PRODUCT REVIEWS

 Canon Mark

NIKON D800

36.3-Megapixel, FX-Format, HD DSLR Delivers

When Nikon announced the D800 with 36.3 megapixels, my first two thoughts were "Cha-ching, there goes my wallet;   and "It can t possibly be any good at ISO settings over 100, with so many megapixels crammed into its sensor."

I m more than happy to say that neither of my predictions were correct. This little dynamo came in at far less cost than I expected, and it does an amazing job at higher ISO settings.

I tested it at up to 1,600 and was pleasantly surprised at the quality; a little noise reduction in postproduction, and the files are great. I don t necessarily plan on using it in low light or at high ISO settings, but I know that I can boost it, if needed.

Next on my what-does-this-camera-have-to-offer list was frame rate. Even though I don t plan to use it heavily for wildlife, I wondered how fast it could fire if I wanted to shoot action. And, once again, it surprised me with a decent frame rate of 4 frames per second (fps).

The D800 boasts the same impressive, 51-point autofocus (AF) system, with possible AF in light as low as-2 EV (exposure value), and the new-style AF/MF switch as the flagship D4 that I ve grown to love. Now, with a simple press of the focus-selector button, I can switch from single to continuous focus as well as select single-, 9-, 21-, or 51- point 3D AF and Auto-area AF.

The 91,000-pixel meter is spot-on accurate even in difficult lighting situations, and the actual exposure range is expanded to capture detail even better than its predecessors. I m finding that I don t have to correct for blown-out highlights nearly as often as before.

Some additional features that I ve already come to rely on with my D4 are the auto-bracketing feature, where I dial in the number of frames I need to make an HDR image, press the shutter button, and stand back while it fires off the full sequence (if the menu is set for multiple frames); and the built-in, time-lapse mode that not only shoots up to 7 hours 59 minutes of time lapse but also processes the file in camera —instantly saving me time in postproduction.

Big inroads have been made into the video capture end of the D800 as well, making it a viable contender against its competition, with greater control over exposure adjustment during filming. It even offers the ability to send uncompressed video footage straight from the camera to an external hard drive through its HDMI port —a very big thing for professional video users who need the highest quality possible.

Not only does the Nikon D800 deliver when it comes to resolution and features, the ergonomics of the camera make it feel very good in my hands. The optional MB-D12 battery grip provides vertical controls and increased fps firing (speed varies depending on the batteries installed). All of these have made this a camera that has found a home in my bag.

All I can say about my new D800 is kudos to Nikon for bringing in such an incredible camera at an affordable price!

X-RITE I1PHOTO PRO 2

Professional Color Management for Photographers

The i1 Photo Pro 2 is X-Rite s impressive, new, comprehensive, color-management solution for professional photographers. The profile and calibration software for camera, display, projector, and printer has been updated, but the centerpiece is the redesigned, aluminum-cased spectrophotometer with broadened capabilities and a new level of color accuracy.

The USB spectrophotometer reads both reflective and emitted light to calibrate and profile your display and projector, build ICC paper profiles, and monitor ambient room light. Internally, the spectrometer has two light sources, LED and tungsten, expanding what it can measure. It can now compensate for optical brighteners used to artificially brighten whites in papers. The sensor can also read smaller areas and its protective glass can be removed and cleaned for increased accuracy. The important, frequently used, white calibration tile is larger and has a protective dust and dirt cover. A newly designed shoe with a sandbag counterweight holds the spectrophotometer firmly in position for improved display calibration. And the new visual feedback on top of the spectrophotometer flashes a white, green, or red light to indicate if everything is okay.

The software offers basic and advanced customized workflows with a comprehensive Help section. It places more, reduced patch sizes on a target page, thus increasing accuracy and saving time, paper, and ink. The redesigned mount and metal glide rail, which holds the spectrophotometer for reading the profile targets, produces a smoother, faster glide over the strips of patches.

I achieved excellent results calibrating my screen, and built consistently professional-quality paper profiles with lots of detail, neutral grays, accurate colors, and very smooth gradients. Overall, the i1 Photo Pro 2 achieves a new level of accuracy, precision, and ease of use. If you re serious about critical color workflow, look no farther.

PROSHOW WEB

Online HD Video-Creation Service

The video-production learning curve presents a greater level of difficulty than photo editing; however, video can add value to your services. For those who aren t fluent in Adobe After Effects or Premiere, creating professional videos may seem overwhelming, but there are video-production options that offer a WYSIWYG approach.

