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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Cactus V5 Flash Transceivers

Well, my units finally arrived. They did say it might take up to 15 days. I ordered two sets of two as I needed three units (two for two SB-800s and one for the camera (D300)). Since it was cheaper per unit to buy two sets of two ($50 each) vs a single unit price of $35, I got approval  from the head of the household finance committee and bought two sets of two giving me a backup just in case. (That's the nice part of transceivers, one unit can function as a transmitter or receiver.)

Those of you that have Cactus V5s know most of what I will say but I thought I would give a mini initial review for those who have never used them or seen them. First, some photos and comments, then the review.

Below, The pieces of TWO kits. On the left are two transceivers. Next are the connector cables provided. Then the box with one unit inside (nicely and securely packed). Finally on the right a stand and an upside down unit. (Above on the next step up is a Frio - more on that in a moment).

Below a pair of transceivers. On the left unit you can see the port to plug the cable into, the transceiver/receiver selector switch, and the battery tray popped out. On the right unit you can just see the channel selector dial (sorry but too tired from work to reshoot). On the top of each, are the test fire button and the indicator light.

Now the connectors. With each PAIR of units you get ONE 3.5mm plug, one PC Synch cable, and one 6.35 mm plug adapter. Seems like you would need two of each cable but for my setup of two SB-800s and a D300, I don't need the cables. (More on that below).

A detached stand, the screw-in connector and again the T/R switch and the PC port. Some have made comments about the location of the screw receptacle but I haven't had a chance to try it yet. (Been up since 3AM, went to work at 5AM) To be honest, with the Frio, the detachable stand is only needed for when you want to stand the trigger/flash unit on a table or the ground rather than a light stand.

A test. The units are about 125 feet away. Fired every time but the first. Noticed that happened several times and then remembered the SB-800s go to sleep after so many seconds. Adjusted the time to go to sleep and the issue vanished. Not a Cactus issue, just something to be aware of when you set up the flashes. By the way, remember to take the flash units out of remote mode. More on that in a moment. I could have gone further but I was barefoot and this was sufficient for a first test. Flicker post reports response over a football field away! Tested alongside a Pocket Wizard produced Cactus range equal to or further than a Pocket Wizard.

Now about that Frio thingy at the top of the first photo. Fantastic cold shoe. No springs or screws to fool with or loose. Even handles the SB-900 foot! Screws onto your light stand and the flash or Cactus slides in.

The other side of the Frio. $13.99 at Adorama with Free shipping. I got my first one free on the McNalley /Hobby Flashbus tour seminar. (Only cost $99 to get the freebie!)

Now back to the Cactus V5s and how they work. Once I changed the flash out of remote mode everything worked great. Range is greater than I expect to ever use. Quality if very good. The battery tray falls out a little easier than I would design but is ok. The Cactus V5 does NOT pass TTL info through to a flash mounted on top or wirelessly. Everything will be manually set.

With the popup flash in commander mode, the CLS flash unit (set to remote) won't respond. The pop up flash wouldn't rise up enough to fire. You cannot use CLS with the Cactus mounted to the camera. (Not sure why you would but it doesn't work.) Then I connected the Cactus transmitter to the D300 via the PC cable and let it hand rather than be mounted in the hotshoe. Popup set to commander mode. One flash set to remote for wireless CLS and one flash with a V5 receiver. Transmitter connected to camera via PC cable. No go on the V5 flash. Close the flash and V5 units works but CLS flash doesn't. Repeated to confirm. You can have one, either one but not both a the same time.

Apparently this is a D300 issue that I never had reason to discover but when the popup flash is up the PC Synch port doesn't fire and when the popup flash is down, it does fire. This means that you can have CLS or you can have Cactus V5 with manually set flash but you CANNOT HAVE BOTH. (This puts us in a situation similar to Canon camp I found out about at the Flashbus tour. Nikons can have one wireless CLS group set to manual and one group set to TTL but Canon cannot. Canon can't, its either all manual or all TTL, no split functions.

Now I can hear some brains turning thinking -"How about if you leave the popup flash down and put a SB-800 on top of the camera?" No go. If you have a V5 mounted, it will NOT pass the TTL through to the hot shoe on top (Cactus are you listening - this is the next improvement you need to implement). Well how about if you don't mount the V5 and just mount the SB-800 directly on the camera? Now you lose the V5 functionality.

One nice feature of the Cactus V5s is Multi-Channel Triggering. If the receiver triggers are set to any channel labeled in blue (Channels 1 -5 of 16) you can trigger all of them if the transmitter is set to channel 1 (also blue). Change the transmitter to any other channel and it will only trigger than specific channel. Change the receivers to any non-blue channel and the trigger will have to match to trigger them.

