:


First, let’s look at our unretouched original (above), then let’s open the Topaz Adjust plug-in (shown below).


The resizable filter window (shown above) has a number of presets along the left side, and it has a decent-sized thumbnail so you can see a preview of how a particular effect will look before you even click on it. (You click on the thumbnail to apply a look. You can scroll through the effects and see them applied in the larger preview window using the Up/Down arrow keys on your keyboard, which is very handy.)

If you find a preset you like, you just click OK, and the filter is applied (it took 24 seconds to apply the filter on a 12-megapixel image on my MacBook Pro laptop).


The image above has the preset “Psychedelic” applied, which I thought looked fairly close the same effect you’d get with the Lucis Pro filter.


The effect seemed a little over the top, so after I applied it, I went immediately under Photoshop’s Edit menu and chose Fade, then I lowered the intensity to just 60% (as seen in the image above).

If you want to tweak the settings, there are a row of tabs under the main Preview window where you can tweak the Exposure, Detail, Color, and Noise.

Once I saw how the effect looked, I thought it would be interesting to see how the Topaz Adjust effect compared to the Lucis Pro plug-in look, so I went back to the original unretouched image and tried the Lucis Pro 6.0 plug-in (shown below).


Here’s the Lucis Pro 6.0 Interface window. I lowered the Enhance Detail amount to 60 and clicked OK.


You can see the effect looks fairly similar (shown above). I also wanted to compare the effect using the same image I had used in a previous article (the image is of rapper 10-Minute).


Here’s the original image (above), right out of the camera.


The image above has the Lucis Pro 6.0 plug-in applied at that same setting of 60.


Here’s the same original image but with the Topaz Adjust filter applied (using the same Psychedelic preset). You can see the obvious green color cast on this image, so I hit “undo” and then went back to the filter to tweak the settings.


Here’s the same filter with just one setting tweaked: I clicked on the Color tab and lowered the Adaptive Saturation amount to zero. How did I know which slider to adjust? I didn’t. I just dragged each one back and forth until I found one that did it. I know—pretty high-tech, eh? ;-)

The Bottomline
While the underlying mathematical algorithm in the Lucis Pro 6.0 plug-in will probably produce a technically better image with less noise, they both create a somewhat similar effect. However, in my opinion there are three big advantages that the Topaz Adjust plug-in has that really tip the scales in its favor big time.

  1. The affordable $49 price tag. That’s nearly $550 cheaper than the Lucis Pro 6.0 plug-in. Yikes!
  2. The fact that it doesn’t require a hardware dongle (like the Lucis Pro plug-in does), is huge. In fact, the whole hardware dongle thing with Lucis Pro is a deal killer for me right off the bat, and I know a lot of people feel the same way.
  3. The thumbnail previews, and ability to toggle through them live, is a big advantage and makes the tool that much more usable.

Thus far, the plug-in has performed flawlessly for me (not a single problem on two different machines), but as I mentioned; it’s not the fastest plug-in in town. That’s really shouldn’t be an issue, unless you’re applying this look to a few hundred photos (and I’m praying you don’t).

NOTE: The most common way I use this plug-in, is to duplicate the layer; apply the filter on this duplicate layer, then hide this layer behind a layer mask (Option/Alt click the Layer Mask icon), then just reveal the effect where I want it by painting in white with a soft-edged brush.

While both plug-ins will do much more than I’ve outlined here, if you’re looking for this particular look, and you want a plug-in to do all the heavy lifting for you, it’s hard to beat what Topaz Adjust offers at such an incredibly affordable price.

You can download a free fully-working trial version from the Topaz Labs website, and give it a try yourself.


If you’ve read this blog for any time now, you’ve heard my frustration about how I can’t find a camera bag that works for me when shooting sports. In fact, many of you who are pro sports shooters have come up with a suggestions and after my last trip to Birmingham to shoot the Indy Test Weekend (where I had to leave my laptop at home due to carry-on restrictions), I was so cranked I finally had to make a move and find a solution.

My problem is that I have to have three carry-ons, and of course the airlines will only allow two. My carry-ons are:

  1. My camera bag (with two bodies, my smaller lenses, battery chargers, etc.)
  2. The large lens case for my 200-400mm Nikon lens
  3. My laptop case (with powercord and other accessories).

