Tamrac Rally 6 Camera Bag Review

I have a nice backpack style camera bag that holds most of my gear, but it’s big, bulky and heavy, not ideal for carrying a small setup. Plus, it looks like a “camera bag,” which isn’t always desirable.

Tamrac Rally 6 Main Storage Area
Tamrac Rally 6 Main Storage Area

When I travel, I usually have just one body, a flash and two lenses, plus some extra gear and don’t need a big bag. Backpacks are great for carrying gear, but they’re not ideal if you want to frequently access that gear. I’ve been reading and checking out messenger bags, and they seem perfect. Unfortunately, most are pretty expensive, over $200, which is more than I wanted to spend.

While at the local Best Buy today I checked out the Lowepro Passport Sling and liked it, but there were things that concerned me. First, I wasn’t sure if it would be big enough to hold my gear, and I wanted something with more padding.

Tamrac Rally 6 Front Pocket
Tamrac Rally 6 Front Pocket

I ended up purchasing the Tamrac Rally 6, which was on clearance for a ridiculous $39. It’s roomy, well padded and very comfy. It can hold a full size DSLR (but not one with a grip) with a medium length lens about 6 inches or less attached, a full size flash such as a Canon 600EX-RT and a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. The flap has Velcro and a plastic clasp to keep it shut. It seems to work fine in normal use, but I wouldn’t trust it if there’s a chance the bag would get turned upside down. It’s not that kind of bag. It’s just a basic “satchel” that hangs around your neck and makes it easy to get to your gear.

Tamrac Rally 6 Side Pocket
Tamrac Rally 6 Side Pocket

The bag features a zippered pocket on the flap with divided pockets inside that are perfect for cell phones, batteries and other gear. There’s also a second pocket on the backside that doesn’t have a zipper but is perfect for maps and other papers. On the sides are two mesh pockets that can hold other gear. I use one of them for my Black Rabid but haven’t decided on what to us the other one for.

Here are some pictures showing the bag and some of its features. What bag do you use? If you could pick any bag, what would you choose?


Photo Destination: New York International Auto Show

If you’re looking for something fun to do that provides a unique photo opportunity, the New York International Auto Show in New York City is definitely worth a visit. This year’s auto show is March 29 – April 7, 2013.

Nancy & Matt in an Old Subaru
Nancy & Matt in an Old Subaru

We went last year and had a great time, and the best part is that cameras and video equipment are allowed. Like most events, I suggest getting there early before the crowds. Touring the whole show takes a long time, and seeing everything in one day may not be possible, so plan carefully what you want to see.  Start with the things that interest you most because you’ll find yourself getting distracted by all the interesting things to see (lovely female models) and may not make it to the area you wanted to see the most.

Mini Display, Feels like London
Mini Display, Feels like London

The New York International Auto Show is the most attended show in North America, and auto manufacturers often announce new products here. Some interesting vehicles being revealed at the 2013 show are the Audi A3, Cadillac CTS, Chevy Camera SS, Mercedes Benz CLA 45 AMG, Toyota Highlander, and a 1200 horsepower Shelby Mustang plus others.

The show is held in the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, which is a huge glass building. It has four floors and covers 6 blocks between 34th and 40th Street on 11th Avenue. If you attend, be prepared for a lot of walking, and if you buy food at the show, high food prices.

Bugatti Veyron
Bugatti Veyron

Even though some refer to it as a “car” show, there are lot more than cars on display, over 1000 vehicles total. One whole floor is dedicated to trucks, with everything from off road type pick ups and SUVs to cargo vans that a delivery company would use. Another floor features motorcycles, and others have everything from million dollar exotic super cars like the Bugatti Veyron to “mom and pop” cars that a family would drive. There are also lots of booths with vendors promoting products that aren’t automotive related.

