Archive for Fine Portraiture

The SMDV Alpha Speedbox: Lighting on the Go

Posted in General with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2016 by kendoophotography
SMDV Alpha Speedbox with adapters for Profoto, Bowens, Elinchrom, and Balcar.

SMDV Alpha Speedbox with speedring adapters for Profoto, Bowens, Elinchrom, and Balcar.

Introduction

Technology and development is fast paced in the world of digital photography. Every year (or every other year) manufacturers introduce dozens of new innovative tools and equipment at large photography shows such as Photokina in Germany or Photoplus in New York. Innovation may be large or small, but if a new product can actually make my job as a professional photographer easier, that is what makes it a worthwhile investment to me.  The SMDV Alpha Speedbox is one of those innovative worthwhile investments that has found a place in my studio, and especially when working on location.  When surrounded by announcements of the latest fast lenses and 100 megapixel medium format digital backs, it may be difficult to get excited about a studio lighting modifier. But I think the SMDV Alpha Speedbox does a pretty good job here. SMDV was established by JS Kim in 2003 and is a relatively small company headquartered in Busan, South Korea. The SMDV Alpha Speedbox is not an inexpensive lighting modifier and should not be confused with cheap photography products cranked out by some Asian companies. On the contrary, the quality of materials used here is top-notch. Pricing starts at about $300 depending on mount selected and the size of the modifier. Warranty service and support is provided by SMDV USA. The US Distributor is www.legioaerium.com

36" Alpha Speedbox and 44" Alpha Speedbox shown with optional grid for more light control

36″ Alpha Speedbox and 44″ Alpha Speedbox shown with optional grid for more light control

Background

The SMDV Alpha Speedbox is a parabolic softbox designed for studio lights. It is available in 32”, 36”, 40″, and 44” sizes. In a sea of “parabolic” lighting modifiers, what makes the SMDV Alpha Speedbox standout is the quality of its feature-set in a packable lighting kit for working on location. Oh, yes—and it’s easy to use and speedy to set-up, hence its namesake.

Following my review of the KPS T5 geared ballhead, the US Distributor for the SMDV Alpha Speedbox asked if I would be interested in trying their relatively new softbox. Eh, not really I replied, but then again I had just acquired a Profoto B2 on location lighting kit from Capture Integration in Atlanta, along with a Profoto B1 and Profoto Acute2 B600 pack also for working on location. I was not impressed with Profoto’s diminutive 2’ OCF Octobox, so maybe trying some new on location lighting modifiers wasn’t such a bad idea after all. And SMDV had just added a Profoto speedring adapter for the Alpha Speedbox. Speedring adapters are also available for Bowens, Elinchrom, Broncolor, Hensel, and Balcar.

At the end of September 2015, I received two Alpha Speedboxes, Profoto speedring adapters, and accessories. No compensation was received from SMDV. I was asked to simply use the Speedboxes and provide input and a review. Unlike many reviews where a product is “used” for a scant few hours, I used the 36” and 44” Alpha Speedboxes extensively over a period of three months in a variety of situations both in studio and on location, primarily in portraiture as well as at two destination weddings.

SMDV Alpha Speedbox softcase shown inside my hardcase, along with lightstand and Profoto umbrella---ready to go.

SMDV Alpha Speedbox soft case (similar to a tripod soft case) shown inside my hard case, along with light stand and Profoto umbrella—ready to go.

Optional grid comes in its own soft case.

Optional grid comes in its own soft case.

SMDV Grid in case WEB

The Meat and Potatoes

The Alpha Speedbox is a parabolic softbox with an internal baffle and a removable outer diffuser. Once set-up, both the internal baffle and outer diffuser may be left attached to the Speedbox. Using the Profoto adapter ring adds several inches to the length of the modifier when folded.  The 36″ Speedbox (with Profoto adapter) is about 28-inches in length when folded; the 44″ speedbox slightly longer of course. The diameter of the Alpha Speedbox when folded is just under 8-inches. The entire kit is easily packed into its included “to-go” zippered soft case, which is similar to a tripod case with handles and shoulder strap. The grid comes with its own protective soft case. An available cloth honeycomb grid is easily attached for further light control. I was very surprised when I first handled the grid. It is a slightly heavier material and its quality is surprisingly better than grids I have seen from Profoto. The grid attaches easily to the outside of the Alpha Speedbox with velcro tabs.  The optional grid is expensive, starting at approximately $150-$190, but the quality is also apparent. The grid is a special order item that is hand-made in Korea. I am told that an optional deflector plate will also soon be available providing lighting similar to a beauty dish.

The Alpha Speedbox, “Alpha” referring to its aluminum construction and metal speedring, is a twelve-sided dodecagon shaped softbox, as opposed to a more popular six or eight-sided octobox. The dodecagon shape is more circular and lends itself to better catch-lights. The ribs are metal and workmanship and quality of materials is excellent. The reflective material is held taut by the unique engineering of the modifier. The modifier is quickly deployed in about thirty seconds—not minutes—simply by pulling each steel rib upwards until it clicks into place. I have found that by skipping every other one and then rotating the modifier until each rib is locked into place is the fastest method to deploy this modifier. There is no fumbling with color-coded ribs into speed ring slots or struggling to set-up a large softbox. Ease and speed of set-up is particularly important for photographers who often work alone or without the luxury of assistants. Few other lighting modifiers offer both the speed and ease of set-up as the SMDV Alpha Speedbox, and certainly not with the same level of light control and available accessories.  All this—in an easy to pack along, lighting kit.  Putting the modifier away is even faster: simply squeeze the six tab locks together and the modifier instantly collapses down ready to put into its case.

SMDV Alpha Speedbox with Profoto Speedring Adapter

SMDV Alpha Speedbox with Profoto Speedring Adapter. The band attachments are now even stronger with a new reinforced rubber.

So, how is the SMDV Alpha Speedbox as a portrait lighting modifier on location?  Put it this way, if given the choice, the SMDV Alpha Speedbox 90 (36″) is my first choice. I had a hard time deciding whether to purchase the SMDV Alpha 36″ or 44″ Speedbox or both. In the end I opted for the SMDV Alpha Speedbox 90 (36″). It is a nice size yet still easily maneuverable on location.  For a destination wedding in Sedona, Arizona, I chose to use the SMDV Alpha Speedbox 90 (36″) paired with Profoto’s more portable B2 lighting kit.  Special thanks to Don Libby of IronCreekPhotography in Tucson, AZ for providing the short video clip.

https://youtu.be/V5eqIuWHgp0

Engagement Session in Sedona, AZ. Phase XF with IQ180, Phase SK 75-150mm LS; SMDV Alpha Speedbox with Profoto B2

Engagement Session in Sedona, AZ. Phase XF with IQ180, Phase SK 75-150mm LS; SMDV Alpha Speedbox with Profoto B2

SMDV Alpha Speedbox with grid, Profoto B2

Profoto B2 and SMDV Alpha Speedbox with optional grid.

As a portrait photographer, I often work alone. Being able to set up quickly is a value that I place a great premium. For individuals, couples, or even small groupings, the SMDV Alpha Speedboxes are an excellent choice. I like the flexibility that the Alpha Speedboxes offer with removable diffusion panels, grids, and soon a deflector plate. Its parabolic shape makes it easy to feather the light when needed, and its flexible design makes it easy to change the quality of light from a diffused source to a more distinct light.

SMDV Alpha Speedbox with grid

SMDV Alpha Speedbox with grid

Packing “light and tight” is a necessity to fly across the country for a destination wedding. Setting up quickly for portraits after the wedding ceremony and racing the setting sun can be a challenge.  The SMDV Alpha Speedbox with Profoto B2 lights excels easily at both. The design of the Alpha Speedbox and its flexibility as a modifier make it an easy choice to take on location.

