You don't have to take sides!

RAW vs jpeg, Canon vs Nikon, pc vs Mac, dx vs full frame - You can actually use both!

Over the last few years of reading, and getting involved in, "debates" about which is best I have noticed that many people simply defend the "camp" they have chosen because .... they own one or use a particular format and want to defend their decision. It is generally a deep down desire to justify the money they have spent and defend their decision to choose that "camp". [I use the word "camp" to cover camera models, dx vs fx, RAW vs jpeg, Mac vs pc, prime vs zoom - but it applies to every "which should I use/buy" scenario where people seem to move to a particular "camp" to join and support]. Not to dismiss the people who actually know a really good reason why they use a certain format but they are regrettably in the minority while the vast majority who argue about the subject, and find ways to put down or insult the other camp are not among them. That majority have not come to understand the plain and simple truth that when there is a lot of debate from two or more camps it is because BOTH options have their merits and can be used! Many of their comments are simply repeating what they have heard without actually doing any tests for themselves.

Since people don't want to simply read an article about photography without pictures I will throw some in as well - not to argue about which is better but I will mention what was used because people will want to know. This was taken with a Nikon D90 and the 18-200mm super-zoom in jpeg mode. It doesn't prove anything about which anyone should use because it could have been taken on a full frame Canon with a prime lens in RAW mode and the two images side by side would show a quality difference at 100%, but the thing is - nobody has ever questioned the quality of this image so I'm happy with the result. Normal people don't view images at 100% side by side with other formats so even though I could use 'better gear' and deep down in my heart I would know that the one image is superior by a few percent I would be the only one to know that. 

A commercial photographer will obviously want the best image quality they can get and if you're making a living from photography and providing a product to a customer then obviously you would want to know you are providing the best you can.  Shoot full frame in RAW with a prime lens in a studio [if that's your profession] and you will have an edge over dx in jpeg with a superzoom.
But then someone like that would already know that and wouldn't need to be told, so this discussion is aimed at people getting into photography who don't yet have a hope of making a living from it and are overwhelmed by "advice" that you absolutely MUST shoot with certain gear at definite settings or you're doing it wrong.

Prime vs zoom? Generally a prime will let in more light and be a bit sharper but that isn't a blanket statement, there are some fast zooms that out-perform primes but this is usually the exception rather than the rule. What about a super-zoom? Many will tell you what junk they are "compared to a prime" but when it comes to versatility the super-zoom will always win. In some conditions the super-zoom won't be able to let in enough light and the prime will shine. The point? You don't have to pick sides, have BOTH in your bag if you want because they both have their strengths and weaknesses. The following image was taken with a 6 meg Nikon D40 and 18-200mm lens - the same scene at two different focal lengths taken seconds apart when the wind was howling, and changing lenses would have resulted in sand, not dust, in the camera. Of course both scenes would look slightly better with two primes but - how many people would notice unless they were magnified to 100% side by side?

I did some tests with the 70-200mmVR f2.8 compared to the 18-200mm VR both at f7.1 and could not tell the difference between the images, so I got rid of the 70-200 because all it meant for my type of shooting was that I was often bumping up against the 70mm end trying to go wider and if I can't get the shot I want because I can't change lenses fast enough then I'm quite happy to take a loss in image quality, that I can't see unless I'm at 100%, in exchange for getting my shot. In my tests I also compared the 85mm 1.8 lens and also couldn't see a difference unless they were side by side at 100% and it was only a slight difference - to me that is, if you can see a bigger difference in your style of shooting and that is what you want then it's nobody else's business if you choose primes instead - this isn't a "pick a side" discussion.
Yes f2.8 [1.8 with the 85mm] is superior to f5.6 and in really low light you'd be a bit silly to shoot with a superzoom that has you at very high iso and slow shutter speeds - use whatever works but don't think that's an excuse to put down people who use different gear in different situations.

