Going Mirrorless Covering Cyclocross Racing in Los Angeles

A lot of photographer talk about ditching their Canon or Nikon DSLRs for something lighter and compact like the new mirrorless cameras. When I ask them if they will, they usually say they are trying out one as a third camera, but not their main camera. The sports shooters have an even lower adoption rate of mirrorless tech, they need super fast focusing and specialty lenses. I have a different perspective. I started out shooting with manual focus lenses and a camera that maybe shot five frames a second. We covered pro sports for the wire services with black and white film a darkroom and an analog transmitter with a manual typewriter for captions. Now if the camera and computer doesn't do practically everything for you, it is no good.

Actually, those little mirrorless cameras are AMAZING. My 2-year old Olympus OMD-e-m5 shoots 9 frames a second, has 5 axis image stabilization, and wicked fast auto-focus. I can't complain.

I just needed 2 camera bodies - the Olympus OMD-e-m5 and the Panasonic Lumix GX-7 and two lenses - a Panasonic Lumix 25mm f1.4 and the Olympus 12mm f2 - the equivalent of a 24mm and 50mm lens, to shoot the photos of cyclocross in Los Angeles' Griffith park. The real trick to make my photos look the way they do is use some small battery operated strobes, just 2 manual LumoPro 180's with PocketWizard radio slave triggers and small light stands that I can haul around the course and set up. I also had a small clamp that I used to attach my strobes to anything and everything. No assistant needed and I was easily able to hike around the course looking for the best angles without lugging around heavy equipment. 

Tricky turn in the sand - Lumix DMC-GX7, Olympus 12mm F2 lens, Lumopro Strobes

Tricky turn in the sand - Lumix DMC-GX7, Olympus 12mm F2 lens, Lumopro Strobes

Hopping the barriers- Lumix DMC-GX7, Olympus 12mm F2 lens, Lumopro Strobes

Hopping the barriers- Lumix DMC-GX7, Olympus 12mm F2 lens, Lumopro Strobes

Detail shot in the sand pit -Lumix DMC-GX7, Olympus 12mm F2 lens, Lumopro Strobes

Detail shot in the sand pit -Lumix DMC-GX7, Olympus 12mm F2 lens, Lumopro Strobes

Falling off the bike in the sand pit-  Lumix DMC-GX7, Olympus 12mm F2 lens, Lumopro Strobes

Falling off the bike in the sand pit- Lumix DMC-GX7, Olympus 12mm F2 lens, Lumopro Strobes

Shafts of light -  Lumix DMC-GX7, Olympus 12mm F2 lens, Lumopro Strobes

Shafts of light - Lumix DMC-GX7, Olympus 12mm F2 lens, Lumopro Strobes

Cyclocross racers -  Lumix DMC-GX7, Lumix 25mm f1.4 lens

Cyclocross racers - Lumix DMC-GX7, Lumix 25mm f1.4 lens

Portrait of a cyclocross racer -  Lumix DMC-GX7, Lumix 25mm f1.4 lens

Portrait of a cyclocross racer - Lumix DMC-GX7, Lumix 25mm f1.4 lens

Ben Berden's pink Lake shoes -  Lumix DMC-GX7, Lumix 25mm f1.4 lens

Ben Berden's pink Lake shoes - Lumix DMC-GX7, Lumix 25mm f1.4 lens

Water bottle carrier -  Lumix DMC-GX7, Lumix 25mm f1.4 lens

Water bottle carrier - Lumix DMC-GX7, Lumix 25mm f1.4 lens

A bloody bike -  Lumix DMC-GX7, Lumix 25mm f1.4 lens

A bloody bike - Lumix DMC-GX7, Lumix 25mm f1.4 lens

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Six great iPhone Photo Apps for Photographers

What differentiates the iPhone from other smart phones is the the App Store where you can choose from over 100,000 applications. With that many choices it is difficult to weed the good from the bad.

Here are some of my favorites that I use whenever I take photos with my iPhone 3GS's 3 mega-pixel camera.

Photogene- This is the Photoshop of iPhone apps. Adobe has a free app called PS Mobile, but it very limited. Photogene has a wide assortment of tools like exposure compensation, color correction, cropping, sharpening and blurring filters, levels, 16 different picture frames, rotation, image flipping, undos and redos, re-sizing and photo sharing to Twitter and Facebook. If you are going to pay for just one photo app, this is the one. Currently $2.99, but well worth it.

AutoStitch- The app if your are interested in making panoramic photos. Just take a bunch of photos making sure you overlap them and you can combine them in AutoStitch. The app is fast and after you are done it has a crop tool to straighten the jaggy edges. If you don't do a good job of overlapping the photos, the stitching could have some ghosting and errors. Currently $1.99.

Pano- My other choice for panoramas is Pano. The difference between it and AutoStitch is that it has a virtual guide that helps you line up your panoramic. It superimposes part of the last photo you took and you use it to line up your next one. Because it is more precise, your panoramics have a higher success rate. If you are a hard-core pano fan, you will be buy both. Pano is on sale now for $1.99.