Parents Portrait with the SMDV Alpha Speedbox 90 (36") at a destination wedding. Canon 5Ds and Profoto B2

Parents Portrait with the SMDV Alpha Speedbox 90 (36″) at a destination wedding. Canon 5Ds and Profoto B2

What It’s Not

The SMDV Alpha Speedbox is not a knock-off. The SMDV Alpha Speedbox is not cheaply made.  And the SMDV Alpha Speedbox is not at all like Adorama’s Glow Parapop modifier. During the course of my review, another photographer pointed out to me the Adorama Glow Parapop as having similar features. I was intrigued, so I bought Adorama’s Glow Parapop 38-inch modifier, a bundled Glow Parapop kit with a Balcar mount for Paul Buff’s Alien Bees or Einstein monolights, to compare.  Apparently some parts were licensed by SMDV to Rimelite who in turn sold them to Adorama for their Glow series. The Adorama marketing description made the two modifiers seem strikingly very similar. But once in hand, it is abundantly clear that there is no comparison. It is not even close.  The reflective materials and the diffusion panel materials are markedly different. The quality of materials and design of the SMDV Alpha Speedbox are clearly superior.

Not comparable in shape, quality of materials, or light output.

Not comparable in shape, quality of materials, or light output.

The SMDV Alpha Speedbox was designed with studio lights in mind. The speedring and adapters are made of aluminum to handle heat generated by modeling lamps. The ribs on the SMDV Alpha Speedbox are made of steel. The ribs on the Parapop are fiberglass. The Parapop is advertised by Adorama and recommended by them for use with studio lights, but to do so I think is irresponsible. The provided Balcar adapter is held in place by some really tiny screws, into the plastic Parapop base.  Really tiny screws. Plastic base. Really inappropriate. It is a disaster waiting to happen—and it did.

Tiny screws shown with the Balcar adapter. Trouble waiting to happen...

Tiny screws shown with the Balcar adapter. Trouble waiting to happen…

Within minutes of attaching the Glow Parapop to the Einstein monolight, the Parapop came crashing down on the studio floor. The heat from the Einstein modeling lamp had expanded the plastic screw mounts, and the tiny screws holding the Balcar mount adapter in place slipped out! Both the plastic mount and Balcar adapter remained very hot for quite some time.  Luckily no damage was caused to the Einstein monolight tube.  The Glow Parapop is not designed for studio light use (as was marketed). Obviously I was not able to do further studio testing of the Parapop. But frankly, in light of the glaring differences in materials used, there is no legitimate comparison to the SMDV Alpha Speedboxes to begin with. I found the two release tabs on the Parapop plastic base were very difficult to squeeze and close the fiberglass tines on the modifier.  In contrast, the SMDV Alpha Speedbox uses metal rods which easily collapse down when released. The six pairs of tab locks on the Alpha Speedbox provide added strength and tautness to the modifier. Oh, and by the way, the Glow Parapop “38-inch modifier” is not 38-inches—it really is only 36-inches.  SMDV does make a different line of modifiers for speedlite use, but even those are made with steel ribs and the same high quality diffusion material that is used on the Alpha Speedboxes. Note the differences in diffusion panels and light quality in the image shown above between the SMDV Alpha Speedbox and the Parapop.

Inner baffle differences in both size and quality of materials used. The SMDV diffusion panel is markedly better.

Inner baffle differences in both size and quality of materials used. The SMDV diffusion panel is markedly better.

Note the differences in reflective materials and tautness of the modifier

Note the differences in reflective materials and tautness of the modifier

Conclusion

The SMDV Alpha Speedbox is an excellent lighting modifier. It is easy to use, truly quick to set up, and fast to break down. SMDV has put together a nice on location lighting kit in a single bag.  I am able to pack the SMDV Alpha Speedbox in its softcase, SMDV grid, a light stand, and a Profoto shallow medium umbrella (for those bigger group portraits) in my own hard case for additional protection when traveling. The hard case that I use is a US Art Supply 10-inch drafting tube that telescopes from 36 to 59-inches.  One of the things that I like about small companies like SMDV is that they are responsive and focused on providing high quality photographic gear for professionals.  The owner of SMDV, JS Kim, was also a professional photographer and seems to have a good understanding of photographer’s concerns.  The quality of materials and workmanship on the SMDV Alpha Speedbox is excellent and makes the investment in this lighting modifier worthwhile. I look forward to trying the optional deflector plate that will be available shortly.  I am also told that SMDV is working on Alpha Speedbox Stripboxes too.

SMDV Alpha Speedbox

SMDV Alpha Speedbox: Professional lighting modifier to go

After using the SMDV Alpha Speedbox on dozens of individual portraits, engagement sessions, and travelling with it for two destination weddings, I’m glad to have the SMDV Alpha Speedbox as part of my lighting arsenal.  For professional photographers that work frequently on location, the SMDV Alpha Speedbox is a great lighting modifier to-go kit.  You can obtain more information or order the SMDV Alpha Speedbox online from the US distributor of SMDV products,  www.legioaerium.com

Ken Doo, www.kendoophotography.com

Ken Doo has been a professional portrait photographer for fifteen years, with a boutique studio in Carmel, California. He and co-conspirator Don Libby lead the Capture Integration in Carmel medium format digital “not a workshop-workshop” sometimes affectionately referred to simply as, “Pigs.”  Ken is also a fine art printer for artists and photographers, and recently launched his fine art printing website, www.carmelfineartprinting.com  He enjoys long walks along the beach, holding hands, meaningful conversation, and sarcastic humor.

 

New Year New Approaches

Posted in Events, General, Landscapes, Nature & Wildlife, Portraiture, Weddings and Bridal with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 1, 2016 by kendoophotography
Me and my boys with  Grandma in studio.

Me and my boys with Grandma in studio. Phase XF, IQ180, Schneider 40-80mm LS.

The New Year holiday is often a time of introspection and promises of resolutions for the near future. When in reality it is something that everyone should be doing throughout the year. I am constantly gauging for myself what works and what may be improved. 2015 was a very busy and good year, but also one filled with the stresses of how to handle and protect a loved one afflicted with dementia. It hasn’t been easy. But we’ve also been very fortunate to have the resources and discipline to do what is both best and necessary. We have moved my mom from the Bay area to Monterey, making it much easier to spend time with her. It was definitely the right decision and just in time for the new year. There won’t be broken commitments to the latest fad diet or unused gym memberships–that’s never been a problem for our family! 2016 will be a reaffirmation of family and the things that are important to me in life. Professionally, I have decided to remain focused on fine portraiture, commercial photography, and fine art printing for artists and photographers. I will no longer do corporate event work. I will limit the studio to one wedding per year (yup, only one).  And yes, that means taking more time to travel for landscape photography.  2016 is going to be a great year.  kmd.

Light Ignition Provides Alternative Profoto Reflectors

Posted in General with tags , , , on October 29, 2015 by kendoophotography
Light Ignition Magnum clone and the original Profoto Magnum Reflector

Light Ignition Magnum clone and the original Profoto Magnum Reflector

Profoto lighting equipment has always garnered the respect of professional photographers worldwide for the quality of their studio lighting equipment and their modifiers. That high respect also commands high prices for their equipment. The Profoto Magnum Reflector retails at B&H Photo for $327. The Magnum reflector is actually known to increase light output by approximately one full f/stop. When using comparatively lower powered, albeit lighter and more portable, lights such as the new Profoto B2, the use of the Magnum Reflector is a great accessory making it easier to overpower the sun. The extra stop of power means the diminutive B2 becomes equal in output to its bigger, heavier, and more powerful brother, the B1.  Of course, the Magnum Reflector is a perfect complement to the B1 as well!  Light Ignition, distributed through Ebay by a Chinese company, sells a reflector for Profoto studio lights that by no mistake is a clone of the venerable original Profoto Magnum, yet at a much lower cost of approximately $215 shipped.  I had to try it myself.  As you can see in the above photo, the modifiers are nearly identical. Fit and finish is very similar, with the edge being given to Profoto. The original Magnum feels just a tad heavier, though both seem to be well made from metal. The original Magnum has a better lip as can be seen in the photo.