I was involved in a discussion on a forum where a member who had previously raved about the superiority of his 30mm f1.4 lens made a comment that his lens was dropped and couldn't be used so he put on this 24-120mm lens and has kept shooting with it because he can't tell the difference in the images and reasoned that it was his increased experience over the years that was giving the good results rather than the expensive lens. Of course his zoom lens couldn't do f1.4 but since he was shooting landscapes it didn't matter because he as always at smaller apertures. If you can afford it keep both in your bag - if you can't then a super-zoom will do most of what you need as a beginner.

RAW vs jpeg? If you know what you're doing you don't need to read this - it's meant for those who aren't totally sure of what they are doing.
Well you can turn a RAW into a jpeg but you can't turn a jpeg into RAW which is one big advantage of RAW mode, along with all the extra information you have to work with. Perhaps for beginners who don't know how to edit properly that is not an advantage if they shoot RAW only. My advice is to shoot RAW+jpeg until you know enough to make an informed decision, not what someone else has informed you but rather what you have learned, to decide for yourself. Many of the comments and demonstrations on the discussions involve fixing mistake you shouldn't have made in the first place. These 'strengths' are obviously a very useful 'insurance' policy to fall back on if you're doing an important shoot and perhaps forget to change your settings, and should not be dismissed, but perhaps not the best way to convince someone they should only use that one mode - for fixing mistakes. RAW is obviously superior in many other ways apart from being bigger files and slowing down your camera. Having said that I only shot jpeg for 10 years then set my D7200 to RAW to one card and jpeg to the other when I got it and still only use the jpegs.

D40 18-200mm jpeg. This image is not one of those "I shot this in jpeg therefore you should shoot in jpeg" arguments because comments like that are worthless without a direct comparison to view - just something to brighten the screen and perhaps show that you don't have to pick sides because you can get good results using either  way, or even better - both ways.

My own personal approach to photography was to try to get my settings right in-camera and get the basic foundations of a photo right first like exposure and white balance. If you want to teach someone to shoot accurately you let them practice with an air rifle [jpeg] then they have to get it right. If you give them a shotgun [RAW] they will almost always hit their target and think they have good aim. If they suddenly have to use the air rifle one day [running out of space on the memory card] the results might not be so good. Fortunately[?] modern sensors are more forgiving of bad exposure these days.
A shotgun and air rifle strapped together [RAW+jpeg] will allow them to hit their target and check whether their aim as spot on. To ensure putting food on the table RAW is highly advisable.

Editing images is a bit like modifying a house, if the foundation and basic structure isn't strong enough it will show very early in your modifications.
The advantage of shooting in RAW and jpeg is that you can compare your results from editing a RAW image with the jpeg that the camera produced - which would also need a bit of a tweak too.
That way you can have the advantage of both camps, the ability to choose all your processing settings plus comparing your results with what the manufacturers deem to be ideal - you may be surprised how much you lack in editing skills if you have only ever shot RAW and suddenly compare your results to jpegs from the same images - try it if you dare, you may be surprised.
Don't get sucked in to the discussions that show an un-edited and under-exposed jpeg compared to a fully edited RAW image - of course the RAW will look better. All it proves is that people who don't know how to expose properly and don't edit jpegs should use RAW as a crutch. It can be a useful crutch to fall back on occasionally but if that's the only reason you use it then you're doing something wrong. I'm sure many of us could post a flat looking RAW image compared to a well processed jpeg and sway the minds of the inexperienced photographers that jpeg is superior - be sure that the discussions you read are unbiased or they will be set up to deliberately make the one look inferior.  

Some comments you will come across:
"With jpegs you are throwing away information" - But isn't that what you do anyway when you edit a RAW image and show everyone the jpeg? The real difference is whether you do your editing in-camera [picture settings] and tweak them slightly later or change those settings on your computer.
If you get your in-camera settings [including/especially exposure] right in the first place you will see very little difference in the final output.
"With jpegs you are allowing the camera to choose a bunch of settings based on the manufacturers idea of an ideal image!" - Actually there are many settings you can change in the camera which have been set up by someone who quite possibly knows a little more about image quality than the average beginner, just a slight possibility mind you - which is why using RAW+jpeg gives you something to aim to beat.