CameraBag- For easy and fast retro looking photos use CameraBag. The Helga filter replicates using a Holga or Diana toy camera by vignetting, cropping your photo into a square and boosting contrast and saturation. Other arty photo effects include cross-processing, using a Lomo camera, a Polaroid picture, a few black and white looks, infrared, old color and fish-eye. I like this app better than Chase Jarvis' Best Camera app because it is dead simple to use. $1.99.

TiltShift - The big problem with cameras with tiny sensors is that every photo has everything in focus from front to back. Pro cameras with big sensors look "film-like" because of the selective focus and shallow depth of field you can achieve with the right lens. What TiltShift does is one thing, makes part of your image blurry with a selective filter. The resulting photo has a look that can emphasize your subject by blurring out either the background or foreground. The app is called TiltShift because of it can used like a speciality Tilt-Shift lens that changes your plane of focus on your photo by moving the front and back elements. Other real world examples are usually made from a Lens Baby or a view camera. A popular trick is to shoot a landscape from a high angle looking down and making the scenary look like toy-like. Currently $.99.

iTimeLapse Pro- This could be construed as a video app. iTimelapse Pro takes still images at a rate and length you determine and combines them into a time-lapse video. If you have a tripod for your iPhone and love time lapse, this could be for you. You can make single frame animations using this technique too. It is $2.99.

If you have several apps, you can save you photo in one app and open it up in another to make further changes. The combinations of two different apps can make for even more granular control of your photos.

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Netbooks for Photographers

A lot of photographers are looking into netbooks as an affordable laptop that is small and light that hopefully can do the job of editing, capitioning and sending their photos.

My main laptop is a 15 inch MacBook Pro with an Intel chip running at 2.4 ghz with 4 GB of ram. I needed a small laptop for a trip overseas that would serve as a back-up, have long battery life and could run a java based application called Shootlive that allows for remote editing.

Initally I was going to buy a MSI Wind because it could be hacked to run Mac OSX. I didn't have time to order one online, so it was off to the local Best Buy. They didn't have the MSI Wind in stock and an Asus EEE PC 1000-HEB was in stock. The unit advertised extra-long battery life so I purchased it and hoped this would be a good choice to play movies on the long plane trip to France.

For $349 USD, plus local tax, I got a laptop running Windows XP SP 3 with a 10 inch screen, 1GB of ram, an almost full-size keyboard and an array of inputs including 3 USBs, mic and headphone jacks, SD card reader, ethernet jack, video out and a Kensington type lock hole. Also included are a video web cam and microphone perfect for Skpe. This model has a 160 GB hard drive, which is a important if you are doing any kind of photo-editing and need storage for an iTunes library of videos and podcasts to take on your long journey.

I loaded up the computer with some Windows software which I had laying around that I purchased for my 7-year old Dell Laptop. I couldn't find my copy of Photoshop so I installed Lightroom 2.3, an updated version of PhotoMechanic along with the usual Firefox web-browser and internet apps. A lot of photo-related applications are not designed to run on the Asus' 1024x600 screen resolution, but they give you a hack by letting you set the screen to 1024x768 which provides you with a virtual scroll, sans scroll bars.

On the flight to Boston, I lauched iTunes and start watching a movie. Everything was fine until suddenly the computer crashed. I tried re-booting it, but the BIOS couldn't find the boot drive. I thought the 3-day old drive was dead,but later I figured out that it couldn't operate at altitude. By contrast my MacBook Pro worked fine on the airplane. This problem with the hard drive is a good reason to get a solid-state drive when they get down to reasonable prices.

I finally made it to France to cover the Cannes Film Festival and set up my little netbook for the sole purpose to run ShootLive and transmit the photos over the local Orange 3G network. Everything worked to perfection. I would use the netbook to download memory cards with photos and an editor would look at the selection and have the netbook transfer the cropped and toned images back to New York for distribution only minutes after I shot them.

Later I would use my Apple MBP for a second edit to send the rest of my photos. During the second week of covering the film festival, my MBP's video died on me. I had to rely on my netbook for all my editing. This proved to be a true test of whether a netbook could handle editing of many photos on deadline. The biggest problem was the screen, it was way too small for Lightroom and even with all the panels closed, my editing still suffered in efficiency. I sent half as many photos as normal and it took twice as long. The other slow down was the actually processor speed. What would take just a second to do on my MBP would take 10 seconds on the Asus.

Back home I decided to see if I could make the netbook more photo-friendly. The first thing I did was order more ram. A 2GB stick from Amazon.com is only about $30 bucks with shipping and handling. It literally takes a mintue to put in. Just unscrew two small screws to the access panel and you can get to the ram and hard drive. I watched the youtube video beforehand, but I don't think it's necessary. It may be the easiest laptop in the world to change ram. One small thing they don't tell you is that after you install the ram, you have to re-start into the computer's BIOS to make sure it recognizes the 2GB. Otherwise you left scratching your head when your OS says you have only 1GB of ram.