Inside view of both reflectors.

Inside view of both reflectors.

Reflector mount view

Reflector mount view

The rubber mount of the Profoto Magnum is softer and more pliable. The Light Ignition rubber is noticeably firmer though it may soften with use. As you can see in the photo, the Light Ignition mount is not as concentric as the Profoto Magnum. The stiffness of the Light Ignition mount made it slightly more difficult to install on my Profoto B1 light.  The insides of the reflectors are nearly identical.  I tested each reflector using a Profoto B1 with the frosted glass dome and with the standard flat frosted glass plate. Although designed to be used with the optional glass dome, an increase in power by approximately a full stop was still noted with the standard frosted plate glass cover over the B1 tube.  Quality of light may be better with the optional glass dome in place. Unfortunately the glass dome is available only for the B1 and not the B2. Regardless, I have noted an increase in output of one full stop using the Magnum reflector with the Profoto B2. In this comparison, each reflector was set at approximately position 6 on the B1. From a distance of approximately twelve feet, I measured f/22 at 1/125th, ISO100. The Profoto Magnum measured about 1/10 of a stop higher output than the Light Ignition reflector, and certainly well within the margin of error of this informal test to be a wash. Both reflectors also work well with Honeygrids. The Light Ignition Magnum clone Profoto rubber mount is probably its only shortcoming, though that may get better with use. I find that the Light Ignition reflector does what it is supposed to and provides a suitable alternative to its more expensive brother.  www.kendoophotography.com

As also stated elsewhere in this blog, no compensation has been received by distributors/manufacturers of equipment that I may review. Sometimes I like it, buy it, and share my experiences with fellow professional photographers.  ken

 

Three Studio Artist Tour Hosted by Emy Ledbetter, Sandy Robinson, and Arlene Stigum

Posted in Events, General with tags , , , , , , on September 23, 2015 by kendoophotography

Studio Tour 2015

 

Don’t miss this three artist studio tour being held this weekend in Carmel, by Artists Emy Ledbetter, Sandy Robinson, and Arlene Stigum.  Studios open September 26 + 27, 2015 from 12 Noon to 5 PM.  Details on the flyer!  Both Sandy and Emy also have featured artists galleries at www.carmelfineartprinting.com ken  For more information on fine art printing on archival OBA free canvas and fine art papers, contact the studio or Carmel Fine Art Printing & Reproduction, the area’s premier fine art printer.  From Vision to Print!  Easy online ordering of your photos on canvas or fine art papers.

Studio Tour 2015, Better-1

The KPS T5 Geared Ballhead: In Search of the Elusive White Unicorn

Posted in General, Landscapes, Nature & Wildlife, Portraiture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2015 by kendoophotography
Carmel Sunset

Carmel Sunset. ©2015 Ken Doo. Cambo WRS, Phase One IQ180, Rodenstock HR40 t/s, RRS TVC-33 with KPS T5-DV geared ballhead.

Background.

Photographers and camera bags are a lot like women and shoes. The endless search for the perfect camera bag is as evasive as the perfect pair of heels.  Finding the right tripod head is not much better. And if you are looking for a geared tripod head with an eye towards using it outside of the studio, the choices are slim indeed.

In 2009, Jack Flesher, wrote a review for the Luminous-Landscape on the Arca Swiss Cube, a really remarkable geared tripod head, which arguably set the standard for quality and precision in a geared tripod head. But the Cube also came at an incredible cost: approximately $1,700 for the Cube in a corrugated box version to $1,900 for a Cube packaged in a luxurious “Coach” leather bag that no one has quite figured out what the hell to do with once they have removed its precious cargo. Pure insanity, I thought when I first read Jack’s review. No tripod head is worth nearly two thousand dollars! But then I tried the Cube, and then I understood. The silent enabler, responsible for probably the most Cube sales to date, was right. Simply stated, the Arca Swiss Cube provides precision geared movements making leveling a camera platform child’s play, all on an extremely stable and secure platform.  When photographing in the shivering cold, a geared head makes leveling the camera much easier than with a traditional ballhead. Similarly, making fine adjustments in studio is also easier with a geared tripod head.

The Cube was a worthwhile investment to me. But the Cube is far from perfect. High price aside, the Cube is heavy, weighing approximately 2.25 pounds. Its profile is relatively stout and markedly larger than its non-geared heavy duty ballhead cousins. While the Cube promises precise geared adjustments, it also sacrifices the speed of a traditional ballhead. As good as the Cube was (and still is) mounted on a Really Right Stuff TVC 3 series carbon fiber tripod, I found that the Cube was top-heavy on my lighter RRS TVC-24 tripod which I use for hiking and travel. I wanted the quality and capabilities of the Cube, but in a smaller and lighter package. And so the search began for a geared tripod head alternative.

Before discussing the merits and shortcomings of the KPS T5 geared ballhead, I think it is necessary for me to first disclose the parameters for what I consider to be an acceptable tripod head. The tripod head must be capable of providing a secure and stable platform for a moderately heavy camera system, primarily a Cambo WRS technical camera, Rodenstock lenses, Phase One medium format digital back, and sometimes also supporting tethering with a Surface Pro tablet. Other alternate camera platforms might be a Phase One DF medium format digital DSLR, or a “professional” 1D series Canon DSLR with a long lens. These are heavier platforms, and generally much more expensive systems than may be considered typical, and worrying about whether your tripod head can safely support such expensive gear should not be even the slightest concern. Mounting and leveling the camera platform should be an easy task, with adjustments made smoothly and quickly. In short, the photographer should be able to focus on the process of photography and not have the slightest worry about the tripod head that supports his expensive camera system. In a nutshell, I want AS Cube-like quality and stability in a smaller, lighter package. I wanted a geared tripod head that bestowed all the Cube’s benefits afforded to my Cambo technical camera, and preferably less expensive too.  Simple, right?

The Arca Swiss Cube is considered by many to be the pinnacle of quality for geared tripod heads. As such, the Cube naturally set the standard by which to compare other geared options, including the KPS T5 in this review.  Manfrotto’s 405, 410, and their new xpro geared heads?  Not in the running for this level of desired quality. The Manfrotto’s paltry maximum of 16 pounds of support (even less for their new xpro) falls far short compared to the Cube’s 100+lb rating.  Sunwayfoto’s GH-Pro is a smaller, lighter, and less expensive version of the Arca Swiss D4, but its 26 pound capacity rating is rather optimistic and I found it much more acceptable for a small, mirrorless camera-sized platform. Both the AS D4 and GH-Pro exhibit lift inherent in their design and are not as stable as the standard set forth by the Cube. I did not consider the Photoflex Clam nor Linhof’s 3D Micro as both are very similar to the Cube in size and weight, not to mention expensive as well.   Enter the KPS T5 geared ballhead.

The KPS T5-DV packaged alongside KPS proprietary Slim Plates.

The KPS T5 Geared BallHead

KPS Research & Design is a small Korean company, owned by P.S. Kang. Kang’s background as an engineer and designer of custom industrial machinery carried over into establishing KPS. An artist and photographer at heart, Kang started developing and making photographic equipment, initially with viewfinders for DSLRs and later introducing the KPS Slim Plate system. A T5 geared ballhead prototype was introduced at Photokina in 2010 and became available to the public in 2012 and recently in the US. The T5 geared ballhead is unique in my mind as it is not a knock-off or carbon copy of pre-existing technologies. There really is nothing else currently on the market quite like it. This is not a cheap or inexpensive head. With the T5, KPS has clearly set its sights on the higher quality end of the photography market. If I had to describe a point of quality reference, I would place the fit and finish of the T5 on par with products from Arca Swiss and Really Right Stuff.  The U.S. distributor for the KPS T5 is Legio Aerium, located in Elkridge, Maryland. www.legioaerium.com  Legio Aerium is a veteran owned business.