At $60 a pair, they are great. The only thing better than this is the new Pocket Wizards that can transmit TTL info. How you priced them lately? Since most of us have only used manual flash Pocket Wizards, the Cactus V5s are terrific.

Would I recommend them? Definitely. Would I do it again with MY money? Yes, I did!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Survival Lessons Part 2 (Part 1 was 4/23/10 Titled: Let Somebody Know EXACTLY Where you are) ?)

First, its been a while since my last post. Among other things happening in my life were a crown coming off and discovering that I will have to have a bridge or something put in (Still looking at the options) and thee accidental erasure of my primary hard drive will all my photos on it. Fortunately I had a back up and only lost a few days of shooting. Unfortunately, one of my projects of shooting the Raleigh skyline against a sunset were lost and I will have to wait about six months f the skyline and the sunset to line up again and then I have to align my work schedule and the sunset colors and weather. FREQUENT BACKUPS!

On to today's post, There never was intended to be a part 2 or a series (although it looks like that is a strong possibility). This is a follow-on to the post April 23, 2010 (just a little over a year ago, must be something about spring) where I discussed always letting somebody know exactly where you are so if you need help, they can find you.

BTW - Bottom Line and Lessons Learned at at the bottom of this post.

This one focuses on always being prepared to survive unexpected conditions and being able to get out. Nobody gets up in the morning thinking, today I will wade through thick briers in the woods and will get lost. Getting lost happens unexpectedly. So what happened?

A plane went down outside Red Oak NC June 23, 2011. My wife ( a valuable source of seeing good shots and recommending I go out even when family is coming in for dinner (she actually did this!)) suggested I go out and get some shots. I couldn't at that moment (about noon) but I did get out later about 4M. I drove out to Red Oak and located to emergency responders and television news personnel near the scene. (~ 4:15?) The State Trooper said I could go in and get some photos, just go down the dirt road to where everybody had beaten a path through the woods to get to the plane. I walked down the road and he honked his horn and motioned to me that I had walked past the path. DID I THINK, "Gee this path is hard to see, do I REALLY want to do this?" Nope. I walked back and saw the path and followed it down to the crash site.

I got there and got my photos. No other media got back in there. The Raleigh television WRAL had helicopter shots from overhead. I had chatted with their truck crew before entering the woods. I was about to find out why. OH, Did I mention I was wearing jean, a SHORT SLEEVE SHIRT, and no insect repellent? I had envisioned that the plane went down in a corn field or a tobacco field. No it went down in the deep woods. (see following photos.) 

 You can see the woods are pretty think. I was amazed the trees behind the plane had very little damage but it turned out the 81 year old pilot (very experienced) did what authorities said was the correct thing to do when he lost power the second time shortly after take-off. He lifted the nose to kill forward air speed and pancaked in (hope that is the correct term).

The pilot suffered a broken wrist, broken ribs and a punctured lung. Not great for a 81 year old but all things considered, it could have been a lot worse.
So I went in and got my photos as you see here.

 Somebody from the Civil Air Patrol came in and we talked a minute. As they left, I said, Wait a minute, I 'm almost through and I'll go with you." He didn't hear me. Maybe I shouldn't have used the word "almost".

So I leave trying to remember how I got in. It didn't take long to realize that I was no longer on the responder's path but on the squirrel and chipmunk path! No problem, the path is right over there ... I think.

Ok, I will head back to the plane and start over. Hhmm, easier said than done. I can't find my way back to the plane. Well That's ok, I was driving west when I got there and turned right (north) down the dirt road and then right again (east) to get to the plane crash site.
Aaalllll I have to do is go west and south and I will come to either of the two roads i knew were out there. All I needed to do was face the setting sun (Key Word: Setting)  and go straight and/or left and I would be ok. ... So I thought.  Memories of the television crew out three that would get footage of me coming out of the woods after getting lost didn't appeal to me so I forged on.

After 15 minutes or so, I knew I was getting deeper in the woods and in trouble. I remembered the State Trooper out there at the dirt road so I called 911 and asked to be patched through to the trooper so he could turn on his siren and I would find my way out. -- Hhmmm, trooper has left the scene. I tell them that's ok, I will be ok, I;ll find my way out ok and I forge ahead through the thorns and briers. After another 30 minutes, the skies are clouding up and with the think trees I am having difficulty determining which way is west. I really don't want to be lost after the sun sets and I know I have gone around in a circle a couple of times as some tres looked familiar.

I swallowed my pride and called 911.  They got the State Trooper back out there (or one of them) and he sounded his siren. I could hear it but couldn't tell for sure which direction. The sun was becoming covered by a light layer of clouds and 5 couldn't tell which way was west. I told them not to come in as the brush was too think and no need for them to get scratched up also. Several phone calls back and forth. They said at one point they heard me but couldn't tell where I was. Finally the 911 person locked onto my cell phone's signal and they determined I was headed the correct way. (after circling around several times). As I headed out I walked past a deer hunter's tree stand I had passed earlier.