ProShow Web from Photodex is an online video-creation service that produces mobile to full 1080p resolution output using your content and their templates. It s easy: Simply set up your account, select a theme, upload your photos and videos, add effects (if desired), and choose your background music. Then, by clicking the appropriate navigation tab, you can edit effects, text, and content order. Note: Watching the rendered video is important, because the effect previews aren t low-resolution views of your content; they re just a basic description.

Once you re satisfied, Photodex can host the video for you to link to, or you can add and share it on Facebook and other social networks, embed it in your site or blog, or you can download it. After a few tries, I found it easier to download the finished video and upload it to a personal YouTube account to preview with clients.

ProShow Web Free includes up to 15 photos and videos (10-sec-ond max for each video clip) with two effects, audio clips, and sharing abilities. ProShow Plus ($30 per year) includes DVD ISO exports, up to 500 items (12-minute max for entire slide show), and unlimited effects. Premium subscriptions ($150 per year) offers HD downloads and a license for commercial use. Special theme packs are available for purchase, and a free plug-in for Adobe Lightroom is also available. In terms of quality, ProShow Web is definitely worth a look! (For a sample video that I created, visit http://web.photodex.com/view/bcm2p28.)

CANON EOS 5D MARK

It s more about evolution and innovation (as opposed to revolution) in the digital SLR realm right now. Like the American Idol effect on singers to the untrained ear, the clarity and performance that photographers expect from the soon-to-be-legendary Canon EOS 5D Mark III has to live up to the hype. Without question, Canon is no one-hit wonder with its 5D bodies, and this encore revision should definitely bring standing ovations.

Moving up from 21.1 megapixels in the 5D Mark II to 22.3 megapixels in the 5D Mark III is the first nice improvement from the single full-frame CMOS sensor. RAW images max out at a resolution of 5784x3861 at 22.3 megapixels. Continuing the tour, another nice improvement is a continuous shooting speed maxing out 6 shots per second, as compared to just over 3 in the Mark II version. Canon s latest on-chip noise reduction provides results that are closer to the saturation and clarity viewed by the naked eye.

Metering accuracy, clarity, and responsiveness are all excellent from the new 61-point High-Density Reticular Autofocus (AF) system with 63-zone, iFCL dual-layer metering for more consistency when shooting in varied lighting situations, such as by water or at sporting events. Canon also introduced their new DIGIC 5+ Image Processor, which facilitates all of these new functions and features.

 Canon Mark

The EOS 5D Mark III now offers a High Dynamic Range (HDR) mode that couples three exposures into a single image while processing it all internally. The HDR layers are adjustable by up to 3 stops. With all of these capabilities, there s also support for blazingly fast UDMA 7 CompactFlash storage media. A favorite new addition is what Canon calls Comparative Playback mode that allows two-image viewing on the LCD screen. This is fantastic for portraiture and landscape images, particularly on a windy day, or shooting a concert stage. The combination of versatility, performance, and features is so much more than just a revision to an already wonderful digital SLR. The time spent shooting is more effective with fewer throwaway shots.

In JPEG mode, the best results come from brighter lighting situations and outdoor settings, as the compression is still, well, compression. RAW and HDR modes offer the best clarity and density; however, in bright lighting, the JPEG images are still superior to this model s predecessor.

The 1080p HD video is equally impressive, and the image quality is outstanding from the standard speeds of approximately 24p, 25p, and 30p frames per second (fps). At 720p, speeds of up to 60 fps are clear, crisp, and offer very good audio quality. The adjustable, 64-step input-gain control from either the mono microphone on the body or the stereo mic input jack helps to minimize audio distortion, but using either a high-quality earphone or pre-amp and headphones for audio monitoring through the audio output jack is definitely recommended.

The real fun of Canon s EOS 5D Mark III comes after using it for a few weeks: As you realize how much more you can do with less waste, you may want to go back and reshoot some completed projects. The only obstacle might be tired arms from holding up this durable, solid-feeling, superstar digital SLR. So, while the Mark II was last season s winner, the Canon EOS 5D Mark III is definitely this generation s hit maker.

EXTENSIS SUITCASE FUSION 4

Reliable Font Management

Although not a major upgrade, Suitcase Fusion 4 is a must-have if you re running any Adobe CS6 software. It has a new, improved panel interface within InDesign, Illustrator, InCopy, and Photoshop (CS5-CS6). (Note: Because of a bug, Photoshop CS6 doesn t yet support the new panel, but an update from Adobe is expected soon.)

As Suitcase Fusion has been available only on Windows for the last two versions, I installed Fusion 4 on both my Windows and Macintosh laptops so I could compare running it on a Mac. Moving between the two was seamless!

