August 01, 2011 — Zip It, Jack
Whether in the studio or on location, ZipWall spring-loaded poles (just 1.5 lbs each) will set up quickly and give you great versatility. All you need is a ceiling and up they go, ready to support a backdrop of any kind. Even rolls of heavy seamless paper (up to 80 lbs) can be hung on a crossbar when used with optional ZipHooks (also great for stringing cables to keep them out of the way and off the floor).
ZipWall poles won't mar surfaces and work on all types of ceilings: plaster, drywall, textured, popcorn, even those that are suspended (as long as the poles are placed on the grid that holds the tiles in place). Standard-sized poles ($170 for a 4-pole kit) can be adjusted from 4'2" to 10'3". Have a higher ceiling at your studio or on location? No problem. Longer poles are available and telescope up to 20 feet high.
If you do indoor event photography, you can quickly set up a ZipWall to make an enclosed portable "studio" area of any size. It can be "walled" with either white, black or clear plastic sheeting, depending on the kind of lighting you want to achieve. You can even set it up in your studio as a giant white tent and bounce light through it or off its walls. Or, cover one sidewall with black and the other with white to do chiaroscuro portraits without flats.
Finally, don't forget its original purpose. If you're doing a studio shoot that requires set building, ZipWall will form a barrier to keep dust from flying all over the place. www.zipwall.com
Ed Sinofsky is an optical physicist with a love of photography. He's combined both interests by developing a line of backlit picture frames whose technology is derived from medical lasers. Each frame is edge-lit with LEDs that spread light evenly across a flat surface, backlighting a picture without the need for a bulky casing. The result is an image that has phenomenal brilliance, depth and vibrancy in a frame that's less than an inch thick.
With low power consumption and an optional dimmer, PhotoGlow frames can be mounted anywhere electrical power is available. The 12-volt power cord is thin enough to easily run inside a wall and exit at the bottom if you don't want it to show. The LEDs have a life of 50,000 hours – with five hours of use a day, that amounts to more than 27 years.
Frames are available in sizes from 12x16 inches ($89) to 28x40 inches ($399) and images can be printed on PhotoGlow paper or any medium that allows light to shine through. I've used a variety of Red River gloss and satin papers, popping up color saturation to offset the bright backlight.
Sinofsky says he's been testing lightfastness (the degree to which dye resists fading from light exposure) for the past seven years on photos printed with Epson Ultrachrome inks and so far there's been no fading. Replacing an image takes just a few minutes. Once clients see an image in a PhotoGlow frame, they just have to have one. Offering it as an option could add significantly to your bottom line. www.photoglow.com
When Wireless Falls Short
Wireless routers are slick, but there are some places that signals may struggle to reach, such as the far parts of your studio, basements or outside patio areas. Not to worry. If you have an electrical outlet nearby, you're covered with Belkin's VideoLink Powerline Internet Adapter. Existing studio or house wiring will allow for a high-speed connection perfect for video streaming, gaming or Web surfing.
Here's how it works: Plug one Powerline unit into an outlet and use the supplied Ethernet cable to connect it to a port on your router. Then plug another unit in at any location up to 1000 feet away. Use the other included cable to connect it to your computer, Web-ready TV, Blu-ray player or gaming console and you're in business. If your printer has an Ethernet port, you might want to try a Powerline unit to enable remote printing.
Each Powerline unit is preconfigured with 128-bit AES encryption for security; a push button allows it to be reset with a unique encryption code. Units come packaged in two configurations. One has two Powerline units, each with a single Ethernet port ($89.99). The other includes a single-port unit and a three-port unit to allow three devices to operate from it at the far end. ($99.99). Powerlines offer a neat solution to a tough problem. www.belkin.com.
The Fastest Gun
Camera Bits' Photo Mechanic is a legend in its own time. For lightspeed viewing of camera images from memory cards, it mows down the competition like a Tommy gun. Just drop a folder of RAW and/or JPEG images on a blank contact sheet and they're almost instantly up there for you to view, sort through, mark, enlarge, view full screen, compare, rotate, rename and, with just a click, transport into Photoshop, Lightroom or any other image editing program.
