Thursday, 9 July 2015


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Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Nissin i40 Flash for Four Thirds

My latest buy is the Nissin i40 flash for Four Thirds. I already have a Nissin Di466 Four Thirds but it lacks a rotating head (it only goes up and down) and the FP High-Speed Sync (FP-HSS) mode that will let the flash sync with shutter speeds above the normal flash sync limit of your camera (generally 1/160 to 1/200 sec). For those that take videos on their camera, there is also a movie light. 


For all the features of the flash, this is a pretty cheap unit. It sells for around $270 Australian dollars but I got mine on sale for just $199. That’s not much more than I paid for my Di466 a few years ago.

What’s in the Box?

The first thing you notice about the box is just how small it is. A little cube. Open the box and inside you find an almost cubic bag, a carbineer and quick guide. Unfortunately the full manual is a download and it contains information you really need to know about some of the features.

Open the bag and more surprises. There is the flash itself which has a built in bounce card and wide angle diffuser which is pretty much standard fare these days. In addition, the bag has space for the flash stand and a soft box. Nice that it all fits into a neat package. The case has more padding than the pouch you get with the Di466 but I do prefer a flatter shape for packing into a camera bag. That said, there is no room for accessories in those pouches so it is just a matter of getting used to it.

Build Quality

It seems pretty good in most respects. A nice textured plastic body that appears very solid and a much nicer feel than the smooth and semi-shiny plastic of the Di466.
The bounce card and diffuser operate smoothly – again a good quality feel. The hinged lid for the battery compartment takes a little to get used to. It is probably quite strong but I prefer the slot in battery cassette used in the Di466. The i40’s battery lid is a little odd in its closing motion, requiring a push down and slide action.
The controls are simple and easy to use. I have heard reports of some samples of the i40 lettering wearing off as it is printed directly onto the plastic. I think the flash strength dial is too easy to move but this is only used in the Manual and TTL modes.

Unlike the Di466, you can manually control the flash zoom for lenses that don’t transmit focal length information to the camera. Instructions on how to use this feature are revealed by sliding the bounce card up. Nice feature.
I am not a big fan of the push in flash release on the back. I prefer lever style lock/releases but this one locks automatically and you just have to remember to hold/pull the flash out while pushing in at the same time. I have never minded the old style rotating lock as on the Di466, but the i40’s system is certainly quicker to get up into action when slotting the flash in the shoe. BTW, the flash shoe is metal while that on the Di466 is plastic.

All up, fairly impressive. About the only thing missing would be backlit lettering for the two control dials – that would have turned a great little flash into something truly outstanding.

Size and Weight

Small and light. The i40 would have to be pretty much the lightest and smallest 4-battery rotating/swivel head flash on the market. Even the lower power and lesser featured Di466 is around 20 to 25% bigger than the Nissin i40. The i40 is an excellent match in size for the Olympus Pen and OM-D cameras (and obviously the equivalent Panasonic models).
The Nissin Di466 on the left and the i40 on the right.


The flash power of the i40 is up a little over the Di466 with a guide number of 40 (metres) at ISO100 compared to 33. Both of these are when zoomed to an equivalent of 105mm (53mm on Olympus cameras). Interestingly, the i40 has a guide number of 32 at 25mm so that’s quite good for a “standard” focal length. The flash covers 12mm without the diffuser and the diffuser probably covers the claimed 8mm (I didn’t test it any wider than 10.5mm).
This power of flash is quite adequate if you are also prepared to up the ISO or use faster lenses. For the average user, it will be certainly adequate and is strong enough to use as a bounce flash.
As usual on Olympus cameras, by default, the flash under-exposes a little. Going to TTL mode and adding +1 compensation works fine but if there is any chance of highlights blowing out, you may as well use post-processing to brighten the image a bit. This is not a criticism of the flash – just the way Olympus seems to have set up their cameras for external flash units.
Head tilted up at 60 degrees, bounced off ceiling and walls as well as the built in bounce card. Haruki the cat was quite impressed. F/2.8 at 1/80s and ISO200.
Recycle times are good at no more than 4 seconds from complete discharge with my normal rechargeable NiMH batteries. When left on auto, or TTL with the default 0 compensation (presumably 1/16th of full power, you can fire off multiple shots without and wait. Left at these settings, I could fire off about 5 shots at 2fps before the flash missed a shot.
Shooting in manual mode at 1/64th power, I fired off 20 shots at 2fps and the flash did not miss a beat – the camera slowed down as the RAW buffer was filled. 