Matt Checking Out the Modern Warfare 3 Jeep
Matt Checking Out the Modern Warfare 3 Jeep

Because cameras are allowed, photo opportunities abound, but with over a million people attending the show during its 10 day run, getting people-free photos of the cars can be a challenge. Some of the displays, especially the exotic and concept cars, have ropes around them, and people tend to line up around the ropes. Usually, if you wait a minute or two, you’ll make your way towards the front of the display and have a good shot of the car, but because people come and go so quickly, you need to shoot quickly before someone comes into your camera view.

Matt Practicing his Driving Skills
Matt Practicing his Driving Skills

Last year I brought a Canon S95 point and shoot last year, and it worked great.  An expensive camera isn’t needed, but something wide a wide angle lens is best since you’ll be relatively close to the vehicles. The show features all kinds lights, from the main lights in the convention center to the ones being used in the displays of the cars themselves, so I shoot on auto white balance, which is pretty accurate most of the time. I shot RAW and can adjust the white balance if needed in post.

Most of the displays are bright and super high ISOs are not needed, but a flash really makes the color pop. The display lights can create a lot of specular highlights and shadows, and the flash helps balance everything out. If your camera allows for it, I’d shoot in aperture priority mode so you can control depth of field.

If anyone is going to the show, let me know, and maybe we can meet up and say hi.

Bushnell Photography Meetup

Just got back from another great photo through the MID-CT Photography Meetup Group here in Connecticut and had a great time. This Meetup was at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford, a gorgeous facility that opened in 1930 and features 2 theaters that have hosted famous Broadway shows and performers including Duke Ellington, Katherine Hepburn and others. Our group consisted of 40 photographers that split into 2 groups once inside so there weren’t so many people in a single area at at time. The shoot was awesome because we got to see things people don’t normally see like the projection room where the spotlights are and where films are projected from if there’s a movie being played. The greatest thing was spending time with other photographers and seeing how each person views a subject differently.

If you’re in the Connecticut area, I highly recommend going on a tour at the Bushnell. They’re free to the public and given by volunteers who have a love and knowledge of the facility. The Bushnell can be contacted directly through their website or (860) 987-6000. If you’re not in CT, check out the Meetup site and see if there are any photography groups in your area or join a photo walk or workshop hosted by a professional photographer. I’ve enjoyed all the events I’ve attended so far.

Below are some of my photos of the event, and here’s a link to the photos taken by others.

Switching to Canon

Hi all. After doing a lot of research, reading reviews and talking to folks, I purchased the Canon 5D Mark III and the 24-70 f/2.8 L II. Over the years I have used cameras from a lot of manufacturers, and the Canon is by far the best.

The photo above was one of the first pictures I took with the camera. I don’t really know much about the camera yet, so I took a quick picture of Nancy and bounced the flash off the wall to give it a better look than pointing the flash straight at her. I could have filled the shadow side a bit if I’d used a reflector, but I’m pretty happy with the results for not really knowing how to work the camera.

Those who’ve been following my blog know that I’d been using Olympus OM-D since December and may be wondering why I switched. Well, the Olympus is a great system and has a lot going for it. It’s light. The body is small, and the lenses are super sharp. Even with all that, I still wasn’t totally happy.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been shooting for a long time and think traditionally, but I really like bodies that have a lot of buttons on them. I’m not opposed to menus, but if I want to change something like white balance quickly, I prefer to push a button rather than go into a menu. The OM-D has buttons, but they were a little small and hard for me to push.

This may seem silly, but I prefer the 3:2 format of a traditional DSLR over the 4:3 format of a lot of cameras. The Olympus can be setup to shoot in 3:2 format, but it’s a cropped picture and not a native format. I prefer it to be native.

The biggest reason thing was the way Adobe Lightroom & Photoshop handled the Olympus RAW files. There are documented reports showing how the Olympus Viewer 2 software handles RAW files better than Adobe, so what I was doing was using Viewer 2 to convert my RAW files to TIFF then working on those in Lightroom. I could have edited the RAWs directly in Lightroom, but I wanted the best quality possible, and that meant using Viewer. For me, that extra step added too much time to my workflow.