You also have to ask yourself what you are going to do with the images. You will see comments like "If you print the two at 30X40 and put them side by side the image taken on a full frame with a prime in RAW mode will obviously be better!" Are you going to do that with your images and in any case will anyone know the difference between the two if they are not side-by-side? Do you have enough money to buy that 'difference' that you can only see side-by-side at 100%? A professional should obviously use the best they can afford but if you're a professional you won't need to have read this far because you will already know what you need. A 6 megapixel jpeg from a super-zoom could make a full page image in national Geographic - do you need more than that? If not then start with what you can afford, a dx camera body of any brand with a zoom lens is not so 'inferior' that you couldn't still get great images with it. As you improve and possibly buy more gear you can get 'better' lenses, a full frame body and a 'better' computer and you don't have to pick between them either, you can still use both zoom and prime lenses and dx and fx bodies. And of course you can usually shoot RAW+ jpeg with just about any body.

 Since I gained New Zealand citizenship after moving from South Africa I often get asked the question "So which team do you support, the All Blacks [NZ] or Springboks [SA]". Since I have the luxury of not caring much about the sport or which country I am from I get great pleasure out of answering "Whoever is winning at the time". Now imagine if we could apply that principle to photography and simply support whoever provides us with a winning product rather then feeling the need to actually pick a side. I have Nikon gear at the moment and am happy with the fact that their sensors are pretty good in comparison [no names mentioned here] at the moment. But if Canon or any other brand were to suddenly produce a sensor with a clean iso 1 000 000 tomorrow I would grab it right away, because for my needs better iso performance is my only incentive to upgrade and I don't care who provides it. Being loyal to a brand or way of shooting is a narrow minded trap that could have you getting into arguments and making silly statements or hurling insults to justify your decision to spend time or money on a product - it's not your fault if another manufacturer provides something better after you bought a particular product.
In conclusion I will repeat that you don't have to pick a camp, if two products or ways of shooting each have enough strengths, and weaknesses to cause debates then the answer to "which" should I choose is generally "both".

Safer smoke bombs

How to make slow burning smoke bombs without any cooking.

I've been trying for a while to work out how to make a slow burning smoke bomb, for photographic effects, with the least amount of effort and ..... danger!
The last time I tried cooking Potassium nitrate, sugar and wax I turned the heat up a bit quickly ...... I'm still cleaning the wax off the garage floor and some of my hair still needs to grow back. 

Most of the tutorials on making smoke bombs involve either cooking wax and stirring the ingredients in, or cooking the sugar and Potassium Nitrate mix to a caramel first, which results in a mix that burns furiously and is over in a short time [containing it properly can slow the burning down]. I wanted a controlled release so I have plenty of time to take pictures while it smokes away. Fortunately I found quick, safe way to do it.

Ingredients: 1.) Potassium Nitrate, 2.) sugar [brown sugar smells better] and 3.) [Citronella] outdoor lamp oil.

Mix 3 scoops of Potassium Nitrate, two scoops of sugar and a little more than one scoop of outdoor lamp fuel. More sugar will simply result in a bigger mess afterwards. The amount of oil isn't critical, just get the consistency that is good to work with.... basically that's it, you can light this mix and you will have a slow burning smoke bomb!

If you want to make it better you can add some wax. No cooking required still, you can simply get a cheese grater [maybe a potato peeler] and grate some wax into the mix which will slow it down further and give more smoke. Crayons can add colour as well if you wish.

Throw this into the mix and stir well.

I had some nice size cardboard tubing, I have yet to try it with a toilet paper roll, I'm not sure if it will simply burn longer or the same amount of time with more smoke. Cut some slits at one end of the tube.

Fold the pieces in and tape it up.

I'm a bit wary of the "grenade style" of smoke bombs just in case something gets caught on it and ignites it in my bag while I'm on my way to wherever I'm shooting. To make lighting it easier I simply pack the mix very tightly into the tube and push a match or two backwards into it, then all you have to do is strike the side of a matchbox on the match head to light it. This tube will burn for 3 minutes or longer.
I still need to try a few with a smaller opening to prevent it burning with a flame and make it burn longer.

This was a quick test burn of the mix, about a teaspoon of that mix burned for a minute.

And a quick photo to show the effects that can be achieved with a little smoke in a photo.