High Speed Sync

It took me ages to work this one out. Entering the FP-High-Speed Sync mode is not intuitive. You must turn on the flash and then hold down the pilot light for 3 seconds. The indicator next to the mode dial starts flashing and you are in the FP-HSS mode. On the Olympus OM-D E-M5, a FP symbol will display near the top-right corner of the display. I Googled this but couldn’t find any information – only a lot of posts on discussion forums indicating people could not set a sync speed higher than 1/200s on the OM-D E-M5.
Just another point worth mentioning about the Olympus OM-D E-M5. Why is it that this camera only supports the claimed 1/250s on certain flash units like the Olympus FL-600R? The supplied flash only goes to 1/160s which is even worse. That’s just plain whacky.
I have used the FP-HSS mode indoors with faster lenses and at higher ISO and it works fine at balancing backgrounds with fill lighting. In use, I didn’t find any of the under exposure you get in the standard modes but then I guess that is to be expected as you are exposing for non-flash light settings and using the flash for filling in the shadows.
FP-HSS mode - 1/500s and f/2.8 at ISO1600. The flash has not obliterated the detail and the background is properly exposed. Without FP-HSS, the background would have been underexposed.
I expect the flash will work quite well in semi-shade and average outdoor lighting as well too. At higher shutter speeds, obviously the light output in this mode would be greatly reduced so I wouldn’t be surprised that it may be a little challenged in strong sunlight, but who knows? Certainly there is a much greater scope of balancing fill lighting outdoors with the higher sync speeds and I can seem myself having a little fun experimenting.
Now that raises the issue of the wireless modes - unless you have a second FP-HSS flash with the OM-D E-M5, you cannot do it. The supplied flash does not support this mode and you are therefore limited to 1/160s when using this with the flash off camera and triggered by the little accessory flip up flash. Off camera use with a cable is also an option without a second FP-HSS mode flash for the trigger and you can use a standard Canon compatible hot-shoe cable to do the job.

Remote Use
Like all the Nissin flash units I have (Di466 Four Thirds and Di622 MkII for Nikon) it possesses an inbuilt optical slave trigger that works very well for both pre-flash and first flash use in a multiple flash setup.

It also has built in wireless flash triggering that works in any of 3 channels controlled by the camera/master flash. The little clip on unit supplied with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 provides that functionality; however, if you want FP-HSS flash synchronisation for your remote i40 flash you need another i40 or a flash unit like the Olympus FL-600R.


The Nissin i40 represents great value for money. If you want a low-cost but versatile flash, then there is no better value than the Nissin i40.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Voigtlander 10.5mm f/0.95

Stay tuned for a detailed review of the Voigtlander 10.5mm f/0.95 lens. This lens feels fabulous is an understatement.

Here are some teasers...

On the camera (above) and a size comparison with similar lenses without hoods...

Kowa 8.5mm f/2.8 (left), Voigtlander 10.5mm f/0.95 (centre) and SLR Magic HyperPrime Cine 12mm T/1.6.

... and now with hoods...

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Kowa Prominar 8.5mm f/2.8 - 5 shot panorama of Merimbula Lake

A bit of a play with the Kowa Prominar 8.5mm f/2.8.

Here is a 5-shot panorama taken of an oyster lease in Merimbula Lake.

Shot in portrait mode, 3 shots were taken at each position with under and over exposed shots in addition of the normal exposure. These were then processed in Adobe Camera Raw and exported as uncompressed TIFF files before going through Photomatix. The resultant 5 images were then merged using Photoshop CS5. There was no need to correct distortion or vignetting which were very essentially non-existent.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Kowa Prominar 8.5mm f/2.8 for Micro Four Thirds


I have been waiting months and months for the Voigtlander 10.5mm f/0.95 and while I knew about the Kowa Prominar lens, was not expecting it to be particularly affordable (and of course the Voigtlander won’t be either). The only other option for a high quality ultra wide with a reasonable aperture is the soon to be released Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8. Now if the latter had a filter ring, it would have been a no-brainer. Ditch the Olympus.