Ideally, one bag that would hold my 200-400 lens, 2 bodies, all my other lenses and accessories, my laptop and power cord; it has to be a rolling bag (and not be a backpack) and it has to fit in the overhead compartment fairly easily.

The last time I talked about this problem, a number of kind folks had suggested that I look at Think Tank Photo’s Airport Security V2.0 rolling camera bag, and since I’ve become a total “Think Tank Freak” recently, I went to their site first, and looked at it, and I saw there was an option for “lower dividers” which allow you to store your 15″ laptop right on top. That was it—-I ordered it right then and there (along with the optional 15″ laptop case and the lower dividers). It’s shown at the top of this post (photo courtesy of Think Tank Photo).


Above: Here’s my bag with a 200-400mm lens, 2 bodies, a 24-70mm lens, a 14-24mm lens, a 70-200mm lens, and there’s still room to spare. (photo by Brad Moore).

I got the bag two days ago; Brad configured it today for my gear, and my friends this bag is it! It’s the one. I’m in love!

This bag has more room than I would have imagined, and more storage compartments than I’ll probably ever need (but I love that!). It looks and feels so well built, and it’s so flexible in how you set up the interior. I am just so psyched—now I’m down from three carry-ons to just one, and just like that my problem is solved.


Above: Here’s my new bag with the optional 15″ laptop bag on top (photo by Brad Moore).


Above: Storage pockets in the top flap (Photo by Brad Moore).


Above: More storage compartments in the front. (Photo by Brad Moore)

It’s got loads of room, despite the fact that it’s carrying a huge lens right in the middle. All the pockets and storage are really welcome, as is the security cable and lock, so it doesn’t walk off at the airport while you’re checking your email. It also comes with a tripod/monopod holder, which is really important when carrying long glass. It’s really well-built; the wheels are solid (and replaceable), everything has a great fit and finish, and finally all my stuff fits in one bag, and I’m not checking anything other than my clothes. It also has a stretchy front pocket which will hold up to a 17″ laptop. It also comes with a TSA-approved combination lock, and a lock for your laptop as well in the front. The entire bag seems very well thought out, very intelligently designed, and it has lots of little features that make you smile.

Because the handles slide down inside the bag (like many rollers), parts of the inside “floor” are raised, which does tend to limit where you can put things like camera bodies standing straight up (especially if you have an L-bracket attached). Also, this raised area creates kind of a “groove” (for lack of a better term) along either side, which is great for lying your lenses down, but this also kind of makes it a little wonky when storing them “on end.” They will store that way, but the grooves make it feel more natural to lie them down. Lastly, the laptop case is very thin (I guess it has to be to fit), so you have to store your laptop’s power cord in the main bag—not within the laptop case itself. Pretty minor stuff, but I thought they bared mentioning. This isn’t minor; the price. At $369 (US), it’s kind of pricey, but for what it does, and how it’s made, at least you feel like you’re getting your money’s worth.

I have finally found the bag I’ve been dreaming of. Nitpicking aside, this is exactly what I was hoping this bag would be. In fact, it’s actually better than I was hoping, and I am just tickled pink that it is working out so well. My only regret is that I didn’t listen to those folks who turned me onto this bag sooner. My hat’s off to Think Tank Photo. Between their belt system, and this Airport Security roller, I have become a big time Think Tank believer!

Here’s the link for more details.


I know a lot of people have been after me to test the Jobo photoGPS unit, so when I did the shoot of Tiger Woods at Tavistock a couple of weeks ago, I took the photoGPS along to give it a real world in-field test. After testing it for a while, I called my assistant Brad Moore, who was back at the office, and I said, “Brad, you can’t imagine how much I hate this thing.”

Three Strikes is Not Enough!
Usually, if a product has three strikes against it, that’s enough for me, but this one already had two strike against it before I even left my office so I thought I’d go ahead and give it extra room for a few more strikes just in case it turned out to be worth it in the end. I really wanted to have an open mind give it a fair shake, but here’s how it played out:

Strike One: The GPS unit doesn’t draw it’s power from the camera—instead you have to charge it separately before you use it. It takes two-hours for a full charge.