This was from a previous shoot where I lit some cooked smoke bombs that burned out in 20 seconds and produced a lot of smoke.

This is another one that smoked out the whole area. I think a controlled release with wisps of smoke would have looked better.

In this video of my first attempt with the new recipe I struggled a bit to light it because I hadn't inserted a match head but it still gives an idea of the type of smoke produced and how long it burns for. Basically it was the wind giving me issues because the mixture lights very easily otherwise. Halfway through the video the flames stop and there is pure smoke as it burns down and the residue blocks the opening a bit - which is a clue to a better design in future. I am thinking of the option of an old teapot perhaps to prevent the flames and give more smoke.

This is how a cooked mixture of Potassium nitrate and brown sugar burns in a fire extinguisher.
My new recipe is not as impressive but gives me the results I want.

Are manufacturers overdoing high isos? How about a clean iso 768 000 000 before we're happy?

The new Nikon D5 goes up to iso 3 280 000 and luckily competition means manufacturers will keep pushing the boundaries of high iso performance.
Many people have made comments in the past that nobody needs iso 1 000 000, and that "high iso's are getting ridiculous" in new cameras. I don't agree and feel that much of the opposition is due to fear of change. In 10 years when we have a clean iso 1 000 000 people who are born in that time would feel very limited by only having a camera with a clean iso 10 000.
Let's do some calculations, supposing that because many people like to shoot with their lens at its sharpest with a large depth of field around f11, and a safe setting for minimal movement is 1/1000th sec for most practical focal lengths we shoot with.
Let's go to an EV of -6. You're outdoors, nice clear night with lots of stars [in 20 years we will be discussing shooting landscapes on an overcast night and how far we can push the iso] and you want to shoot at f11 and 1/1000th sec, maybe catch a bat in flight by chance as well :)
EV-6 means  f11, 128 minutes and iso 100, or 1 minute and iso 12800, 1 second and iso 768 000, 1000th sec and iso 768 000 000.
Manufacturers will continue to push the limits of high iso and one day, when we have a clean iso 768 000 000 who wouldn't embrace the prospect of going for a walk at night and snapping a few milky way photos without having to carry a tripod around. :)
At one dance event I shot with with my D40 at f2.8 1/125th sec and iso 800, 10 years ago.
Now if we had a clean iso 1 000 000 that could have been shot at f11 and 1/1000th sec.
Of course many will oppose that idea, some will even argue that they like having the blurred background that f2.8 yields - well they can still have that if they want while others can embrace the prospect of a large stage performance and being able to get everything in focus at f11 and 1/1000th sec when they want to. That's the beauty of it, you don't have to use it if you don't want to - just don't whine about it not being necessary because there are many of us would love to have a clean iso 1 000 000 - while we wait for the clean iso 768 000 000.

The $4 sound activated flash trigger.

I recently decided to try and make a cheap version of the sound activated flash trigger.
I got hold of an Arduino sound switch, readily available for around $2 on Amazon.
The sound switch has 3 pins which makes it really easy to wire up. At the bottom is the voltage input wire[VCC] , allowing from 3-5 volts, then the "ground" [GND]pin in the middle and the "out" [switch] pin.

I used a 3 way battery holder which provides 4,5 volts when 3 AA batteries are fitted. I used a fairly short pc cable and would advise making it much longer for a practical sound switch so you can move the flash around easily.

It's relatively simple to wire up. Obviously your red wire from the power supply goes to "VCC" and the black ground wire goes to GND. The only tricky part is connecting the pc wires to the circuit. Plug a pc cable into your flash with the two wires bared back. Connect a volt meter to measure the trigger voltage of your flash. If your flash doesn't have a pc port you can buy a pc hotshoe adapter. 
For older flashes you can also have a look at Botzilla for a list of flash trigger voltages. If the trigger voltage is too high you will fry the circuit. Most modern flashes will work fine with it. Another option is to use it to trigger a wireless flash device so the flash is not connected directly to the circuit.
Have a look at the folowing image and take note of the colour of the leads from my meter and the colour of the wires from the pc plug connected to my SB26. I have 4,29 volts at the pc wires but my red lead is connected to the white wire and my black lead to the red wire - in this case perhaps it is the result of buying cheap pc cables because it appears that red is my ground and white is my positive feed.
So once you have established which is your positive wire from the pc plug, white in this case, solder that to the "out" [switched] pin. If you put them the wrong way around don't worry too much about it, it simply won't switch and will keep the green trigger light on on the circuit board, then you can just swap them around to get it right.