 T5-DV with lever quick release on left; T5D with screw clamp on right. Both are Arca Swiss compatible. The T5DV also uses the KPS proprietary Slim Plate.

T5-DV with lever quick release on left; T5D with screw clamp on right. Both are Arca Swiss compatible. The T5DV also uses the KPS proprietary Slim Plate.

I received two geared ballheads from Legio Aerium to test: the T5D with screw clamp and the T5DV with quick lever release clamp. Both are Arca Swiss compatible, but the T5DV also uses KPS’ proprietary Slim Plates as well.  The T5DV includes a generic KPS Slim Plate. Legio Aerium also included several other KPS Slim Plates for a mirrorless camera and professional DSLR body. More on the KPS slim plates later.  The T5 head came well-packaged in cut foam placed inside of an elegant box. No “Coach” leather bag, but certainly better than a corrugated cardboard box. A small pamphlet is included that explains how to operate the T5.  This is much better than the poorly photocopied instructions that came with my Cube! I used the T5 geared ballheads for a period of approximately five weeks both in studio and on location. I will be taking the T5 geared ballheads with me to Capture Integration in Lake Tahoe, a workshop I lead with Don Libby of Tucson, Arizona.

I related to Legio Aerium my disdain for the needless use of permanent red Loctite, making it much more difficult for end-users to install the top clamp of their own choosing. Users must resort to a heat gun to release the adhesive and risk causing damage to the tripod head. I do believe that Arca Swiss has lost many potential sales of their venerable Cube and D4 heads when they recently opted for the use of red Loctite to prevent end-users from using anything but the stock AS top clamps. This rather shallow approach really misses the forest for the trees. Legio Aerium agreed. KPS is sending me a T5 geared ballhead at my request without a top-clamp, and machined to my specifications, so that I can freely swap between RRS lever clamps and a panoramic lever clamp. Responsive customer service? Make that an emphatic, “yes.”  Legio Aerium has informed me that KPS will offer the T5 geared ballhead in several clamp versions, including the same T5 that I requested without a top-clamp.  Smart move. Having a choice is a good thing. Pricing for the T5 ranges from approximately $730 (without clamp), $800 for the T5D AS screw clamp, and $830 for the T5DV quick lever release clamp.  The T5 geared ballhead is guaranteed free of defects in materials and workmanship for three years.

T5-DV, Arca Swiss Cube, and T5-D

T5-DV, Arca Swiss Cube, and T5-D

The Details

The T5 is a finely machined tripod head, approximately 5 inches tall, 2.5” in diameter, and weighs about 1.75 pounds. It has a 44mm ball with a rated capacity of 88lbs. The finish is a smooth matte black. It has a lockable panning base, with numerical settings marked every 30 degrees, and markings every 10 degrees between each numerical setting. There are three main knobs that control adjustments on the T5. The larger black knob controls the head much like any other typical ballhead. The friction lock may be adjusted as desired for the weight of the camera. Initial setting of the camera with the large knob is quick and easy. What makes the T5 unique is that the two smaller red knobs can make minute geared micro-tilt adjustments on two axes as much as 30 degrees total depending on the position where the ball has been locked down.  Leveling the camera is as quick and easy as with the Arca Swiss Cube.

Calla Lillies at Garrapata State Beach. Cambo WRS mounted on KPS T5DV geared ballhead and RRS TVC-24 tripod. Phase One IQ180 tethered to Surface Pro 2 with Wolf clamp, KPS T5DV geared ballhead and TVC-24 tripod.

Calla Lillies at Garrapata State Beach. Cambo WRS mounted on KPS T5DV geared ballhead and RRS TVC-24 tripod. Phase One IQ180 tethered to Surface Pro 2 with Wolf clamp, KPS T5DV geared ballhead and TVC-24 tripod.

I found that once the T5 head was adjusted for the weight of my camera, I typically would only need to secure my camera onto the ballhead and could go directly to making minor geared adjustments to level the camera with the two red knobs. Only if large adjustments are needed did I resort to using the larger main control knob. The knobs are much bigger than those found on the Arca Swiss Cube, and when making adjustments with gloved hands, this is a welcome feature. Depending on the position of the head, however, it can take as much as half a turn of the red knobs before the T5 gears are engaged to make minor adjustments, whereas the response of the knobs on the Cube when making adjustments are immediate. This has no impact on the ability to make fine adjustments or on the stability of the platform, rather I think this is more the nature of the geared mechanism moving to engage the ballhead. The knobs on the Cube to make adjustments extend from one side of the head to the other, making adjustments easy whether the user is left or right-handed. Consequently, both hands can also be used together on the same axis control knobs, making very fine adjustments on the Cube easier than on the T5. Adjustments to level the camera platform with both the Cube and T5 are smooth and fast. The KPS T5 provided a very stable platform for both my Phase DF and Cambo WRS technical cameras. Movements and controls are smooth and refined on the T5 as should be expected.  The video clip below demonstrates leveling with the KPS T5DV geared ballhead and with the AS Cube.

https://youtu.be/Y-ceazygCDk 

Other than the numerical markers on the panning base, there are no other markings or numbers on the T5. In contrast, the Cube has numerical markers to note the amount of adjustments made along both the x and y axis. Because of the fluidity and movement of the T5 ballhead, like any ballhead, it would be impossible to note with any sense of accuracy the amount of adjustment made along the x or y axis with the T5. I do not find this to be a significant feature in my work. The T5DV lever clamp has two bubble levels. The T5D screw clamp has a single bubble level.  The Cube has two bubble levels. I find that relying on the electronic dual axis levels, found on the Phase One IQ series medium format digital backs and other digital cameras, when making adjustments is easier than using the bubble levels found on the tripod head.

Of significant note is that although the KPS T5 weighs about ½ pound less than the Arca Swiss Cube, I felt that I had not sacrificed anything in terms of a stable platform for my cameras. The standard that I use for a tripod and head is that I should not have to worry about the stability of the platform nor the fear that my camera may crash to the ground at any given moment. I should not have to think about the tripod or the attached head. The photographer need only focus on the task at hand.  I feel equally secure using the Cube and the KPS T5 geared ballhead. The biggest concern that I had was that the T5DV, like the Cube, might be top heavy when used with the smaller and lighter RRS TVC-24 carbon fiber tripod legs. I feared that although it was ½ pound lighter, that it still might not be light enough yet.  My fears were not realized as I have found that the KPS T5 is well-balanced mounted on top of both the TVC 2 and TVC 3 series tripods.  I installed RRS TH-DVTL40 dovetails on the Cube and the T5 heads which allows me to quickly swap heads and tripod legs using RRS quick release lever clamps (aka the Graham Welland quick lever release tripod head system).

Slim plate and Arca Swiss compatible plate; 1Ds Mark III shown with Slim Plate attached and also with RRS L-bracket attached.

 The KPS Slim Plate System

The T5 comes in four variants: T5, T5M, T5D, and the T5DV. All are the same and only differentiated by the type of attached clamp (or no clamp for the T5). I did not test the T5M. All of the variants are Arca Swiss compatible. The T5DV and T5M also use the KPS Slim Plate system. Rather than clamping the outside rails as the Arca Swiss standard, the Slim Plate system is secured by clamping two rails along the inside of the plate. This novel design allows the system to have a much lower profile and take on a nice body hugging design. The clamping system is secure and clamp force is easily adjustable. The Slim Plate system is well-engineered and works well, but I decided that it is not right for me. I have multiple cameras, most with L-brackets, all of which by deliberate choice use Arca Swiss compatible RRS brackets and plates. This consistency allows me to easily use each of my cameras on all of my tripods with ease. KPS does not offer a “slim plate” L-bracket and consequently Slim Plates are not an option for me. As you can see from the photos above, the Slim Plate design is much smaller in profile. For those wishing to maintain a smaller camera profile, the KPS Slim Plate should be considered. A single Slim Plate attached to the bottom of a camera is substantially less obtrusive. I would estimate that the Slim Plate system is about half the thickness of a typical Arca Swiss compatible plate. The difference is more noticeable on smaller cameras such as a Sony A7r. The photo above shows the fit and finish of the Slim Plate attached to my Canon 1Ds Mark III compared to the bulk added by an Arca Swiss compatible RRS L-bracket. When considering its low profile fit, weight, and less bulk that the KPS Slim Plate has on a large DSLR like the Canon 1DsMark III, it really is remarkable. A line of sleek, low-profile, form-fitting, Slim-Plate L-brackets would really give a lot of photographers pause to reconsider.