When I finally got out, I was tired cut up and sore. I had only lost my glasses three times (found them each time) and lost one of my shoes twice (found it both times). Once I got out the rescue squad checked me out   (I insisted I didn't need them but they stayed anyway. At one point blood pressure had been 190 over something. Then it was 117 over 65. GREAT! hadn't been that good since the Air Force. What's wrong? Seems it shouldn't be that low that quick or something. Keep sitting and cooling down. Finally I was released and booked straight to the Rocky Mount Telegram and showed them my photos. They were surprised as they hadn't gotten any (I can guess why with all those thorns etc). One photo ran on the front page with my name and four more on the digital version of the paper. Here is the link to the paper's photos. http://www.rockymounttelegram.com/news/engine-malfunction-blamed-plane-crash-550273

BTW, the newspapers pay for photos and the television stations solicitude them for free. My personal gripe when an event like a big storm occurs and the television stations ask people to send them their photos. Another way to keep form paying professional photographers for professional work. If you wold like to see a good discussion of professionals for their work and the trend to solicit work for free. watch Harlan Ellison's You Tube clip on "Pay the Writer". The language could be cleaner but he is spot on target concerning the subject.

Bottom line: Got the photos. got a few scratches (see photo). Newspaper ran some of the photos and I got paid. They liked my work and invited me to do some more.

Lessons Learned: As my wife lovingly suggested, from now on, I will take a fully charged phone (battery was almost gone that day), and I will take my Garmin so I can get back out(left it in the car, didn't dream I would need it). Also will always take at least a long sleeve shirt and/or a jacket even if it is 90+. And yes I am putting a can of Off repellant in my camera kit also.

Oh yeah, the rescue squad said to check for ticks. Lost count but neighbor saw me walking in the door saw four on my t shirt. I picked off about 20  or so. Wife picked off at least 6 the next day. and then found a few more later. Figure the count got to about 30 ticks total. Debate rages as to whether my name should be Tickman (like the old Cartoon character) or Brier Baby.

My sincere thanks to the NC State Patrol and the Nash County Rescue folks, especially for bringing that ice cold water. Great folks all of them.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Two Good Links to Read

Sometimes you find something well written and you want to pass it along. I will not retype or take credit for others work and if I add to or supplement others work, I always give credit. With that in mind, here are two links to read.

The first is about turning pro photographer. It is well written. It doesn't address photography until about half way down - keep reading. It sounds a little pessimistic but that is the truth of the matter, especially in this economy. The end is more optimistic, especially if you want to be semi-pro. (Pro = Pays the bills; Semi-Pro - Helps with the bills; Amateur/Hobbyist - No money except for outflow).

The link   http://laurencekim.com/2011/04/28/the-photography-business-and-the-american-dream/
Their bottom line "Yes, you can be a photographer and still live the American Dream.  But in order to do that you’ll have to recognize the limitations of working at the bottom of the wealth-creation food chain and what to do about it.  Keep your chin up!"

The second link is about the future of film. An interesting read. 


Some excerpts for those that don't want to click and go there:
"At the turn of the 21st century, American shutterbugs were buying close to a billion rolls of film per year. This year, they might buy a mere 20 million, plus 31 million single-use cameras — the beach-resort staple vacationers turn to in a pinch, according to the Photo Marketing Association." 

"Equally startling has been the plunge in film camera sales over the last decade. Domestic purchases have tumbled from 19.7 million cameras in 2000 to 280,000 in 2009 and might dip below 100,000 this year, says Yukihiko Matsumoto, the Jackson, Mich.-based association's chief researcher." 

"Among those who still rely on film — at least part of the time — are advanced amateurs and a smattering of professionals who specialize in nature, travel, scientific, documentary, museum, fine art and forensic photography, market surveys show."

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A lesson learned

We all have opportunities to learn and grow. Sometimes it because we have become set in our ways and we forget the alternatives and that is what happened to me tonight.

I have been moved by the B&W work of two fellow photographer on FB so I am taking up a challenge to do more in Black and White. (Besides, my first competition win was a B&W photo!) But I haven't done it much in a while so this evening I went out and began shooting more B&W. This doesn't mean everything I do in the next month will be B&W, but you should see more.

On that basis, this is a two for post. Both really caught my eye an made an impact on me; one funny and one serious.