I have had this system running for two days and driven the guys at work crazy with it - so I know it will last. I had it connected to my SB26 on 1/64th power and tested the sensitivity adjustment [little grey '+' screw in the middle of the blue box] all the way down to the point where simply talking set the flash off. Turn it counter-clockwise and it gets more sensitive, to the point where it stays on. Turn it clockwise and it will get to the stage where you will need a really loud noise to make it switch.

It's really cheap and easy so what's the catch? It has no delay built in so if you were to break something for a high speed photo you run the risk of further noise triggering the flash several times during the exposure. See my blog on high speed photography for an explanation.
One work-around is to set the sensitivity very low so it needs a rather loud noise to trigger - that reduces the risk of multiple flashes during the exposure.
I have tested this using my Nikon SB26, Nikon SB800 and a Yongnuo 460 with no problems.
For only $4 worth of components what have you got to lose? :)

This is my ebook on the subject of high speed photography if anyone is interested.
Understanding Explosure

The rants of the future. Stills from videos.

The idealistic blogs about why you shouldn't hand over digital images, give away work free or undercut professionals, or "ask a photographer to work free because you wouldn't ask a plumber to work free" etc.  are all getting rather tiresome and 'stale' now. All they are doing is getting the authors sites more views [= advertising earnings] and stirring up a few passionate fans who get swept up by the emotions of the moment to share the post with others so that we can all "rally together and rise up and stand firm against the change that is depreciating our value as true artists in this unfair world" Blah Blah Blah [ Somebody please call a waaahmbulance ]. Basically they are inviting others to join them in their task of pushing water uphill with a rake.
Seriously, if you're unhappy with the fact that it is getting harder to earn a living doing something that you enjoy - welcome to reality and change your job or stop whining about it because it's just becoming irritating. We would all like to earn a living doing what we enjoy but the customers are the ones who dictate how the market swings. If you refuse to hand over the digital images to a client then there are 10 people waiting to take the job and do so instead while you argue ethics all the way to the poorhouse.

Now a prediction for the future. 4K video will mean less work/jobs for photographers, particularly wedding photographers. The customers will find out "Hey, there's this guy who can video the whole wedding and then pull still images from the video - so we don't need a photographer!" The next step will be "Well I found a guy who is prepared to hand over the entire video for us to extract the photos ourselves!" [Which they will never get around to doing but the money would have changed hands by then].
Of course the working photographers will all argue "That's 'only' 8 megapixels, we will be shooting with 36 and 50 megapixels that will blow the customers away with their quality!". Sure, that's true but what decides who a customer chooses for their wedding? maybe 1% of the weddings involve "we are prepared to pay for the best on our special day and can afford it" while the other 99% involve "We have $$$ for the food, $$$ for the venue, $$$ for clothing, $$$ for cake, $$$ for the DJ which leaves us with ?$? for photos. [photos are always at the end of their list because what good are top quality photos of hungry guests with empty plates?]
Now of course all the photographers are thinking that of course stills taken from a video will never match a well planned photo with a decent camera. BUT: The average person is so amazed by the amazing pictures they are getting from their phones and have become used to that quality, that a quick thinking videographer only has to present one or two well chosen photos printed from stills taken from a 4K video which will make the customer wonder why they would ever need a photographer when they can get video and photos from one person for half the price.
So here is my prediction: Before the end of 2015 we will be seeing the start of the blogs ranting about  how we should "stand together united as one to educate the public as to why they need a good photographer at their wedding as well, rather than relying on 'inferior' images taken from a 4K video".
Good luck pushing that water uphill with a rake - the masses have already shown us what kind of quality they will accept and when they have to choose between $4000 for a videographer and photographer compared to $2000 for a videographer that can pull stills of their choosing from the video we know which direction they will go. Then there will be the 'weekend warriors' prepared to do it for $500 of course.
Now for those of you who are saying that 8 megapixels isn't enough for top quality images please do this test. Take a photo with your 12/24/36 megapixel camera and save a copy of it while you resize that image to 1154 X 1732 = 2 megapixels as well. Print them both out at 8 X 12 inches [A4] and compare them. You will find that you can get a decent enough print from 2 megapixels so surely 8 is enough for most clients who can't afford to hire a photographer and videographer? Of course the purists will argue about the merits of the latest 50 megapixel camera [which they will be saying is not enough when 120 meg cameras come out] but the average person will be blown away by a good 8 meg image at billboard size because it's more about viewing distance than using a magifying glass - to 'normal' people that is.
So prepare to adapt to the changes that are taking place, maybe learn to do video - or start fighting for the scraps, the people who only want photos. Otherwise pick up a rake and start sweeiping that water uphill while you try to educate the public as to why they should resist progress.
 My new ebook "Introduction to flash photography"