Max with Flash Direct on Camera
Max with Flash Direct on Camera

The photo on the left of my dog Max was one of the first I took using the 600EX-RT. I don’t normally like to shoot straight on with a flash, but I didn’t have a good surface to bounce light off of. Plus, Max constantly moves around, so I snapped the photo while I had the opportunity.

So, after talking things over with Nancy, we decided to sell the OM-D gear and go back to a more traditional DSLR. At this point I had no system and was free to go with any brand camera I wanted. I looked at the Nikon D800 & the D800E but read that some had focusing and oil issues, and didn’t want to a chance with that. Plus, I liked a lot of the features the Canon offered.

Some of the things that were important to me was back button focus. This is huge and something I really like. If you have a Canon and haven’t used it, give it a try. Most Canons EOS cameras can do it. I also wanted high ISO capabilities, and the 5D is awesome in this regard. Other important factors I thought about was lens selection, manufacturer support and availability of third party accessories. Canon is great for all of these.

I started simple with just the body, one lens and one flash so I can see how the camera works and decide what gear I should get next, and while I haven’t figured everything out, I absolutely love the gear so far.

If you’re thinking of getting a camera or have any questions about the 5D Mark III or any other Canon gear, drop me a line. I’d love to share what I know.

Import EXIF Data into TIFF Files Created in Olympus Viewer 2

Folks have been talking on Google Plus about converting Olympus OM-D E-M5 RAW files, and after some testing, they came to the conclusion that files converted using the Olympus Viewer 2 software look better than those converted using Adobe Lightroom 4. Rob Knight created an informative YouTube video comparing the differences and another YouTube video showing his workflow in Viewer 2 to make that happen.

I use Windows and he uses a Mac, but both versions work about the same. However, my workflow is a little different, so I thought I’d explain it below. I only use Viewer 2 to do the initial conversion from RAW to TIFF, which I then edit in Lightroom. Because I’m not using Viewer 2 to cull my files convert all of them. While in the “browse screen,” I select all the files and click the RAW button up top.

Olympus Viewer 2 Browse Screen
Olympus Viewer 2 Browse Screen

This brings up the RAW Development screen where adjustments are made using the adjustment panel on the right. The only adjustments I do in Viewer 2 are white balance, noise reduction (I actually turn it off and make sure V2 doesn’t do any) and then distortion control and vignetting. I do everything else in Lightroom.

Adjustments are made to the files that are selected (not checked off, but selected) in the “browser” section at the bottom. If one file is selected, adjustments will only be done on that single file. If multiple files are selected, all those files will get the same adjustment. The check box is for exporting files. If a file has a check mark, it will be exported. If it doesn’t, it won’t, even if adjustments have been made to the file.

Olympus Viewer 2 Raw Development Screen
Olympus Viewer 2 Raw Development Screen

Once all those adjustments are made, choose the save button up top, which brings up the “saveall” screen. We could export with 8 bit files and include the EXIF data, but RAW files contain more than 8 bits of data, so we’d be throwing some of the info away. Choosing 16 bits keeps the most amount of data possible. Unfortunately, there’s no option to keep the EXIF data when using 16 bit, but there’s a workaround for that. EXIF data is important because it includes information like shutter speed, aperture and more.

Olympus Viewer 2 Raw Save All Screen
Olympus Viewer 2 Raw Save All Screen

After exporting the files to TIFF format, I use ExifTool by Phil Harvey, which will take the EXIF info in the ORF Raw files and import it into the TIFF files. It comes in both Windows and Mac versions. The Windows version is a single, standalone file that I copied into a folder that’s located in my Windows path. I wanted to be able to run the program directly from the command prompt without having to change directories, so I created the batch file below and named it goex, short for Go EXIF. The period at the end of the last line is required.