Layout of the T5DV clamp

Layout of the T5DV clamp

The only issue I found, albeit minor, was with the T5DV clamp. Setting the clamp to be Arca Swiss compatible is easily and quickly accomplished by moving a single stainless steel pin from one setting to the other. However, in so doing, the camera plate is then slightly off center above the ball stem. This is not the case when using the Slim Plate system. This may or may not be an issue for some photographers. Regardless, the clamp does work well and overall I liked the speed of working with the T5DV lever release clamp better than the T5D screw clamp. My preference overall, however, is being able to attach the clamp of my choice using the base model T5.

Moss Landing Power Plant. ©2015 Ken Doo. Cambo WRS, Phase IQ180, Rodenstock HR70 t/s two-image vertical stitch. KPS T5DV geared ballhead on RRS TVC24. Thirty-four second exposure.

Moss Landing Power Plant. ©2015 Ken Doo. Cambo WRS, Phase IQ180, Rodenstock HR70 t/s two-image vertical stitch. KPS T5DV geared ballhead on RRS TVC24. Thirty-four second exposure.

Conclusion

Over the past five weeks I have used the KPS T5 geared ballhead in a variety of situations including portrait sessions, products, and landscape photography. I rarely use the Cube during portrait sessions because making adjustments is too slow. The speed of a ballhead during a portrait session important, yet still being able to make small adjustments during the session with the T5 was a pleasant surprise.  The T5 combines the benefits of a ballhead with the precision of a geared head. For those who already have the Arca Swiss Cube, buying the KPS T5 geared ballhead may not make sense unless your work requires a lighter geared head alternative that is capable of providing a stable platform for a larger DSLR or medium format camera system.  For those that have not yet succumbed to the Cube, the KPS T5 geared ballhead is a great high quality alternative. It may not come with a “Coach” leather bag, but the T5 provides similar quality and features, and at half the price of admission. My search for a smaller and lighter, geared ballhead has ended.  –Ken Doo, April 2015

Ken Doo is a professional photographer with a boutique portrait studio located in Carmel, California. He is also is a fine art printer and recently launched his new fine art printing website, www.carmelfineartprinting.com  From Vision to Print— order your photos on canvas and fine art papers online!  (831) 626-1844.

UPDATE! I just received a new KPS T5 “improved” geared ballhead prototype on December 31, 2015.  Okay, it’s really not a substantial material improvement in my opinion, but it does show that KPS has some mad engineering skills and is very receptive to offering an exceptionally high quality, mature, and polished product.  The new T5 no longer features a minimum friction control on the main knob. Instead, KPS has engineered “Click-stop” settings from 1-2-3 on the main knob. The user simply adjusts the ballhead and then tightens the main adjustment knob until the first click-setting or “1” on the knob. This insures that the camera is held in place and the microadjustment functions will operate optimally as designed.  Pretty neat.  Users with heavier cameras such as the Phase One XF may find themselves using click settings 2 or 3.

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New KPS T5 geared head prototype with click-stop functions on the main adjustment knob.

The KPS T5 geared ballhead remains my head of choice on my RRS TVC-24 CF tripod.  I don’t see a need to upgrade my T5 for the new “click-stop” features, but it certainly will be a welcome addition for new users.  The KPS T5 geared ballhead may be purchased through the U.S. distributor for KPS at www.legioaerium.com .  I have been promised a few KPS T5 ballheads will be available at Capture Integration’s medium format digital workshop in February, the seventh annual CI in Carmel 2016.

 

Rocco Mediate Scores the Cover for Ambassador Magazine

Posted in General, Portraiture with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 4, 2015 by kendoophotography
Golf Pro Rocco Mediate. ©2015 Ken Doo. Phase DF, IQ180, Schneider 150 LS.

Golf Pro Rocco Mediate. ©2015 Ken Doo. Phase DF, IQ180, Schneider 150 LS.

I don’t golf.  Plain and simple, golf becomes a dangerous game when I get my hands on a set of clubs. But living on the central coast of California places me in the heart of a golfer’s paradise, and I have been fortunate to have been selected to photographer several golf professionals, including Tom Kite, Joe Ogilvie, and recently Rocco Mediate.  The National Italian American Federation retained to photograph Rocco Mediate at Pebble Beach for a small publication, Ambassador Magazine.  I photographed Rocco and his wife Jessica on the 18th hole at Pebble Beach.

What Drives Rocco? ©2015 Ken Doo. Phase DF, IQ180, SK 150 LS

What Drives Rocco? ©2015 Ken Doo. Phase DF, IQ180, SK 150 LS

I chose to photograph this portrait session using my a Phase 645DF and Phase One IQ180 medium format digital back, along with a single studio strobe. The 18th hole at Pebble Beach provided a beautiful backdrop for the session. Rocco and his wife Jennifer both have friendly and affable personalities.  They were easy to photograph and made my job enjoyable. Rocco arrived at the golf links with his wife and a cigar in hand. He offered to set his cigar down, but I thought it was a perfect way to naturally add some of his personality to the portrait.

Rocco and Jessica Mediate. ©2015 Ken Doo Photography.

Rocco and Jessica Mediate. ©2015 Ken Doo Photography.

For more information on medium format digital photography, contact me at my boutique portrait photography studio in Carmel. Ken  (831) 626-1844

Carmel Fine Art Printing & Reproduction Grand Opening! 50% Off Prints Limited Time Offer!

Posted in Events, General, Landscapes, Nature & Wildlife, Portraiture, Weddings and Bridal with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 11, 2015 by kendoophotography
Bonsai Rock Panorama  available printed on Hahn Photographic Baryta and Canson Rag Photographique. ©2015 Ken Doo. Cambo WRS, IQ180, HR70 t/s.

Bonsai Rock Panorama available printed on Hahnemuhle Photographic Baryta and Canson Rag Photographique. ©2015 Ken Doo. Cambo WRS, IQ180, HR70 t/s.

It’s official!  I’ve launched my fine art printing website, Carmel Fine Art Printing & Reproduction, making it easier to clients to order fine art prints, giclee canvas, and place re-orders for prints. To mark the grand opening and introduction of the website, online print orders will be 50% off  for a limited time only, until April 10, 2015.  Carmel Fine Art Printing & Reproduction was started for artists, photographers, and the general public to allow easier access to printing their images on the best archival fine art materials.  The website features an easy digital file uploading page tool which also allows users to open a free account, share their portfolio images with friends or their clients, and place orders from any device.  The website also allows for sending evaluation files and larger digital files for large prints and special orders, such as B&W K7 Piezography prints.

Gallery-wrapped stretched canvas ready for delivery.  Carmel Fine Art Printing uses archival Lyve canvas and state of the art printers using pigmented inks. Notice the great corners!

Gallery-wrapped stretched canvas ready for delivery. Carmel Fine Art Printing uses archival Lyve canvas and state of the art printers using pigmented inks. Notice the great corners!

Once files are uploaded, users can select print sizes, crop their images, and choose from many different fine art medias including photographic baryta papers, fine art cotton matte papers, and gallery wrapped canvas. Users can select finishing options from just a rolled print, to stretched canvas, canvas floaters and frames—ready to hang.  The fine art paper and canvas selections are exceptional and a step above normal photo lab offerings. The studio’s state of the art printers can produce images up to 44″ in width by whatever length.

