As all photographers, I also always search for the best camera bag. I already tried few of them and my latest one is the Sling-o-matic from Think Tank. I heard a lot of good about the Think Tank bags, so I thought I give them a try.

The Sling-o-matic caught my eye, as I’m not really a big fan of backpack. I know that for long trips, the backpack is the best solution, but that’s not what I needed a bag for. I needed something which I can use for shorter, few hour trips, usually when I’m visiting a city. For instance a sunset shooting. So as I said, it caught my eye, as i wanted something what I just can hang on one shoulder and it still is comfortable to carry.

sling-1
sling-2

Before I bought this bag I researched it quite a lot online. The reviews were overall very positive, with very few negatives. I think it is a little strange to see people complaining about stuff, which has nothing to do with the bag, or that have been clearly stated in the specifications (like, complaining that a 17 inch notebook does not fit into a bag designed for a 15 inch notebook, or complaining that the bag fits too much and then its too heavy), so I will try to stay with the bag.

The bag on its own looks very good. The simple square shape without any overly visible branding or other flashy stuff looks very pleasing. It does not scream that its a camera bag. From outside, the bag looks quite small, but quite big when you have it on your back. That is mostly due to the not really traditional shape. You also get a lot of dividers (more than enough) and chest, waist and tripod straps. The inner space is much bigger than one would expect. If I put my 5D with the 24-70mm F2.8 attached, then add the 70-200mm F2.8 IS II and the 16-35mm F2.8, I still have around half of the bag empty. If I compare it for instance to the Lowepro Fastpack 200, which is the same owerall size as the Sling-o-matic, the Fastpack would be already full with such a load.

sling-3

My impressions with the bag in the field are very good. The first try was strange. The bag sits on the back differently than other bags and backpacks I had before. It takes some time to get used to it. But I’ve been using it now for over 6 months and it became very natural. The size of the bag is also perfect for traveling. It adheres to the airline restrictions and it fits nicely under the seat in any airplane.

One of the things I was skeptical, was the way they advertise how you pull out your camera. I mean the way you shift the bag in front of you an pull the camera out. But after about a hour of usage, I started doing this without even thinking about it. It was so natural. It works also great when you are changing lenses and need a place to put down your lens. Only issue is when the bag is not evenly weighted down. Then it can distort a little, which make it harder to zip it up again. This feature helped me many times, when I had no place to put the bag down.

I have the Sling-O-matic 30, which is the biggest version. It also has a place to store a 15 inch notebook. I tend to store my tablet there, and few times I completely forgot that I had it with me, as you don’t feel it at all.

sling-5
sling-4

One issue that a lot of other review mentioned, and I noticed also quite quickly, is the absence of usable small pockets. There is one which can be used for memory cards and identification documents, but you cant fit much more into it. If you have stuff like remote, bubble level, filters and similar, there is no real space for this. You can put it into the main compartment, but then isn’t very hard to find them again. As the whole inner area of the bag is covered by a Velcro surface, I will try to correct this by finding a smaller bag, that can be attached onto the inner side (haven’t found one yet).

Another thing that is not very natural, is having a tripod attached to the bag. As it is to the side, it pulls the whole bag to that side. I usually don’t attach it and just carry it in my hands. There are also straps to go around your chest or waist, to keep the bag in place. This make longer trips easier, but they are in the way if you want to move the bag in front of you to pull out the camera.

Overall I think the bag is great. I been using it for multiple trips and I always get everything into it that I needed. As I stated, it’s not so great for hiking or any longer trips. As it’s not completely balanced, a long trip with it can cause back pain. The feature where you can change the shoulder you carry it on can help here, but only partially.

For more information on the bag, please visit the Think tank website.

View all my other reviews here.

Magic lantern review (version 2.3)

First of all, as this is a third party software, if you put it on your camera, you are doing it at your own risk. I had no permanent problems with it until now, and I haven’t found any mentions of problems with it, but you newer know. Also if you are not familiar with you camera, don’t try using it. It will overwhelm you with a staggering number of new features which will confuse you. Also Magic lantern is only for specific Canon cameras, check the creators website for a full list.

For the last few weeks I’ve been using the Magic Lantern firmware instead of my Promote control, so here are few of my thought on it.

Magic lantern (http://magiclantern.wikia.com) is not a firmware in a real sense. It’s an upgrade to a firmware, because it does not override you current camera firmware. It just notes in the camera, that it should run it from the card. This is actually the first great thing about it. As it runs from the memory card, you just have to use a different card to turn it off (or hold the set button, while turning the camera on, as Wojciech Toman noted :)).