@echo off
cd “D:\Users\Mark D. Hall\Desktop\%1”
@echo on
exiftool -tagsfromfile %%d%%f.orf -all:all -overwrite_original -r -ext tif .

For this to work, the ORF RAW files and recently exported TIFF files must be in the same directory. Then, I open Command Prompt and then type “goex 100olymp” or whatever the name of the directory is where the files are stored. I usually save mine onto the Desktop when I import them from the memory card. The good thing about this batch file is that you can have nested folders, and the program will work on all directories under the one you specify.

Going into detail about how paths and batch files work is more than I get get into into this post, plus I don’t really know how to explain it, but there’s a lot of information available on the net. If you have any questions about how to get ExifTool working, the developer is super responsive and very helpful.

Micro Four Thirds Prime Lenses

I recently read a great blog post by Rob Knight where he talked about Micro 4/3 camera lenses and which ones work best for him. After reading that I started thinking. I participate in the Olympus OM-D Fan Page and Micro Four Thirds community pages on Google+, and it seems like the many Micro 4/3 owners prefer to use prime lenses rather than zooms, which is the opposite of traditional DSLR users, who, I think, prefer zoom lenses. At least this is what it seems like to me after talking to photographers from both camps. I rarely hear a traditional DSLR user talking about primes. Why is that? I think it has to do with price, weight and size.

There are some good Micro 4/3 zooms like the Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 kit lens. It’s sharp, water resistant and has a handy macro mode, but it can have limited depth of field and be a little slow in low light. In situations where a faster lens is needed, a prime can’t be beat. Also very popular is the Olympus 75-300, which is actually being redesigned, with a new model coming soon. While these are great zooms, it still seems that many users are shifting back to primes.

When I had my full size DSLR equipment, I used all zoom lenses, but now that I have the Olympus OM-D E-M5, I, too, am focusing on primes. The first one I bought was the Olympus 45 f/1.8, which I great reviews and is relatively inexpensive, plus it only weighs 4 ounces, compared to a traditional DSLR 50mm f/1.8 lens that can weigh over 6 1/2 ounces and be quite a bit bigger. A traditional DSLR 50mm f/1.4, which is the lens that many people go with, weighs around 10 ounces, 6 ounces more than the Olympus. And that’s just one lens. If someone carries 3 or 4 lenses, that can be quite a bit of extra weight when using a traditional DSLR. If weight is a concern, a Micro 4/3 camera is something to look at.

Another prime lens that gets amazing reviews is the Olympus 75mm f/1.8Scott Bourne and others have said it might be the sharpest lens ever tested. It weighs less than 11 ounces, and with the crop factor, its the equivalent to a 150mm full frame lens. To compare, the Canon full frame 135mm f/2.0 weighs 26 ounces. The Canon lens gets great reviews, but it’s 2 1/2 times heavier and is a whole lot bigger.

The list goes on and on of the amazing prime lenses that Olympus and Panasonic keep coming out with. They’re small, sharp and easy to handle, plus their relatively low priced, which I think is why users are so open to using them. Because they have wide apertures, they all focus really fast. It’s easy to carry 3 or 4 small Micro 4/3 primes in a bag, but carrying that many full frame lenses would take up a lot of space and be really heavy.

I don’t see traditional DSLR equipment going away anytime soon, but I think smaller camera systems like the Micro 4/3 type are going to become increasingly popular. Everyone has different needs, and if you’re in the market for a new system, please take a moment to give one of the new cameras from Olympus or Panasonic a try. They are really amazing and take some great photos. What about you? Do you prefer primes or zooms? Do you plan on getting or trying out one of the newer, smaller cameras?

Move Around for the Best Shot

Move around for the best shot? What are you talking about, Mark? How can you get a quality picture if you’re moving around? Won’t it be blurry? No, I’m not talking about moving around as in dancing in place while taking the picture. I’m talking about looking around, seeing if there’s a better angle or spot to shoot from. Let me explain. Last autumn, Nancy and I went to nearby Devil’s Hopyard State Park to take some photos of Chapman Falls, a multi-cascade waterfall that drops about 60 feet. With the leaves being in full color and rain the day before, I knew there was a chance for some good photos. What I didn’t count on was the 100 other people there with the same thought.