Gallery wrapped and stretch bamboo!  Stretched fine art papers is a Carmel Fine Art exclusive!

Gallery wrapped and stretched bamboo! Stretched fine art papers is available to clients and is a Carmel Fine Art Printing & Reproduction exclusive offering!

Gallery wrapped stretched fine art papers is an exclusive offering from Carmel Fine Art Printing. It is a labor intensive process requiring hand coating of the fine art paper in preparation for stretching over 1.75″ wood bars. Bamboo paper is particularly well-suited for stretching, with the final product being tight as a drum.

Exceptional B&W printing is offered by Carmel Fine Art Printing & Reproduction.

Exceptional B&W printing is offered by Carmel Fine Art Printing & Reproduction.

Carmel Fine Art Printing & Reproduction is also one of the few printing studios to offer B&W K7 Piezography printing. Beautiful B&W prints are normally available on the studio’s Epson 9900 printer, with B&W K7 Piezography prints available only by special order. B&W prints from the studio’s K7 printer are simply exceptional.  K7 Piezography MPS selenium prints are available on both matte and glossy papers.  If clients do not have a print ready digital file, Carmel Fine Art Printing & Reproduction also provides high resolution scans and copy work for artists. This process produces a high quality digital file in preparation for the printing process. The studio uses a Phase One IQ180 medium format digital back with 80 megapixels, which is ideal for both color and B&W reproduction. The image above was reproduced using the IQ180 to first generate a high resolution file for some minor restoration work on a family image taken with a young President John F. Kennedy. The image was then printed on K7 B&W Piezography printer. This image exemplifies memorable portraits that are deserving of archival fine art printing!  Printing Family portraits, Wedding portraits, Anniversaries, and other special memories is no different than an artist or photographer seeking to use museum quality materials to sell or simply to display their work. Carmel Fine Art Printing & Reproduction helps you From Vision to Print.

Visit www.carmelfineartprinting.com and let me know your thoughts!  50% off prints introduction offer is for new clients and good until April 10, 2015. Use coupon code carmel50. Offer does not apply to featured artists galleries.  Professional/business accounts are welcome.  Please contact me at (831) 626-1844 for any questions.  Ken Doo

Bob Walthour: The Passing of an Icon

Posted in General, Portraiture with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 29, 2014 by kendoophotography
Bob Walthour at home. ©2014 Ken Doo Photography. Cambo WRS, IQ180, HR90

Bob Walthour at home. ©2014 Ken Doo Photography. Cambo WRS, IQ180, HR90

Coach Bob Walthour passed away last weekend, marking the loss of a much loved and respected local icon in Carmel, California.  I had gotten to know Bob through US Masters Swimming on the Monterey Peninsula. On occasion I would join Bob in the early morning hours at the old excuse of a pool at Carmel High School, where we would swim in the incredibly shallow water. On some mornings my eldest son Kenny would sit next to Bob.  Kenny was probably barely four years old; he’s now nearing twenty years and swimming competitively. That old excuse of a pool is now a world class facility at Carmel High School, named after none other than Coach Bob Walthour. Long since retired, Bob would still swim with Masters at 5:00 A.M. well into his eighties. He was often seen observing swim meets at Carmel High School.

A portrait session with Bob Walthour at his home earlier this year.  ©2014 Ken Doo Photography

A portrait session with Bob Walthour at his home earlier this year. ©2014 Ken Doo Photography

I had the opportunity to photograph Bob a few times both in my boutique portrait studio in Carmel and also at his home in Carmel, just a few blocks away. The last time I photographed Bob was just in March of this year (2014). It was a special portrait session for me because I chose to use a Cambo technical camera with an IQ180 medium format digital back, along with a Rodenstock HR90mm lens.  Not exactly a fast moving portrait outfit, normally intended for landscapes!   Bob sat patiently for me while I used a Microsoft Surface Pro tethered to my IQ180 to assist with framing and focusing of the portrait.  I used a single studio strobe.  I converted the huge 80 megapixel RAW files using Capture One Pro 7. I then opted to convert the selected portrait into B&W and printed the portrait on the studio’s specially converted K7 B&W piezography fine art printer.  I love Bob’s personality in this portrait.  We’re going to miss you, Bob.

The Bob Walthour Aquatic Center remains unfinished and is still seeking donations to complete the facility.  Contact www.carmelpool.org for donation information.  For more information on medium format digital portraiture or fine art K7 B&W Piezography printing, contact me at the studio at (831) 626-1844.   Ken

Congratulations Lee & Sian!

Posted in Events, General, Portraiture, Weddings and Bridal with tags , , , , , on June 22, 2014 by kendoophotography
Sian and Lee having fun in studio. ©2014 Ken Doo Photography

Sian and Lee having fun in studio. ©2014 Ken Doo Photography

 

Congratulations to Lee & Sian!  Lee and Sian recently became engaged to be married.  We completed their engagement session recently with portraits taken both in studio and on location at the beach in Carmel.  What a great fun couple!

Sian and Lee at the Beach. ©2014 Ken Doo Photography

Sian and Lee at the Beach. ©2014 Ken Doo Photography

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I just wanted to share a few portraits of Sian and Lee. Each portrait was hand-retouched in preparation for printing in studio and mounting. We also used the studio’s specially converted K7 B&W printer which produces really stunning B&W portraits of unsurpassed quality.  For more information on fine portraiture or scheduling a portrait session, contact me at my boutique portrait photography studio in Carmel, California.  Ken  (831) 626-1844

Microsoft’s Surface Pro 2: A Game Changer for Phase One IQ Series and Leaf Credo Medium Format Digital Backs

Posted in General, Landscapes, Nature & Wildlife with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2014 by kendoophotography
Microsoft's Surface Pro 2 and Phase One's IQ180

Microsoft’s Surface Pro 2 and Phase One’s IQ180

Background in a Nutshell.  When Phase One released its IQ180 digital back, its full frame medium format sensor boasting a staggering 80 megapixel resolution was not so surprising. What took the high-end medium format photography community by storm was its large high resolution retina touch screen. Prior digital back screens were postage stamps by comparison. The IQ180 and her sisters the IQ160 and IQ140 were indeed groundbreaking, easily surpassing the viewing screens of its competitors and even those of the smaller format DSLRs such as those offered by Canon and Nikon.  Phase One’s sister company, Leaf, released similar high resolution retina touch screens on its Credo line of digital backs.

Phase One now offered “live-view” on its IQ series and Leaf Credo digital backs, but live-view on a CCD sensor is quite limited in comparison to live-view on a CMOS based DSLR.  Furthermore, the size of MFDB CCD sensors with its high sensitivity often meant that the sensor was overexposed in live-view mode.  Consequently, stopping down the aperture and/or using neutral density filters are often necessary to enable this rather limited live-view function. The Phase One IQ series offered focus-mask, which in my opinion was a sleeper surprise feature on the IQ series digital backs, one that quickly overshadowed the claimed benefits of having live-view. But in a fast moving tech world, the clamor still continued for true live-view, something DSLR CMOS sensors could accomplish well whereas the much larger CCD sensors of MFDBs could not.   And again, the voices clamoring for live-view continued, and Phase One answered with its recently released IQ250 MFDB, the world’s first CMOS sensor digital back—with true live-view.

But regardless of live-view capabilities, the most significant limitation on the effectiveness of live view on location is the physical size of the screen. No matter whether DSLR or MFDB, the screen size on the back of a camera or digital back is still limited to about three-inches in width, or about the size of a credit card.  Regardless of technology, this is a physical limitation that can not be overcome absent an external monitor.  When combined with tired aging eyes, the difficulty of the challenge becomes more pronounced and the proponents of true live view on a diminutive three-inch screen suddenly discover that it is not the panacea that they had been clamoring for.