The Kowa Prominar 8.5mm lens has been available for a few months from Japan and other places, but when Mainline Photographics listed it on their web site with an availability date at the end of March, I did a quick search of recent reviews and found out that while the 67mm filter thread on the lens is a non-standard pitch (it appears to be 1mm rather than 0.75mm), it will allow you to thread a filter on a good half turn and it will stay in place without binding. Excellent.

A quick chat to Scott at Mainline Photographics who confirmed that he knew the reviewer and if he said it would take a filter, it would. Scott was due to get a sample lens in a few days and stock about a week after that. I hurriedly check the bank account, murder the credit card and commit myself to this expensive chunk of glass.

The Unboxing

Just follow the pictures…

Mainline Photographics still give you a very nice microfiber cleaning cloth with each lens. Nice little touch and these ones last for years.

 The lens came already packed in its very sturdy case…



Initial Impressions

The lens has a nice weight to it. Heavy but not excessively so. If you are familiar with old style manual focus lenses, this is a great example of the genre. It really is one very well made lens – dare I say, it may even better than the sensational Voigtlander. For example, the lettering is engraved like real lenses from the 1960s and earlier. The Voiglander uses the more common screen printing which can wear.

The lens mount is beautifully made. Alas no contacts so no CPU information for the camera.

The aperture ring has a button that allows you to rotate the ring 180 degrees for T-stops, or use for normal photography for F-stops which are indented at each full F-stop. Wonderfully smooth.

The focus ring rotates through approximately 180 degrees with a close focus of 0.2m and runs ever so slightly past the infinity marking. Not so much that you are over focussing. The focus ring is quite firmly damped without over doing it.

The hood is reversible for storage and appears to be made of polycarbonate. A little bit of flex to absorb knocks but very tough. The hood \has a textured feel on the outside and is smooth on the inside - the opposite of most lens hoods. There is an 88mm thread inside the filter. This is fine for round filters but cannot be used for anything else like my square filters.


 Then there is the 67mm thread on the front with – it works. Thank goodness for a metal thread. It really is an unusual design choice, why not a 72 or 77mm filter thread with the standard 0.75mm pitch?

Using the Lens

I don’t think you will find a better handling manual focus lens. The aperture ring is near the body where I like it. Quite wide with a fairly narrow metal ribbed section for grip. Reminds me of a gear out of an old engine.

The focus ring is again well positioned, not too far from the camera body.

Really nothing further to add – everything works as it should – flawlessly.

The Proof is in the Photos

I haven’t done much photography with the lens yet and I will add more photos at a later date. The lens is certainly sharp and seems quite OK at f/2.8. That said, I very much doubt any of the shots below were taken at f/2.8.


There is some fringing in the edges but this is fairly typical of ultra-wide lenses anyway. Very easy to correct as it seemed to be confined to just purple fringing and Adobe Camera Raw took it out with just a single click of a tick-box.


Stay tuned for more photos. This lens is going in the kit bag for my trip to New Zealand at the end of April.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Timbuk2 Sleuth Camera Backpack

I have been looking for a new camera backpack that is airline friendly. The problem I have is that my regional airline only allows quite small cabin bags and I am heading off on an overseas trip soon that allows large bags but only with quite skinny dimensions!!! The last bag I bought for travel does not comply with the current cabin bag limits. As well as my camera gear, I want the backpack to serve as a day pack for hiking.

I looked at many options taking into account the gear I want to take and all were compromises. The best fit (at a reasonable price) was the Timbuk2 Camera Sleuth Backpack. With B & H having the black/grey version on sale, I could pick up the backpack, the optional rain cover and a couple of camera accessories for little more than half the price of the bag from an Australian seller. I thought I would give B & H a go and test out there new low postage rates to Australia.

The Bag
The bag seems very well made and has a quality feel about it. It doesn’t have that “I am a camera bag” look which is a plus.