Strike Two: It doesn’t come with a power adapter to charge it. Instead, you connect it to the USB port on your computer to charge it. What this means is that at some point, when your battery runs down (though it supposedly has a crazy-long battery life), you’d better have your computer nearby or your GPS accessory is done until you can get back to your computer. I didn’t have my laptop with me at the golf tournament, but I didn’t use the GPS long enough for it to run out of battery (you’ll see why soon). Note: there are third-party USB chargers, like Griffin’s which let you charge USB devices right from your car, but of course, you’d have to buy this separately.

Strike Three: The Jobo photoGPS fits sits atop your camera by sliding into your camera’s flash hot shoe mount. I slid mine into the slot, then started to head out to the course. After a few minutes I heard the sound of my photoGPS hitting the concrete sidewalk. I looked down and it was in pieces. I snapped it back together, and to its credit, it still worked. A few minutes later, it fell off again. And again. And again. And then I put it in my camera bag for the rest of the day.

Strike Four: The Jobo photoGPS requires a separate software package for it to do it’s thing (this isn’t that uncommon when geotagging). When you’re finished with your shoot, you have to connect the Jobo photoGPS to the computer where you downloaded the files, using the same included USB cable that you use to charge the unit.

Strike Five: Now, you launch the software and it tries to match the photos with the GPS information that is now downloaded from the GPS unit itself, but you also need a live Internet connection while you’re doing this, so it can ping the main photoGPS server. The software is pretty easy to use—it’s just that you shouldn’t need a software application for something as simple as this. Note: There is another software app for GPS/File matching that’s pretty popular called “HoudaGeo” but it’s an extra $30.

Strike Six: The GPS information is not embedded into the Raw file. Instead it appears in a separate sidecar file, and if the sidecar file and the image file get separated—the GPS information will no longer be with the file. Also, if you’re shooting Raw, and you already have an XMP sidecar file, it won’t write into that XMP file—it has to make it’s own XMP file. (If you shoot JPEG, once it matches everything up, it overwrites your JPEG with a new file that has the GPS info inside it). Worse yet; if you don’t have an Internet connection, don’t even consider working on your raw files (keywording, adding metadata, etc.), because once you match up the GPS info, it will overwrite your XMP files and all your keywords and metadata are gone.

Strike Seven: Since you can only use this on your camera’s Hot Shot flash mount—-you can’t use a flash (pop-up or otherwise).

Up to this point, the only GPS I’ve really spent much time with is the di-GPS mini from Dawn Technology (now for Nikons and Canons), which I love (more than ever, now) because:

(a) it draws it’s power from the camera itself [no charging beforehand].

(b) It stays in the hotshoe (and if it did fall off the hotshoe, the cable connected to your camera’s 10-pin shot would keep it from falling to the ground and breaking,

(c) it doesn’t require any software to work

(d) it embeds the GPS info directly info the file

(e) It doesn’t have to sit in your flash hot shoe, so you can actually use your flash. Instead, you can connect it your camera strap, leaving your flash (and/or hot shoe) still usable.

(f) Unlike the Jobo photoGPS, the di-GPS is nearly invisible to the user. You connect it and it does its thing without any input from you whatsoever.

Pros: The only “Pro” I can come up with is that it will work with digital cameras (including point and shoots) that don’t have a 10-pin connector.

Cons: Seven Strikes! If I had to go through all this to get GPS data into my files, I simply wouldn’t do it (unless it was absolutely required by my line of work).

The Bottomline
In some ways, the idea is great, and offers those who don’t have the necessary 10-pin port (the same one where you’d plug-in a cable release on your camera) required by GPS units like di-GPS a way to have access to GPS data for their images. However, in my opinion, the Jobo photoGPS is a poor choice for anyone that can use just about anything else. It’s a hassle to use, it falls off easily (which makes it prone to break), and has too many disadvantages to make it a viable choice, especially for working pros.

I just got Nikon’s new GP-1 GPS in-house, and I’m curious to see how this compares to the di-GPS, because sadly the Jobo photoGPS won’t even be in contention. The unit sells for around $170.


After I posted my video review of the Elinchrom BXRI-500 strobes earlier this week, I was contacted by the folks at Bogen Imaging (who distribute Elinchrom gear here in the US), and who watched my review and saw that one of my few minor “dings” about them was the fact that you needed to keep the instruction manual around for assigning groups.