Tethering in studio is not a problem where powerful computer workstations can run fully featured versions of Capture One Pro software, viewing full resolution digital raw files on large monitors.  In prime conditions it is relatively easy to check composition, exposure, and focus. The difficulty or challenge is viewing images while on location with a larger portable screen option. Tethering on location generally requires using a laptop solution mated with tethering options such as those offered by Nine-volt.com.  For architectural and interior photographers where size, weight, or carrying equipment long distances is not as much of a concern, tethering with a laptop with a larger 15″ or 17″ screen may not be a problem.  Nine-volt offers flexible solutions and I have been able to successfully mount a laptop with a 17″ screen on the DigiPlate Lite, although a 15″ laptop is the largest recommended configuration.

However, size and weight is often a significant concern for landscape photographers and other photographers working on location.  A tablet provides a much better form function over a laptop,  especially where size and weight are primary considerations.  Despite a large selection of tablets on the mainstream market none have had the power or memory necessary to tether a medium format digital back.  None, that is, until the introduction of Microsoft’s Surface Pro 2.  And I’m not talking about the use of Capture Pilot and viewing scaled down JPEG files on an Apple iPad.  I’m talking about viewing full resolution RAW digital files from an 80 megapixel digital back using a fully featured version of Capture One Pro 7 —all in a small tablet format.  That’s a game changer.

The DigiPlateLite shown on a studio stand and on tripod.

The DigiPlateLite shown on a studio stand and on tripod.

The Game Changer.  A tablet has a better physical form factor for both traveling and viewing in the field than the clam shell configuration of a notebook or laptop computer, a popular selection being the Macbook Pro or MacBook Air.  When tethering, additional accessories are helpful to secure the laptop to a tripod for ease of viewing. There is no doubt in my mind that Nine Volt’s DigiPlate is the finest solution for a laptop tethering. For those with a Macbook Pro or Air, look no further than Nine-volt. The DigiPlate and DigiPlate Lite are both well-crafted and CNC machined from aircraft grade aluminum and allow for infinite configurations and tethering options. Both are designed with laptops in mind and although I could attach the Surface Pro 2 tablet to the DigiPlate Lite, I found myself wanting a smaller and lighter on location solution yet—as even the DigiPlate Lite weighs almost as much as the Surface Pro 2 tablet itself.  I have instead decided to use the Nine Volt tethering solution in studio only.

The Microsoft Surface Pro 2 tablet weighs two pounds.  It is smaller and lighter than a laptop, but heavier and much more powerful than a typical small tablet, casting itself as a red-headed step-child among a large, rather uniform, and ordinary field of tablets, notebooks, and laptops. There really isn’t an equivalent piece of hardware readily available in the mainstream market.  The Surface Pro 2 measures 10.81 x 6.81 x 0.53 in, with a 10.6 inch HD touch display with a resolution of 1920 x 1080. It sports a fourth generation Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM for those selecting the 256/512 hard drive option, blue tooth, a micro SD card slot (adding up to another 128GB of storage),  and a full-sized USB 3 port essential for tethering the Phase One IQ series or Leaf Credo series MFDBs.  Battery life is excellent. It is essentially a laptop in tablet form that can run a full version of Capture One Pro 7.   This changes everything.

Cambo WRS, Phase One IQ180, HR40 t/s. Surface Pro shown mounted on a RRS TVC-24 tripod

Cambo WRS, Phase One IQ180, HR40 t/s. Surface Pro shown mounted on a RRS TVC-24 tripod

Tethering on Location.  Size and weight are major considerations when working on location, especially when you have to hike any considerable distance to your destination. The Surface Pro 2 tethering solution adds no more than 3 pounds total to my pack, including the Arkon heavy duty c-clamp universal tablet mount, which attaches to my Really Right Stuff TVC-24 carbon fiber tripod.  Set up is quick, taking no more than a minute. The tablet mount features two ball joints allowing me to maneuver the Surface Pro 2 in any position quickly and easily. Some care needs to be taken to avoid over tightening the c-clamp and damaging the tripod leg. I placed thin adhesive rubber strips inside the c-clamp which adds grip while also protecting the tripod leg from potential scuffing. I have placed strips of gaffers tape around the tripod legs to quickly mark where to attach the Arkon c-clamp and also provide further protection to the tripod legs.  I chose the Manvex case for protection, and leave the Surface Pro 2 in the case even when using the tablet mount. The Manvex case provides a secure holder for the stylus pen.  In the above photo, I have chosen to position the Surface Pro 2 directly below the digital back on the camera.  The Surface Pro 2 boots up quickly to a nice clean desktop, having opted to bypass the messy desktop of Windows 8 using a neat free program called Classic Shell. Seconds later, Capture One Pro 7 DB is ready. The program recognizes the IQ180 automatically after plugging in a short three-foot USB3 cord connecting the digital back to the Surface Pro 2.  This is just too easy.  

Full view. Note the yellow rectangle for reference.

Full view. Note the yellow rectangle for reference.

Although Capture One Pro 7 can be used to tether a DSLR or Phase DF with digital back, the real advantages become apparent when using a technical camera. The larger screen of the Surface Pro 2 makes it easier to compose images, check settings, and check focus using Phase One’s Focus Mask feature.  Since the Surface Pro 2 is running a full version of the Capture One 7 raw processing software, all the features of the program remain accessible, though my intent is to use the Surface Pro 2 more as a tool on location and process the image files later on the studio’s workstation. The convenient tablet form factor and the capability of the Surface Pro 2 to run a full version of Capture One Pro 7 is ideal for landscape photographer and is also an attractive tethering solution for architectural and interior photographers as well.

Full image view. Note the approximate area of the image marked by the yellow rectangle on the screen.

Full image view. Note the approximate area of the image marked by the yellow rectangle on the screen.

For working on location, I have chosen to set up my Capture One Pro 7 work space to maximize the viewing area of the main image.  Once the cable release is triggered, the image captured by the IQ180 MFDB appears within seconds on the Surface Pro 2’s high resolution screen. Too bright outside? Simply tap in the bottom right corner and adjust the brightness of the screen to match.   Double-tap on the screen and the program automatically zooms in 100% to check focus. Tap the Focus Mask tool to assist and the sharper areas of focus appear painted in green. The Focus Loupe tool or any other tool in C1 Pro 7 is also available to use on the full 80 megapixel raw file.

Full View.

Full view on image on the Surface Pro 2.

Partial zoom. You can easily zoom in from zero to 400% viewing to check details.

Partial 33% zoom using C1 Pro 7 on the Surface Pro 2. You can easily zoom in from zero to 400% viewing to check details.  Simply drag a finger on the screen to easily adjust the location of the image area to be examined.

100%. Note the area selected from the yellow rectangles.

100% image view using a simple double-tap on the screen of the Surface Pro 2. Note the area selected from the yellow rectangles in the previous images.  Double-tap the screen again to return to full image view.

Once on screen, the image can be moved around to inspect other elements of the image simply by dragging a finger on the screen to the area of the image desired. Viewing the preview image on the larger screen of the Surface Pro 2 makes it much easier to check composition, focus, and even the desired amount of lens movement afforded by technical cameras.  Changes can be now be quickly and confidently made on the camera or digital back before again triggering the shutter for the final image capture. Once satisfied with the final image, an LCC image is taken to assist later in post-processing with Capture One Pro 7.  The IQ180’s 80 megapixel image files are stored on the Surface Pro 2’s hard drive and later transferred to the studio’s workstation for processing. I’ve never been much of a fan of tethering, however, the Surface Pro 2 changes everything at least for when I’m working on location with my Cambo WRS technical camera.  For my typical workflow, I do not see myself using the Surface Pro 2 to photograph tethered in studio, although its Windows 8 Miracast WiFi capability to send images to other Miracast enabled monitors, such as high resolution viewing tablets and high definition widescreen televisions, has potential worth investigating.