Valuebasket Buyer Beware! They are not local even if their site suggests so.

Update: The money for customs was refunded to my account almost immediately after copying and pasting this blog to their facebook page several times. Within half an hour of sending them a link to this blog I had a phone call from support to arrange the refund. Mission accomplished, but I wonder how many others have got their refunds?
I decided to let others know of my experience with the company. The site I visited I thought was local . A friend had bought two lenses from them over a few months with no issues except perhaps delivery taking a bit longer than expected.
I decided to take the plunge and bought two lenses for my Nikon at good prices - that's where I stop using the word "good".
After two weeks I got impatient and told them I was tired of waiting and wanted my lenses as soon as possible. A few days later I got a letter from New Zealand customs stating that some items I ordered were being held because they had false declarations on them and were listed as "samples".
I contacted valuebasket who kept reassuring me with suggary words that everything would be sorted out and thanking me for my patience and co-operation.
Eventually to cut a long story short they advised me that New Zealand customs would not allow them to make the payment of $137 required to clear the items and that I would have to pay it and then I would be "promptly refunded"
Of course I had serious doubts about that but knew I would not see the lenses otherwise.
Since then I have been contacting them and supplying invoices from customs, a receipt for my payment and asking when I get my refund.
The latest email confirmed that I will never see my money:
"I have just received an update from our relevant department, and they are asking if you could like provide a 2 separate invoices for the 2 lenses so we can refund each customs fees separately."
Two separate invoices for them to pay me the one amount I paid for both lenses? I know how this is going to end, they will insist that is the only way they can refund me, for some unknown and unexplained reason, and even if I do get two separate invoices they will find another way to frustrate my attempts knowing that eventually I will tire of asking and give up on them.
Of course if they do finally refund me I will change the ending of this blog but until then "Buyer Beware" Valuebasket will take your money and once they have it they will leave it up to luck as to whether you ever see the item or not and will not honour their listed price if other unplanned costs come up. Here are some of their flowery responses to my complaints:

"Thank you for your patience whilst awaiting the arrival of your goods.
I can confirm that your order has been shipped as of June 05. We understand that the cause of the delay is due to routine customs clearance check. This is not uncommon for international deliveries but did catch us off guard hence this slightly belated email.

For a timely release and resolution, we suggest if it's possible that you pay the customs fee first. We will reimburse you of the equivalent amount once a copy of the paid charges has been provided. We would like to offer you a free 3 in 1 cleaning kit. We appreciate this is just a small gesture given the inconvenience but we hope it goes some way in restoring your confidence in our services.
Note that we are actively working with our courier to ensure no further delays are incurred. We apologize for any inconvenience caused as a result of this routine check.
Thank you for your anticipated cooperation.

We are keeping active tabs on the situation. However, NZ customs would not allow us to pay for the fees.
I'm afraid that you would need to call NZ customs and ask for the invoice for both of your orders with us. Afterwhich, the fees should be paid first before the parcels gets released. This is not uncommon for international deliveries but did catch us off guard hence this slightly belated email.
For a timely release and resolution, we suggest if it's possible that you pay the customs fee first. We will reimburse you of the equivalent amount once a copy of the paid charges has been provided.
We are mindful of the impact this is having to you and are so very sorry for the inconvenience caused. 