Two useful updated features for Web designers are WebINK (the free Development version) and Google Web Fonts, which allow CSS links to fonts stored on the Web, enabling fonts previously converted to graphics. (It would be nice if Suitcase Fusion could include a link to the Adobe Typekit, as well.)

Suitcase Fusion still includes the excellent Font Doctor for inspecting fonts (a $50-70 value if purchased separately). The Find Similar feature is handy when looking for OpenType versions of older Typel fonts. But, as always, there are too many features to list here. (Keep in mind that Suitcase Fusion isn t a server-based or server-aware product, and isn t compatible with the Extensis Universal Type Server or Client software.)

I m so impressed with Suitcase Fusion 4 that I m switching from my previous font manager; however, I d like to suggest a couple of minor improvements. Finding duplicate fonts is easy, but it would make cleanup much easier to find dupes except for the highest version number. I d also like an option to move all unnecessary OS fonts to a new Suitcase Fusion Library, because the Mac System Library Fonts folder (and other Library folders) contains many unneeded fonts, as does the Windows Fonts Control Panel.

LENSBABY EDGE 80 OPTIC

Tilt-Shift Lens

The Edge 80 Optic is the newest addition to the Lensbaby Optic Swap System. It s a tilt-shift optic that, when tilted, creates a sharp area of focus through the photo that s bordered by a blur. Move the lens left or right to create a vertical area (or slice) of focus, up or down for a horizontal area, and diagonally for, well, you get the point. It takes some practice to consistently achieve the desired results. When pointed straight ahead, it can be used as a traditional lens.

Edge 80 is an 80mm f/2.8 —22 lens with an aperture ring on the optic itself, as opposed to the washers that you manually change on other Lensbaby optics.

The quality of the optic is very good and Edge 80 shouldn t be thought of as a novelty lens. The aperture ring shifts securely between f-stops and the focus ring is smooth. Lensbaby claims a minimum focusing distance of 19" (17" when tilted). To achieve this distance, manually pull the end of the lens, the part that looks like a filter, to extend it and enter close focus mode.

The transition from sharp focus to blur is subtle, yielding pleasing results. To get the full effect of a tilt-shift-type lens, you need to use larger apertures. When at f/16 or f/22, the effect is not too pronounced; however, at f/2.8 or f/4, the results are much more dramatic.

Tilt-shift lenses are expensive; very expensive. The Edge 80 Optic is a solid option for photographers who are on a budget, especially if you already own a Lensbaby lens body.

BOOQ PYTHON COURIER

The Booq Python courier is a brilliantly designed, midsize, messenger-style camera bag that s packed with features. Undo the buckles on the front, lift the flap, and you ll find two padded walls and two padded dividers. Your DSLR with attached lens fits lens-down between the walls, and the dividers allow you to cordon off sections of the bag for up to four small lenses, or fewer lenses with a flash or whatever you like. Along the back of the interior is a stitched-in elastic strip for additional memory cards. Everything is well padded, adjustable, and even removable, enabling you to convert the Python courier from a camera bag to a messenger bag with ease.

On the inside of the front flap is a pocket with hook-and-loop closure that runs the full width of the opening. It s perfect for cables, a charger, spare batteries, lens cleaner, etc. Look closely at the inside of the flap and there s a zipper running down the side, providing a separate storage area in the flap. There s a handle on top of the bag. The adjustable shoulder strap is made of 2" seatbelt material with a comfortable, removable pad.

A zipper pocket on the back of the bag is the perfect size for holding an iPad or other tablet device, even if it s in a slim case. The entire bag can be expanded or contracted via the external side and front straps. Wait, we re still not done. There s a wide strap across the back so you can slip the Python courier over the handle and have it rest securely on top of your rolling luggage.

If you re in the market for a midsize camera bag, of any style, the Booq Python courier may be exactly what you re looking for.

GLIDETRACK HD HYBRID

Slider System for Digital SLR Video Shooters

With a very lightweight camcorder, the Glidetrack s mixed bearings and roller system is so light, a smooth dolly is a matter of subtle muscle control, but with a heavy, 9-13-lb camera —the Glidetrack s target range —carriage motion requires no effort at all. It s also virtually noise-free.

In addition to its smooth operation, the Glidetrack HD Hybrid especially appeals because of its many usage scenarios. Video shooters can dolly very close to, or at, 4" from ground level or with the Glidetrack mounted on one or two tripods. Thanks to the rubberized dumbbell feet, the Glidetrack can also be used on uneven or sloping surfaces, hanging vertically, and even upside down.

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