When you have Magic lantern on your camera, you still can access all the camera settings from the normal Canon menus and everything works as without it (as long as you don’t change any of the ML settings).
Magic lantern provides many new settings for your camera, but as I use it for HDR bracketing, lets take a look at those features. Once you turn on HDR bracketing under the shoot submenu, you can change the following settings:

  • Frames – the number of frames the camera takes at one time, from 2 to 9. You can also choose automatic, which tries to determine how many you need from the first photo (I prefer to set this myself)
  • EV increment – the distance between two shots (from 0 to 5)
  • Sequence – the order in which the photos are taken. There are three options here (0+-, 0++ and –0) but only the 0++ is usable, as it take the photos in the order from the darkest to the brightest.
  • 2-second delay – turn on self timer, very useful
  • ISO shifting – if the camera should use a higher ISO to shorten the longer exposures
  • Post scripts – this is for those who use Enfuse to combine the brackets, it creates a script to make it simpler.

This settings work really well, I would just really like a better photo sequence (-0+, so you can set up the 0 shot and it still starts from the darkest photo) an ability to turn on a longer self timer.

You can also turn on Mirror lockup to avoid more camera shake. But in my experience, this doesn’t work that well. The camera does a mirror lockup before each shot, not just one at the start. This adds a lot of time to you bracket series. I would suggest using this only with long exposure night shots.

With these setting taking HDR brackets is really easy. Here I made a little video showing my exact process while taking them:

Overall, I have to say I really like it. It gives me most of the settings I get from the Promote control and I don’t have to bother with a remote and additional cables. Still there are some problems with it. The settings work most of the time, as it is not 100% reliable. I had to reset my camera few times (pulling out the battery) to get things to work again. Also you have to turn off the camera when you are changing memory cards, and still it doesn’t start sometimes (and you have to pull out the battery again).

Usage update after few months

So now I have been using the Magic Lantern for more than three months and I love it more and more. I have to say, that most of the problems I experienced at the beginning were due to me using it incorrectly  or mostly very fast :) The two main problems, camera not turning on and settings not working all the time were caused by me taking out the card too quickly after I turned the camera off and pressing the shutter button without pausing in the middle positions. As I use manual focusing all the time, I don’t have the need to focus using the shutter button and this was the result :)

Also what I have noticed, that the more battery usage is mostly from me using the screen more as I would without the firmware. So it’s a result of changed habit, the new firmware brought with it.

And here, as an example, one of the bracket series I took with the help of the Magic Lantern firmware

So lets look at the overall pros and cons of magic lanter:

Pros:

  • ads the ability to take more brackets than the standard firmware
  • can be used together with the standard firmware
  • ads a staggering amount of new tweaks to your camera
  • can be removed easily or turned off
  • cost’s you only a small donation or it’s free (based on version), so much cheaper than a dedicated remote

Cons:

  • it’s a third party software, so there is always a chance that it can damage your camera
  • stops working sporadically (not as a complete firmware, but parts of it, for instance it takes only one photo when HDR bracketing is turned on)
  • can cause that you camera wont start (but taking out the battery for few seconds always helps) – check out http://www.magiclantern.fm/bestpractices, to avoid this
  • you can easily forget that you turned something on as it’s not shown in camera info screens
  • it uses more of the battery – check out here http://www.magiclantern.fm/forum/index.php?topic=1573.0 for more about this

Conclusion:

This is a cheap option compared to a Promote Control. It works fairy very well, and for me it replaced the Promote for now. But I still have the Promote in my bag, as a backup and for situations where I really don’t want to touch the camera.

View all my other reviews here.

You can check the price for the Promote Control on Amazon StoreB&H photo or Adorama StoreFor more information please visit the Promote Control Website

Promote Control remote – Review

So I just got the Promote Control remote for my camera, and I decided to write down some experiences I had with it.  The decision to buy one fell quite some time ago, but I waited until I get a new camera, so I have it compatible.

I will focus on the HDR side of things, as that is my main reason for this remote.

In the oversize packaging  you get few thing. The remote, manual, remote to pc usb cable, remote to camera usb cable, carrying case, batteries and a neck strap. I also ordered the separate shutter button for my camera so I can use the long exposures. I immediately connected it to my camera to try it out. I seen few instructional videos, so I didn’t bother reading the manual. The first test was a complete failure. The remote could not find my 5D mark II.

So after little searching I decided to update the firmware. Updating to the last version had a partial success, the remote found my camera. But it still could not take the shots. So I updated once more to the latest beta firmware, which did the trick.

So once it worked I went out to take few test shot series. I have to say, it’s a pleasure to use, once you get the hang of it.  What you need to do is:

  • frame your shot and focus
  • have the lens on manual focus
  • have the camera on Manual mode
  • set the white balance (if you use AWB, it can happen that the camera changes it between shots, even if you shot in RAW, this makes things easier)
  • meter your scene (you can do this also in Manual mode, just change the exposure time until the camera shows you, that you have the right exposure, you don’t have to switch to Av for this)
  • enter the time into your remote and select the number of shots
  • start the sequence
For me this was just a little change, as I already am very used to focus my shots manually (so auto-focus is always turned off) and switch from Av to Manual mode is a small one. You can have the remote connected during this, or just connect it when you need it. It takes few seconds after it’s connected, to recognize the camera, but if you don’t disconnect it, it works instantly.