The outside of the bag is very simple. Two small zippered pockets, provision for holding a tripod, a sternum strap to help keep the shoulder pads in place and other than the zippers for the top and bottom section, that’s about it. Oh, I forgot, a bottle opener that seems to be a Timbuk2 trademark. There is a convenient carry loop at the top and the top section zipper has a flap for rain protection.
A bit more than half the bag is devoted to the general storage area which is fine for me. There is a dedicated camera sleeve and some storage pockets in the top. Very generous padding ensures everything is well protected.
The top section has a waterproof jacket, battery, rain cover (not a standard inclusion of the backpack) and 13.3” laptop in the very well-padded sleeve.
The bottom camera section has a double zipper that opens to the bottom which means you need to take the backpack off to use. The zipper has a very stiff press-stud to offer some time delay for would be thieves.
The bottom section contains a single z-shaped divider and two small secondary dividers to split up the space. I think there should be one more. In addition, the divider between the top section and camera section can be removed. It is quite secure with Velcro on all sides. The Velcro holds well but the camera section dividers do seem far too thick and too high while the z-shaped divider could be a little longer.

The previous picture shows an Olympus E-P3 with Metabones Speed Booster and Nikon 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 lens attached (complete with hood), Olympus 60mm f/2.8 macro and SLR Magic 12mm T1.6 lens. Also in there is a Lee filter holder, 3 x 150x100 filters, a Little Stopper and remote control. There is a little bit of free space but the dividers make it difficult to optimise the use. It is quite difficult to use the space well when you have a reasonably long lens combination, e.g. the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro lens combination.

The backpack itself is reasonably comfortable without the laptop but as with most backpacks that place the laptop against your back, less so when the laptop is included. The straps could have a bit more padding and I find the sternum strap, while adjustable, isn’t ideally placed. The back has foam padding but as it lacks mesh, I would expect it not to be ideal for long hikes in summer.

The bag is well made and offers heaps of protection. It is also small aircraft cabin friendly. Great value for money. This would also make a really great urban walkabout bag.

The excellent padding and so-so partition design makes it hard to optimise the space in the camera section and as a consequence of the extra padding, a little heavy for its size. There are no drinks pockets and the tripod storage means you cannot use the small external pockets when you have a tripod attached. Rain cover is an expensive option.

Good value for money and quite suitable for a walk around town or taking gear on aircraft. Not ideal for hiking or if you have bulky gear.

Monday, 2 February 2015

ASUS Zenbook UX303LN Laptop Review

The Introduction

Welcome to my review of the Asus Zenbook UX303LN. This review covers the i7 version with 256 gb SSD, 8 gb of memory and FHD touch screen.

Digital photography has two main elements, the first of course is capturing the image which of course is the foundation of what you are doing. The second skill is the processing of the image and that requires a computer with a decent screen.

I changed from desktop machines to laptops quite a few years ago as I can take the laptop with me when I travel. My last laptop was a Toshiba P840 which was becoming quite frustrating to use. Crap keyboard and terrible screen. It worked OK if you plugged in a separate keyboard and external monitor but that defeated the versatility of being a laptop.

What to buy? Well I took several months to decide, looking at all the compromises - do I go to a larger 15.6" screen (the old one was 14") or head down to 13" screen. I knew I wanted more resolution and an IPS screen. But with travel a key component, 13.3" screens seemed a good choice and a 1920 x 1080 FHD screen seemed to be the sweet spot.

I also knew 8gb of memory would be fine and a SSD drive highly desirable to overcome slow start up times. Lighter was better, but I knew I could also use a separate graphics module to help speed up screen rendering of images (and also ensure all of that 8gb of memory was available for processing).

There were several machines that quite interested me, especially those from Lenovo which also have fantastic keyboards and are usually fairly easy to upgrade. The problem was the cost after you optioned up the machines with the right amount of RAM, a decent processor and other bits.

I started to see periodic sales of the ASUS UX303LN so checked it out. In the i7 version, it had enough RAM, a good screen and a 256gb SSD which was just adequate for purposes provided a lovely FHD screen into the bargain. I saw one for a good price from The Good Guys and ordered it to be delivered as the closet store was 200km away. Strangely, rather than assigning the order to closest store, it was assigned to one about 4000 km away. To say the service from the Good Guys was "good" would be far too generous. It was quite appalling and took 12 days for the computer to go from the back to the store to the front of the store for collection by the courier. The courier (StarTack Express) was stunning. Picking up the computer around 4:30 PM on the last Friday before Christmas and delivering it at 9:30 AM on the Monday morning. Not bad for a 3500 km air trip and then another 420 km by vehicle.

Now the Computer Review

The first thing that impresses is the packaging. While it comes in an ordinary looking cardboard outer box for shipping, inside is a glorious looking shrink wrapped box that looks so appealing. This looks something special.