Thanks for getting back to us.
We will look forward to hearing from you soon.
We apologize for the inconveniences.

Thanks for getting back to us.
Please confirm if you have paid this fee?
We do hope this is not of much inconvenience and look forward to hear from you soon.

Thanks for getting back to us.
I have already forwarded your concern to our relevant department. Once we got an update, will certainly notify you through email. Please be assured that we will reimburse it to you immediately.
In the meantime, should you have any further queries, do not hesitate to let me know. I will do my utmost best to assist you. 

Thanks for getting back to us.
Can you kindly confirm if this is for Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G Lens or for Tamron SP AF 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di II LD Lens A16 (Nikon Mount)?
We do hope this is not of much inconvenience and look forward to hear from you soon.

Thank you for getting back to us.
I have referred your concern to our relevant department. Please allow us at least 1 working day to resolve this issue.
Meanwhile, please do not hesitate to contact us should you require any further clarification. 
Once again, your cooperation with this would be greatly appreciated. Should there be any further queries, please do not hesitate to contact us again.
Thanks for getting back.

I have just received an update from our relevant department, and they are asking if you could like provide a 2 separate invoices for the 2 lenses so we can refund each customs fees separately.
I do apologize for the inconvenience caused.
We do hope this is not of much inconvenience and look forward to hear from you soon."

Keywords: scam, value, basket, valuebasket, buyer, beware, ripped off, fake,

Another attempt at water balloons: This time I am trying to be more creative since I do tend to miss out on a lot of opportunites to be creative when I get engrossed in the science of the project I am working on. We have a very useful "batcave" under our house that is nice and dark and has soil for a floor so it doesn't matter what falls on it. This is my new 'studio' for water balloon photography :) That's the garage floor up above and a solid earth bank for the air rifle pellets to go into.

To add another element to the bursting balloons I decided to compare them to fruit. I got a glass display stand on sale and added some fruit from the wife's kitchen. Since these were going to be the test photos I didn't care too much about perfection. I had the camera on a tripod set at iso 100, F9 and 2 seconds exposure which gives me a pitch black background while the light from the flashes is all that illuminates the subject. I couldn't believe that I missed three times in a row at first. I would aim the air rifle with the laser pointer, hold it steady, press the shutter release, and then fire but I was so worried about hitting the glass display that each time the pellet just went above the balloon.
The one flash is fired by the sound activated flash trigger as shown on my blog, the other flash uses its optic sensor to fire when that one fires.

 Eventually I hit it but still too high which is not the effect I was looking for. Also the SB26 flash on the left kept going to sleep even though it wasn't in standby mode - I use older flashes for these experiments when water is flying eveywhere :) The subject was only lit from the right here and after reviewing the first 4 images on computer I realized it was blowing the highlights.

The next shot was also a bit high but the microphone was a bit further away so the balloon was totally gone when the flash fired.

My aim was improving, the mic was adjusted to the right position but I still shot high in the next shot once again while worrying about the glass display stand. Once again it was lucky I missed because the left flash had gone to sleep again. This taught me to do a practice 'clap' before each shot to make sure it was awake.

Another shot... they are starting to improve.

Here is the scene shown at wide angle. I found a can of air freshener and put a hole through it before filling some more balloons.

After filling some more balloons I went back to shooting too high again.

The beauty of this kind of photography is that you never really know what you are going to get - occasionally you get a mental image of it when the flash goes off and then there is the adrenalin rush when you realize you saw a decent split but not on this shot, though it did look interesting.

At this point I decided I had been too cautious and was not getting the results I wanted and determined that if I hit the glass then so be it - things improved from here.
I do need to remember to take a little more time to clean up between shots, and also get better looking fruit because that banana was very soggy and a bit green inside after getting blown off the stand each time by a water balloon bursting.

So, mental note to myself for next shoot: There is no point in spending two hours setting things up only to get 80% of the results I wanted when another 30 seconds of cleaning could make 20% difference to the shot.