The second thing I did was download Windows 7. The release candidate is free from Microsoft, and after hearing how it ran well on netbooks, I decided to give it a try. Netbooks don't have any optical drives, so an external DVD drive makes things easier for software installs. The other option is using a USB thumb drive.

Windows 7 installed easily and has some great features that are perfect for a netbook. It has a very Mac OSX like dock/system tray that could be put on the side of the screen, freeing up space on the bottom. I have the dock auto hide to give me even more screen real estate for applications. You do have to re-install the ASUS specific drivers after you install Windows 7 if you want to continue using some ASUS-specific hardware stuff. Installing Windows 7 made the screen resolution back to 1024x600 without the virtual mode. You can get back some screen real estate by setting the fonts smaller, I have very small windows bar now, and by putting the taskbar on the side.

I found my copy of Photoshop CS2 for Windows buried deep in my garage and even though they recommend 1024x768 screen, it installed fine and I could read any window. The same could be said about PhotoMechanic. The biggest window in PM, the IPTC stationary pad, barely fits on the screen and I can access all the fields and buttons.

The big question is with all the upgraded ram and the nifty operating system, how does the netbook perform with demanding applications like Photoshop? I think the biggest problem maybe the video card. I noticed some jitterness and dropped frames when trying to watch a movie via iTunes and even a flash movie via the new Hulu desktop applications. In PhotoMechanic, it took a long time to generate thumbnails of the images. The Atom 1.6 ghz processor is on the slow side compared to my MBP. I could open up 8 images from my Canon IdMK2N in Photoshop and it did a decent job with some actions. It just takes a lot longer trying to look at the previews in PM.

Another bottleneck in speed is the slow USB 2.0 ports in comparison to the faster Firewire 800/400 ports of the MBP. That makes downloading a big memory card a lot slower. On the positive side, Asus gives you 3 USB ports, where my MBP's has 2 and a Mac Book Air has only 1.

The netbooks' trackpad has some problems. The click buttons take a lot of effort and after a short time editing photos, my fingers hurt. This is one spot where they really skimp on netbooks. Think about adding a mouse to your computer bag. However, the power brick for the ASUS is very small, much smaller then any Apple brick.

Windows 7 does have a nice feature that Mac OSX doesn't have, the ability for the laptop to keep running and not go to sleep with the lid closed. It is an option in the control panel. So you can run applications like transmitting photos and close the lid and it keeps on working, it just turns off the screen. Which is great if you are working and shooting with the laptop beside you.

The top feature on the Asus netbook is battery life. My MBP battery life with a brand new battery is about 2 hours, 2.5 hours max. The Asus says you can have like 8 hour battery life, but in the real world with everything turned on to the max, it falls to about 4 hours, which is great when you can't plug-in but you still have to transmit photos from a long event. With the original ASUS hybrid engine control panel set to conserve energy, you could probably get 6+ hours of life.

I found out after I purchased the ASUS that Best Buy sells, the model 1000HEB, which is different than the 1000HE sold through Amazon.com. The HEB model doesn't have bluetooth, has the older Atom N270 instead of the newer Atom N280 chip, and has the B/G wifi and not the newer N. I was wondering why their price was cheaper. Everything else is the same. I think the only real difference is the battery life, they claim 9 hours on the newer book, probably because the N280 runs more efficently. The difference in processor speed is negligable, 1.6 mghz to 1.66 mghz.

If you are a photographer whose priority in a laptop is ultra-portablitiy and long battery life, the ASUS and similar netbooks could be a perfect fit. It's small screen size and slower processor is going to slow you down, but it's great for smaller editing jobs, web-browsing, email and some word processing chores.

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Transforming iPhone photos

The first photos I took with the iPhone were pretty mediocre. I thought the 2 mega-pixel camera was at fault.

A year after the iPhone was released, Apple opened up the iPhone to software developers. The result of that was a slew of photo applications created for the iPhone.

The first photo application I bought was Camerabag. That application transformed by photography with the iPhone. Camerabag's Helga setting replicates the look of the Holga or before that, the original Diana toy cameras.

It increases contrast, does some vignetting and crops your image into a square format. Everything the Holga does but without the light leaks.

My second most favorite app is Tiltshift. It blurs the edges of your photo selectively so you can highlight an important element in the frame. The big downside to Tiltshift is it's clunky interface. You have to jumps through some hoops to finally select a photo from your library to work on. Camerabag has some problems as its a huge memory hog and will crash your phone if you haven't re-booted the phone and cleared your memory before using it.

The great thing about all the photo apps is that you don't have to use just one on a photo. You can combine them with each other. Open up Camerabag, apply an effect and save the photo. Then open up another app and apply another filter. It is like you have Photoshop in your phone. Does any other smartphone have those features? Not that I know of currently. Probably a huge reason why many photoraphers are buying iPhones.

Below I show some of my photos in various stages of post-processing. I used Helga in Camerbag and the Tiltshift app in my workflow.


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