After eventually finding a place to park, we made our way down the main trail to the foot of the falls and was surprised to the area full of people. With so many people around, I did a couple things to get my pictures faster and to avoid hogging the prime spot for too long, which brings me to a quick rant.

I try to be polite all the time, and when I see someone taking a photo, I wait for them to take their photo. When I see they’re done, I ask them if they’re done because I don’t want to move in if they’re going to take another, but so many people are not this way. They’ll just walk right in front of someone taking a photo, sometimes spending several minutes there, when the photographer only needs a couple seconds to get their shots. It reminds me of a recent experience pro photographers Rick Sammon and Juan Pons had on one of their workshops with some folks exhibiting rude behavior.

Anyway, I didn’t want to hot the prime spot for too long, so I did some things that any photographer can do in situations where there are a lot of people vying for a small spot. I stepped aside and got my camera set up with the settings I wanted to use before moving in to take the photo. With waterfalls, a slow shutter is needed to blur the motion, so a tripod is a must. When a spot opened up, I moved in, set up my tripod, quickly composed the shot and took a picture. I did a couple more with slightly different settings and different angles and moved out. Total time in “the zone,” less than a minute.

Chapman Falls, East Haddam, CT
Chapman Falls, East Haddam, CT

I was able to get the shot at the left, which I like, but I wanted something better, which I couldn’t with so many people around. I figured the pictures I took were the best I’d get and hiked back up top, but when I got to the top, I started looking around and noticed a different trail heading down the opposite sides of the falls. I had to be careful because it was a little precipitous from the recent rains, but I ended up having the entire area to myself except for a girl sunbathing on a nearby rock.

It was great because I was able to set up my tripod and move around wherever I wanted and spend as much time as I needed to make sure I got the shot right. I ended up getting the shot at the top of the blog post, which I like a lot more than shot of the entire falls. Others feel the same way because that photo had a pulse rating of 91.5 versus a 59.7 on 500px.

Sometimes when we take photos, we may get so focused on what we’re seeing that we may forget to look around and see if there’s a different way we can take the photo, but I so glad I did because if I hadn’t seen the side trail and moved over there, I wouldn’t have been able to get this one. There’s always a lot going on when taking photos, but looking and moving is something that can help everyone take better photos I think.

Photo Walks – A Great Way to Improve Your Photography

Hi everyone! Well, I did something I’ve heard about for a long time but have have never done. I attended my first photo walk yesterday, and let me tell you. I wish I had gone to one sooner. I was always nervous to join a club or go on a walk because I feared that everyone would be in competition with each other. You know, wondering who was the best photographer, who had the best camera and things like that. Well, that was not the case at all.

My friend, Rich, told me about a Meetup, or photo walk, that the MID-CT Photography Meetup Group was having at Bushnell Park in Hartford and asked if I wanted to go. Bushnell Park is Hartford’s version of Central Park in New York City and has lots of statues, views of the buildings and activities to photograph. Alone, I wouldn’t have gone, but with his encouragement, it sounded fun.

When we arrived, we immediately met up with others and began talking. I used to geocache, and it was a very similar experience to that. You may not know everyone, but because you share the same hobby, there’s an instant connection.

After talking for awhile we headed out and started taking photos. I was on my own for awhile and with Rich some of the time. The park is relatively small, so every 15 or 20 minutes, we’d pass someone with a camera and stop and talk for a bit. It was neat because when you’d pass someone, you’d share ideas and point out things to photograph. “Did you see the hawk over there?” “No, but I’ll check it out. Did you go to the capitol yet? It has some amazing detail in the stone work…” Things like that, and it was cool.