Next, peel off the shrink wrapping and raise the lid. Beautifully presented, neatly laid out and no wasted space.

Take all the goodies out of the box and it still impresses.

Take all the goodies out of the box and it still impresses. You get a brown fabric and fake leather computer sleeve, tiny power supply, dongles for USB to Ethernet adaptor and mini-DisplayPort to VGA and a cable strap (which is in addition to the ones on the cables). You also get the couple of sheets of paper (warranty, warnings and a pamphlet to get you going).
Inspection of the machine reveals are pretty neat looking device in its aluminium/pseudo aluminium casing. 
The screen lid has a lovely brown-toned surface and the touch screen has gorilla glass or similar hard plastic that extends to the edges. No flimsy bezel to crack like an earlier ASUS laptop I have in the cupboard.
The screen hinge seems quite good - the movement of the screen fairly light but enough to be stable when open.
The base is made of a casting. It looks like aluminium but doesn't feel cold to touch. While it could be some sort of alloy, doesn't get really cold to touch. It is very rigid and looks great. The bottom appears to be a sheet of anodised aluminium.
Plug her in, charge it up and away we go. First start up is the normal Windows 8.1 and fairly easy and nowhere near as annoying as it use to be. It all fits rather well although not quite like the hewn out of rock build of say a MacBook Pro - but pretty close.
On the left you get two USB3 ports and a card reader. Cards stick out quite a way when inserted. On the right you get a mini-DisplayPort, single USB3, HDMI port and headphone/audio port. On this side is also the power input.
The keyboard has quite nice keys. Not quite up to the standard of say a Lenovo keyboard but well spaced and with adequate travel. You can type at a moderate speed and be fairly accurate with this keyboard and it has variable backlighting which makes it great for working at night with minimal lighting. The only minor dislikes are the lack of dedicated keys for pgup, pgdn, home and end. These are shared with the scroll keys and require the fn button to activate. The power button looks like a normal key in the top-right corner of the keyboard but this hasn't caused any problems so far.
The track pad seems OK, very large and reasonably sensitive. Some reviews I have read claim the track pad surface is glass but it certainly is not. It has a similar look and texture to the laptop keyboard surround but is a separate element. I don't like track pads and normally use a wireless mouse so not much else to say about it.
The screen. It's stunning. Compare new and old side by side.

The tonal range is brilliant. The old Toshiba on the right is totally outclassed. The first job as usual is to calibrate the screen with my Spyder4Pro. Uncalibrated, the screen was 98% of sRGB, after calibration, it was also 98% of sRGB. There was a change after calibration but is was so minor, the screen could have been left as it was. Note, the screen also achieves a stunning 76% of the full AdobeRGB palette. As with any IPS screen, the viewing angles are magnificent. That's better than a MacBook Pro Retina 13!!!
While having a touch screen also results in a glossy surface, it isn't quite as glossy as the old Toshiba and the brightness is in another league and it is quite visible when viewed in shade outdoors and you can still manage (just) with full sun.
After installing the software, I was rather disappointed with the performance of Photoshop CS5 until I realised the machine did not automatically apply graphics acceleration to CS5. This may have been due to the older version of the software but a quick tweak of the graphics engine to force it to use the dedicated Nvidia Geforce 840M processor soon fixed that.
I must admit the processing improvement isn't huge compared to my old i5 processor. That old processor had clock speeds of 1.8 GHz and 2.7 GHz turbo while the new processor 2.0 GHz and 3.1 GHz turbo (but only 2.8 GHz with both cores driven). There is an improvement, but it isn't spectacular.
Likewise, the move forward from the Nvidia Geforce GT 630M to the newer Nvidia Geforce 840M is not sensational either. Still, every bit counts.
What else - oh, that SSD is brilliant. I would never have a normal hard disk as a main drive. There is no going back. One thing I like about the ASUS is that it is upgradable (after removing something like 13 teeny screws from the base). I can upgrade the memory to 12 gb and the SSD can be swapped out for a larger one and there is even a free mSATA half-sized slot that can take another drive. Half-sided SSDs are currently available to 128 gb but I expect that may grow.
Overall, a very nice machine. Very light and compact, well built, some upgrade potential, a stunning screen for photo editing, adequate performance for Photoshop CS5 and other photo editing software and reasonably priced for a light 13.3" laptop.