Sample bracket series taken during the day and the final HDR:

IMG_3890
IMG_3891
IMG_3892
IMG_3893
IMG_3894
IMG_3895
IMG_3896
Stupava-IMG_3890_1_2_3_4_5_6_tonemapped

 

When you take your shots during the day, the USB cable is enough. For night shots you should have the separate shutter cable. When the remote detects that the next shot will be longer than 30s, it will stop and asks you to switch into the bulb mode. You should really check your settings before you take a sequence like this, so you have the same aperture and ISO settings in both modes. And definitely turn off auto-ISO.

It’s great that the Promote shows you the times of the slowest and fastest shutter speeds. You don’t have to count in your head, if you are in the 30s limit, as now you have no limit. You can go as high as you need.  I suggest you set (setting 20 of 26), that you can turn on backlight while exposing. It’s nice if you are able to check how long you have to wait (especially by night shots).

If you have the shutter cable, you can also turn on mirror lock-up. I did this only with night shots, and only when I had a lot of time. It requires to turn this function in custom setting of your camera, so I will probably try to create a custom mode to use this.

Sample bracket series taken during the night and the final HDR (longest exposure 60s on bulb):

IMG_3547
IMG_3547
IMG_3547
IMG_3547
IMG_3547
IMG_3547
IMG_3547
IMG_3547

 

The Promote has many more functions, which I will describe here, as I try them out.  So for now:

Pros:

  • multiple functions on a single remote
  • allows for a staggering number of brackets
  • allows shots longer than 30s
  • easy to use (once it works)

Cons:

  • not cheap for a remote
  • for some functions 2 cables have to be connected to the camera
  • bulky, awkward to hold in hand
  • could’t find the camera, had to update firmware before first use

Conclusion:

It’s not cheap. It’s not small. But it’s great for taking HDR photos. If you have a Canon camera and 3 shots are not enough for you, you should buy it.

I planed for so long to add a review of Photomatix and I never got to it. But now with the release of Photomatix Pro 5, I thought I finally do it. Also, you can view my HDR tutorial, where I describe how you can use Photomatix to edit you HDR photos.

Photomatix is currently probably the most popular and most widely used HDR tone-mapping software. If you are only a beginner, you also probably heard that this is the program to start with, and that also what I did.

Photomatix-2

Photomatix is actually a collections of multiple tone-mapping algorithms, each one giving you different values to adjust and much different results. You can start from scratch or use any of the provided presets. Additional to this, Photomatix allows you to add a final touch to the photos, like contrast or sharpness.

In most of the older versions, Photomatix results were mostly towards the artistic side, but with the latest iteration, the new algorithms create a more realistic result.

crazy-skies-photomatix

I’ve been using Photomatix for multiple years now and and it’s still a part of my workflow (even if not such a big as before). From all the tone-mapping programs I used, it can deal the best with extreme differences in brightness, especially photos with sun in them. It also created the most evenly lit image, if you find the right settings. Photomatix can also create a lot of local detail, which is great if you are going for a grunge look for your photos.

Working with Photomatix is not that straightforward. You can’t really tell what you will get when you start with it. It’s a lot about experimenting, and trying all the different algorithms and adjustments. After a while of using it, you will get an idea what the different sliders do, but I don’t think you will be able to predict the result you get.

Another great thing about Photomatix, it’s the ability to light up handheld shots very accurately (in some occasions it’s much better than Photoshop) and also a great way to remove ghosting from images. You can also just select out the ghosted areas, which is much better than having it work with the image as a whole.

Photomatix-1

Of course not everything is great. The algorithms are not the fastest and sometimes you wait few seconds for a change to take effect even on fast computers. The loupe still does not show the real preview and until you process the image, you don’t see the real result. The algorithms also can create a lot of additional noise and make the photo a little softer.

Overall, if you want to use HDR in you photos, this is one program you should have in your arsenal. It takes some time to get good results from it, but the time you spend experimenting is worth it. Also I suggest you never use the result as the final photo. Blending it with original exposures is always advised.

For more info, please check out my HDR tutorial, where I describe how to use it, and the Photomatix page. Also for all those who think of buying it, you can use the code “HDRSHOOTER” for a 15% discount.

View all my other reviews here.

And here are few of my photos where I used Photomatix for the initial blending:

Crazy skies
Sunny side of Paris
On the opera stage

Page 11 of 11« First ...891011
FREE EBOOK!!!
Subscribe to my newsletter and get a free Capturing fireworks ebook. 
Subscribe