The Pond at Bushnell Park
The Pond at Bushnell Park

For example, the location shown in the photo on the right was a very popular spot. The sculpture, the buildings and the pond attracted everyone’s attention, and while I’m happy with my photo, it was great to see how everyone else shot the scene. One photo was a black and white closeup of the sculpture, and another was taken late in the evening with the glow of the building and park lights reflecting off the pond. Some were shot horizontal and others vertical, and seeing all these photos gave me ideas for future shoots, not to copy them, but to learn from and push me to try different things.

So, even though I was reluctant to ever go on a photo walk, I’m so happy I did. Not only was everyone friendly, but they were also willing to share their tips and explain why they like to do certain things, which is totally not what I expected. Because of my positive experience, I plan to go to more of these, and I’d encourage other photographers who may be on the fence to give it a try. The Meetup site is a great place to start, and if there’s nothing in your area, check with a local camera store. They may host their own get togethers or have info on some in the area.

If you have any questions about Meetups or photo walks, please let me know, or if you’re in the Connecticut area and would like to learn more about the MID-CT Photography Meetup Group, they would love to hear from you.

Photo Destination: New York City

To me, there is no better city to visit at Christmastime than New York City. The lights, the decorations and the busyness all combine to give one a “feel good” attitude. There’s something magical about skaters floating by at Rockefeller Center while the large tree glistens in the background.

I normally carry my camera gear in a backpack, but because this time of year is so busy with people all around, I like to travel light and brought a small, Lowepro over the shoulder bag. For gear, I went light with an Olympus OM-D E-M5 and the 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 kit lens and the Olympus FL-600R flash.

Because of the 2 times crop factor, and a 35mm equivalent length of 24-100mm on a full frame camera, this is the perfect walk around lens. It’s wide enough to get expansive views or capture the height of a skyscraper and has enough telephoto length to zoom in for closeups. Plus, as with all Olympus lenses, the quality is top notch and very sharp. The one downside is that it can be a little slow if you’re in darker areas.

New York has a lot to see and do, and one of my favorite things is Central Park. During this trip, we went to The Mall, which has been photographed many times with gorgeous trees hanging over the path, and many movies have been shot here.

A lot smaller, but still very beautiful, is Bryant Park, located just west of Grand Central Terminal. It’s definitely worth a visit. In the winter you can go ice skating, and if you visit at Christmastime, small shops offering a variety of crafts and other goodies are setup throughout the park. If you go to Grand Central, be sure to visit the Whispering Arch. It’s really fun, especially with kids.

And no Christmas visit is complete without a stroll down 5th Avenue to admire the beautifully decorated shops or a stop into one of the historic and spectacular churches. If you plan to visit New York and have any questions, let me know. I will try to answer any questions you may have.

Olympus FL-600R Flash Review

I recently picked up an Olympus OM-D E-M5 and a pair of FL-600R flashes and wanted to test out their remote capabilities because I’d read that their wireless capabilities were first rate. I grabbed a Promaster 20″ soft box, a silver reflector, the awesome Olympus 45 f/1.8 and my wife, Nancy, to use as a model and began my setup. I chose the 45 f/1.8 because of its amazing sharpness and shallow depth of field, which results in some great bokeh.

I took the photos near our Christmas Tree and had a very limited amount of space to set up. I put the softbox on her right, a little above eye level and about 3 feet from her face. The great thing about the FL-600R is that all settings can be controlled from the camera, so I set the flash to full power and TTL mode.

Nancy with Softbox and Reflector
Nancy with Softbox and Reflector

For the first few pictures, one of which is shown to the left, I placed a silver reflector on her left side to fill in the shadows, but because of the tight space, only a little light bounced back onto her face, which created darker shadows than I wanted. To fix this, I placed a second FL-600R with a 6×8 softbox by Fotodiox on her left set to -1 1/3 stops and TTL mode. This resulted in the look I was going for and resulted in the photo above.

I’ve only just begun to explore the features of the OM-D and the FL-600R, but I’m looking to experiment more and try different things.