Because speed is the watchword of photojournalism, more media photographers use Photo Mechanic than any other image asset management program in the world. If you shoot events and need to view and sort your keepers from weepers in a hurry, Photo Mechanic is well worth the $150 price tag.
You might think that's a hefty sum for what seems like a one-trick pony, but that's only a fraction of what Photo Mechanic can do. You can add IPTC metadata (photo credits, caption info, keywords, locations and much more) to single images or batches of them, copy images from several memory cards at the same time, rename, reorder or delete photos and create Web galleries, output hard-copy contact sheets and transfer pictures to an FTP server or online service.
The basics are easy. You'll figure them out fast enough to begin using Photo Mechanic in just a few minutes. If you want to dive deeper to explore all the other features that Dennis Walker and his Camera Bits team have included, such as templates, GPS functions, "smart" slide shows, wireless transfer from cameras to different destinations and more. There is also a 160-plus-page manual that will amaze you with this pony's impressive repertoire. www.camerabits.com
Good As New
During a checkup before donating my 11-year-old 3.1MP Kodak DC 4800 to a local school, I found the LCD had gone bad. I was nearly floored by a local repair shop's $300 repair estimate so I turned to the Web. After about an hour of comparing services, I chose United Camera. Why? Because they've been around more than 40 years, have an ISO 9001 certification and getting a repair quote was a no-brainer.
I selected the type of camera, manufacturer and model and then, from a list six possible problems, checked LCD. A price of $77 popped up and off the camera went. Two weeks later (normal turnaround is half that but the LCD was on backorder), the DC 4800 was home and worked perfectly. All of its other functions had also been checked out at no additional cost.
United Camera offers a 90-day warranty and guarantees that your camera will be fixed right the first time or the repair is free. It includes free ground return shipping. It has live chat assistance and a free phone number. You can track the progress of your repair and if you're not sure what kind of repair you need, there's a step-by-step diagnostic tool on the site to help you figure it out.
Older digital cameras are great starter cameras for kids and seniors. If you have one that's not working and want to get an idea of what it would cost to fix, you'll find United Camera's web site the easiest to navigate. If you decide against a repair, they'll even pick up your camera at no charge and either recycle it or repair it and donate it to a charity or a children's hospital. They also repair pro cameras and other electronics; you could save a bundle so it's worth checking them out. www.unitedcamera.com
New Life For Old Lenses
There are fine, old film camera lenses on auction sites, many of which will produce outstanding images. You won't have every camera function available when you use them but photographers have focused by hand for more than a century – it's not a killer. For correct exposures, pre-setting the lens opening and setting the camera to aperture priority usually does the trick.
When it comes to mechanical compatibility, many older lenses will physically fit on cameras of the same manufacturer but others won't. Some camera makers offer adapters for different mounts; Pentax has an inexpensive adapter that fits their K-Mount cameras, allowing screw-mount (M42) lenses to be used with them.
But can one manufacturer's lens (old or new) be used with another's camera? Get the answer from Stephen Gandy, the "Mr. Adapter" of the industry. If there's a way to make almost any lens work with any camera, he knows how. His Web site is chock-full of information on mixed marriages between lenses and camera bodies and also lists dozens of discontinued and hard-to-find adapters.
Be forewarned: His adapters aren't cheap. They're precision-made and beautifully machined, unlike a lot of the flimsy stuff floating around that bind and can cause lots of grief. So if you want to know if those old Leica lenses stashed away in a closet can find a new digital life with your Canon (they can) or Nikon (they can't) click on over to: www.cameraquest.com/adaptnew.htm
Arthur H. Bleich (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a photographer, writer and educator who lives in Miami. He does assignments for major publications both in the United States and abroad, and he conducts digital photography workshop cruises. Visit his Digital Photo Corner at www.dpcorner.com and his workshop cruise site at www.dpcorner.com/cruise.