Live-view still remains an option on IQ series and Leaf Credo series medium format digital backs, and except for the CMOS-based IQ250, are still limited by the constraints of its CCD sensor.  Live-view via USB3 may still be an option on the Surface Pro 2 and C1 Pro 7 enabled later via Phase One firmware update, however, in my opinion, I do not expect any further improvements in live view capability to be implemented with CCD sensor-based digital backs, although I surmise that live view on the ten-inch screen of the Surface Pro 2 will be better than on a three-inch MFDB screen .  My understanding is that live-view via USB3 firmware update is now in beta testing.  In the meantime, I find that using focus mask and other tools within C1 Pro 7 on the Surface Pro 2 on full resolution raw files to be faster and more effective than working with a limited version of live-view and neutral density filters.  Even the IQ250 and DSLRs, with their true live-view capabilities are still limited by the physical size of their viewing screens. Indeed, the IQ250’s true live-view via USB3 (if enabled by firmware) on the larger screen of the Surface Pro 2 may be something to really silence the live-view pundits. *update*  Live View via USB3 on the Surface Pro 2 is now possible with the latest firmware 5.11.36 update for IQ backs and C1 Pro version 7.2; all CCD sensor limitations on live view remain, but is more usable on the larger screen of the Surface Pro 2 as expected.  Life is indeed good with options!

The Verdict.   For Phase/Leaf/Mamiya medium format digital backs that are USB3 capable, the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 is an ideal tethering companion on location. The tablet format does take some getting used to but its form factor and power is exactly what makes the Surface Pro 2 unique as a tethering tool, especially in the world of medium format digital photography. The tablet is lighter than a laptop and consequently does not require as strong of a mounting clamp to attach to a stand or tripod. This means less bulk and less weight. When traveling the Surface Pro 2 can serve double duty replacing a laptop while also providing a small but capable tethering solution. The Sony Vaio Tap 11 or the less expensive first generation Surface Pro are alternative tablets that could be considered, but their performance does not appear to be as good as the Surface Pro 2 running programs under Windows 8.1.  Further, battery life for both of these tablets in the field is substantially shorter than that offered by the Surface Pro 2. While tethered to the Surface Pro 2, images from my 80 megapixel Phase One IQ180 appeared on screen in Capture 1 Pro 7 DB in a scant three to five seconds.  Battery life in the field for the Surface Pro 2 is rated up to ten hours but I would rate it conservatively in the field at about seven hours. At least one review points out that the Surface Pro 2 has better color performance than the first generation Surface Pro. The Cintiq Companion was not considered as the larger 13″ tablet is almost twice the weight of the Surface Pro 2, which would necessitate a heavier clamping option and further limiting tethering portability in the field.

The Surface Pro 2 has a faster fourth generation Core i5-4300U processor at 1.9GHz base and 2.9GHz Turbo, an increase of 19% at the lower end and over 11% in turbo compared to the first generation Surface Pro. The Surface Pro 2 also offers 8GB of RAM over the first generation’s paltry 4GB of RAM. Consequently, the Surface Pro 2 is capable of much faster image viewing, taking only three to six seconds for a full image preview to appear on its screen via C1 Pro 7.  Processing time to tethered viewing varies according to the resolution (40, 60 or 80 megapixels) and type of digital back being used.  The Surface Pro 2 also has substantially longer battery life.  The tethered view in the field from either Surface Pro generation is still magic.

There are two items that I don’t like about the Surface Pro 2.  First, the Windows 8 operating system to me is like Vista was to XP. It’s like Microsoft just couldn’t help themselves and leave well enough alone with Windows 7. The Windows 8 desktop is a messy social enabled interface. I am sure it’s fine for many, but I’m here to work. Some may recall why the term “desktop” was even developed: software engineers likened the “computer desktop” screen as replacing a real office desktop, as in papers, folders, and projects on your desk. I want a clean office desktop, and the Windows 8 interface is busy, messy, and trendy. Thankfully there are a host of free programs such as Classic Shell that address this minor shortcoming, allowing you to boot directly to a nice clean desktop similar to Windows 7, with a C1 Pro 7 shortcut icon now plainly visible. No more useless clutter. Finally, the magnetic holder which doubles as both the battery charger port and pen stylus holder on the side of the Surface Pro 2 is gimmicky. I find myself spending more time making sure that the magnetic connection is secure enough to enable charging without inadvertently being bumped off. Using the magnetic holder to store the digitized stylus pen is almost insuring its eventual loss and replacement. The charger works well enough, but storing the stylus pen is much better in the pen holder provided by the Manvex case.

There are a host of accessories available for the Surface Pro 2, including the Touch/Type 2 back lit keyboards which attach magnetically (which does work very well) or by wireless blue tooth, and wireless blue tooth mice. All of these accessories are best left in your bag (except for the digitized stylus pen) when tethering on location.  Unless Apple releases an iPad Pro, Microsoft’s Surface Pro 2 currently stands alone as the ideal tablet tethering solution on location.  Lighter than a laptop or notebook, yet heavier than a tablet, the Surface Pro 2 has not been as widely embraced as a powerful hybrid computer tablet that maybe it should.  But for photographers seeking to shoot high-end medium format digital backs tethered on location, the Surface Pro 2 is indeed a game changer.   It is a worthwhile investment for Phase One IQ series and Leaf Credo medium format digital back users.

Special thanks to Zac Henderson, technical support at Capture Integration in Atlanta. For more information on tethering with Capture One Pro or medium format digital photography, contact Capture Integration at (877) 217-9870.  I will be doing further testing tethering with the Surface Pro 2 during this weekend’s medium format digital workshop, the 5th annual Capture Integration in Carmel.  You may contact me at my boutique portrait photography studio in Carmel or view my landscape work at www.houseoflandscapes.com.  Ken (831) 626-1844

Surface Pro 2 with Type 2 keyboard attached; Arc Touch mouse and digitized stylus pen; Arkon Universal Tablet Mount

Surface Pro 2 with Type 2 keyboard attached; Arc Touch mouse and digitized stylus pen; Arkon Universal Tablet Mount

The Equipment List.

  • Microsoft Surface Pro 2, with 4th gen Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB RAM, 512GB storage
  • Sandisk 128GB micro SDXC memory card with adapter
  • Superspeed 1.5 foot USB3 Type A to B cord; optional 3 foot USB3 cord
  • Manvex case for Surface Pro 2 with Type 2 cover
  • Microsoft Type 2 keyboard
  • Microsoft Arc Touch Mouse
  • Am Film screen protectors for Surface Pro 2
  • Arkon Heavy Duty Aluminum c-clamp Universal Tablet Mount (10 inch) Tab 804
  • Classic Shell
  • Phase One – Capture One Pro 7 DB

Improved Clamp options! (revised February 2015)

  • K&M stands 19740 Universal tablet holder  “Wolf Clamp” (fits Surface Pro 2 or 3)
  • RRS CRD rail with end clamp or Sunwayfoto rail with end clamp
  • or RRS MPR-CL II nodal rail (my recommendation)
  • quick release plate with 1/4″ screw for clamp
  • RRS FAS lever clamp for camera/Cube/tripod head
  • Optional Urban Armor Gear UAG case for Surface Pro
  • PerfectFit Anti-glare glass shield for SP3 (not for use with UAG case)

New “hiking” clamp!  (revised April 21, 2015)

  • The “Pig” clamp Small, flat folding clamp ideal for hiking. Lightweight clamp but not cannot adjust viewing angle. Usable only with RRS MPR-CL II or Sunwayfoto 180 with end clamp on top of rail. Fits SP2 and SP3.

No further updates will be made to this article; updates will be in “new” blog articles on tethering with the Surface Pro.  The latest clamping options are discussed here:  Tethering With the Surface Pro: Evolving Clamp Choices

ken.

See my new fine art printing website at www.carmelfineartprinting.com —order your photos on canvas and fine art papers online!  From Vision to Print

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