Well the batcave is all set up now and I've ordered another 100 balloons so it's time to see what I can do with water balloons and perhaps throw in a bit of superspeed photography so see what I can accomplish :)

A few from Sunday afternoon, the next day.

Some of my work on National Geographic blog.

Flash: Nikon TTL-BL as reliable as your matrix metering.

I decided to do some tests with three different camera for a change because reported results seem to very with TTL-BL as we knew it in the past and the newer bodies. Since the D200 TTL-BL was changed to work as the main flash as well instead of just for backlit situations and since then there have been some tweaks as well. It was always my theory that TTL-BL doesn't simply meter off the centre of the frame as with TTL flash but rather uses a pattern like matrix metering.
In all of my tests below the pictures that show "matrix" are metered for ambient only.
The pictures that say "TTL-BL" on them have the ambient totally under-exposed so as to render a black image without flash to make sure ambient is not affecting the results. With the D90 I switched to centre weighted metering for ambient as well to make sure the matrix pattern for ambient is not affecting the results - though I know it wouldn't anyway.
I started with the D40 and found that the results with matrix metering and TTL-BL were just as quirky as each other.

Then I did more tests with the D90 which showed strange results when the subject was off-centre and actually decreased exposure in these cases with both matrix metering and TTL-BL - showing the two metering systems are tied in with each other and TTL-BL does no simply meter off the centre of the frame - or the exposure would have increased.

The D5100 is obviously a much better program as it did not matter if the subject was not central and the exposure didn't change at all in this situation with matrix metering and TTL-BL flash.
It did slightly change the exposure when white was introduced but then it had to be really close to the focus point diamond - much better results from both matrix metering and TTL-BL, once again suggesting that TTL-BL meters as reliably as the matrix metering program of your camera.

 19/07/2013, I achieved partial success with my trigatron/camera combination.

A misleading statement 30 000 image database.

I have 'issues' with a statement about Nikon's matrix metering . Many people believe that matrix metering compares each image with a database of 30 000 images "stored in the camera" . I don't believe this is accurate .
Here is their statement
Matrix Meter is called the 3D RGB Color Matrix Meter. 
This meter gathers information from 1005 red, green, and blue sensors and factors in distance information provided by the lens as it evaluates proper exposure calculation. This meter instantly analyzes a scene’s overall brightness, contrast, and other lighting characteristics, comparing what is sees against an onboard database of over 30,000 images for unsurpassed exposure accuracy, even in the most challenging photographic situations. By the time the 3D Matrix meter has made its considerations of colors by hue and saturation, tonal ranges by brightest and darkest, areas of similar tonality that are connected or separated, distance to the subject, and compared that to its database generated from photographic images, it’s got a very good idea of what the exposure should be.

If you are a beginner, Matrix is where you should start. As your skills grow, and they will, you will acquire a better understand of when it might be beneficial to use other light metering options.

What is the database of over 30,000 images?
Over the years Nikon has studied the color, area of coverage, focus distance, contrast, size and shape of shadows and highlights and exposure characteristics of over 30,000 actual photographic images and incorporated this data as a reference source for the expert exposure system that is the 3D Color Matrix Meter."

I find this statement particularly unbelievable considering the difference we see in matrix metering in different bodies . My D40 meters very strongly for the focus point selected , the D90 is more accurate and I shoot in matrix metering with both of them .
Think about it, when a D4 is shooting at 10 frames per second is it really likely that in less than a tenth of a second the camera's processor can do all its calculations including flipping through 30 000 images before taking each picture ? Close to impossible I say !
It is more likely that Nikon have studied 30 000 images and written an algorithm based on that research to program matrix metering . There are many other factors involved in calculating exposure and each body is slightly different with different parameters programmed into it otherwise a D40 would give the same exposure as a D4 with the same scene - but this does not happen .
So my next lot of studies will involve analyzing matrix metering to see if I can work out the metering parameters of the D90 - I'm sure it will be similar to many other models out there and the more I understand a program the more benefit I can get from shooting in that mode by being able to 'predict' its reaction to different scenes at different distances.