They let me know that they had created a downloadable quick chart (in PDF format) that BXRI users can now download, which has all the programmable controls laid out in a very simple and easy-to-use format (plus, the chart includes more than just how to assign groups). You can download their free quick chart right here.

My hat’s off to Bogen for making this available so quickly (I’m going to print and laminate two of them, then attach them to the lightstands so they’re right there when I need them).

NOTE: If you’re new to studio lighting, and you go to Bogen’s Web site, these will be listed under the heading “Monoblocks.” All that means is that strobes don’t require a separate power pack to power them—they plug directly into a regular wall-socket like any other electronic device.

I’ve been working with the newly introduced Elinchrom BXRI-500 studio strobes, and I did a video review for you guys (below) to look at the pros and cons of this new mid-level set-up.

Here’s the link to the complete Elinchrom BXRI 500 kit at B&H Photo (They currently show it selling for $1550, with two 500 watt strobes, two 20″ softboxes, two 9′ light stands, the wireless transmitter, two cases, etc.).

Here’s the kit with 1-500 and 1-250 (but still includes all the other stuff).

Here’s the kit with two 250s. (also includes all the other stuff).

NOTE: There’s only a $200 difference between the two 250s and two 500 watt system. There’s only $100 between the one with one 500 and one 250, and the two 500 watt kit. In short; spend the extra money and get the two 500-watt strobes system.

VIDEO: The video player requires Flash Player 10. If you are not able to watch the video, you may need to upgrade. Click here to install the latest version of Flash Player.

At Christmas I got a very cool new electric guitar from my wife (that’s not the accessory, by the way), and she wanted to make sure I got a guitar I really liked, so I went to the local music store to find one I liked, but while there, I walked by the drum department and that’s when I saw a small, specially designed fan for drummers that mounts right on a cymbal stand.

Well, I took a look at how it was mounted and realized that it would fit perfectly on a lightstand, which would make it an ideal fan for people shooting fashion, because you can easily control the height and angle of the wind (rather than having it sitting on the floor, where it’s harder to access and aim).

Anyway, the fan is called the “BLOWiT Personal Cooling System” (OK, the name needs some work), and I tried it in the music store, and it seemed like a perfect fan solution for portraits since you could mount it up high so easily. So, I got home and ordered one (it was only $69.99). It’s pictured here below mounted to a light-stand in our studio.


Anyway, I did a shoot week before last and I got to try it out for the first time on a real job, and I have to say; it totally rocked! (sorry about that lame pun). But seriously, it worked out amazingly well. The shot below was taken using that fan on its lowest setting.


Below are two set-up shots (taken by Brad Moore) so you can see the fan (and the lighting, in case you care) in use during my shoot.



Lighting Info: I used two Elinchrom RX-600 Strobes for the shoot, one beside the subject with a 40″ Elinchrom softbox, and one behind on the opposite side with a Elinchrom strip bank softbox. Both are triggered by Skyport wireless triggers.There are no lights on the gray background, so it pretty much fell to black. The photo directly above is just to show more detail of the fan, but there I’m using an Elinchrom 53″ midi-octa softbox on the same RX-600 strobe.

Camera Info: Shot with a Nikon D3, with a 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens, at 105mm. The ISO was 200, and the exposure was f/8 at 1/160 of a second. I shot in Manual mode. The post-processing was done in Lightroom (exposure, white balance, tone, etc.), and then over to Photohsop for some retouching (removing some minor blemishes, brightening the eyes, some dodging and burning, and I enhanced the highlights in her hair.

Fan Info: Usually, doing something like this (taking a fan made for drummers, and using for something entirely different), doesn’t work out, but here it worked just like I hoped it would. I let the subject be in charge of the angle and intensity of the fan, and during the shoot she would reach over and adjust the angle or speed (it has three speeds). Although we used it on the lowest speed most of the day, if I could add one improvement, it would be for the higher setting to be even higher (I’m not sure that’s possible with its light weight and size). Anyway, I’m pretty psyched about it and wanted to turn you on to this new discovery. You can order your BLOWiT Personal Cooling System direct at their Website (here’s the link).