    So what was the lesson learned? Well, long ago I made the decision for shoot in RAW format instead of JPEG. Raw offers a greater flexibility in working with images in Lightroom or Photoshop. So I went out tonight and began shooting in B&W on my camera. I checked the review screen to see how things were going (this is called "chimping", especially if you do it every shot). Things looked ok, some better than most. 
     BUT when i got home I had a little surprise. I had wondered if I would be able to convert the images to color if I wanted to. (Lightroom and PS allow you to change from color to B&W but I didn't know if it would work the other way.) Weellll, the concern was unfounded. What I had forgotten is that when you shoot in RAW, NOTHING affects the digital image. The image seen on the LCD screen is the embedded Jpeg image that is inside each RAW file. That is why I saw an B&W image when I review the images on the LCD screen. But when I downloaded then to my computer and opened them up in Lightroom, I saw the Raw files Color Raw files that is. 
    A few simple adjustments in Lightroom put things back in B&W but some of the toning effects in Nikon cameras are not readily available in LR so I will redo those on a later day when I can reshoot in RPEG format instead of RAW . (They can be done in LR or PS but I don't have the time right now to work through that process). 

Here are the results of my intial quest to do more in B&W (after processing them in LR) 

This building is a rich red. (not dark but rich).

 (Left - What I saw when I downloaded my images)

(Right) What I expected to find) 

Bottom line: What I forgot was not some technically intricate detail but rather the application of a basic concept in shooting Raw, like a foreign language that hasn't been used in some aspects for a while. I just hadn't had the occasion to keep current in it. Now I do. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

What you find right at home - Old Fire Fighting Equipment

People in the east long to photograph out west where "its better". People out west want to photograph the east with all the colors, where "its better". It's always better in somebody else's locale. I have a sunrise shot and a snow shot that people always want to know where I went. I hate to tell them they were both taken at or near the end of my driveway, shooting across the woods on the other side of the street. (PS don't tell anybody, its our secret.)

    So I have taken some photowalks in different areas, Raleigh, cary, and Rocky Mount. (A photowalk is where you simply walk around the area taking photos.) While I was photowalking Rocky Mount at the train station, I discovered discovered a fire station with historic fire fighting equipment across the street from the train station.

It was closed; I guess because it was Good Friday (hold on I will explain a fire station being closed). So I came back the following Saturday. No luck, nobody home. Hhhmmm. Finally I called a local fire station a few days later and it turns out this station is a training and administration station and doesn't have fire trucks etc. Hence, it is only open Monday through Friday, 8 to 5. So I finally got down there during the week (Monday) and asked to take photos. They were more than welcome and explained some of the equipment. The shots are also posted to my photo website at www dot HLDPhotos dot com (spelling to fight spammers) under the Galleries/Projects-Events section.

 Here are the personnel of the fire station. They were a really great bunch of people.

(Left) First of all is the permanent resident, Sparky to the left. He's been around a loong time.

(Right) Pete Weaver 

(Left) Brian West

(Right) Frank Bandy 

(Left) Phillip Davis

 (Right)  Pete one last time.

Yes, it really works! At a fair of some type a few years ago, they loaded the coal and  lit the boiler and had it up and running.

The history board.

These photos are pretty much self explanatory.

How did they know where to go back in those days? Well here is the "automated system".

(Left) Here is the Code Sheet where each number corresponds to a location. (The fingers belong to one of the firefighters who helped me get the shot. They were all great.)

(Right) Here is the machine that gave them the codes. Each wheel had a different "code" of gears that would produce a different ring for each location.

Here is a tape type device that also signaled the station.

The old alarm box.

Whhaahh! These are antiques? I remember these phones growing up!

Now for some fire fighting equipment! 

Here you can see where the driver sat (where the hat is).

(Left) The coal burning engine.

(Right) The Coal for the steam engine. (I believe the fire extingusiher shown is a more modern addition in case the steam engine or coal catches fire.

(Wonder what they did in the old days?)

Did people really jump into those trampolines you see in old movies and did they actually work? YES! The firepeople (Pete)  told me that about 6 or 8 firefighters would hold the "net" and they could catch people from up to the second or third story. Higher than that I guess you hoped for the best.

BTW - I was laying on my back to get this shot as the net is affixed to the ceiling. It is about 8 feet across. The red pole is an unrelated piece of equipment that had to be suspended from the ceiling.

(Left) Here is an old fire extinguisher on wheels. The larger the wheel, the easier it is to roll over holes or rough sections. 

 (Right) An old "bucket" they used to get water or sand to the fire. The fire people would form a long line and pass the bucket to the next person.

I just realized that the person at the front of the line had to be really close to a big fire in order to be able to throw the contents of the bucket on the fire.

The carriage that hauled the hose.

The hose nozzle.

I love that fancy high tech lighting device. There's a certain sense of irony as they had to burn coal to work the steam engine and burn gas to light the light all to put out a fire. I sit here and think about the battery commercial on television about the batteries "firefighters trust" in their communications devices and these firefighters didn't even have electricity fighting the fire! Amazing what they did.

The ladder wagon. Note the two yellow leather buckets hanging off the frame.

In all of this, you may have figured out by now that fighting fires higher than a couple of stories was not very viable.

Notice the two leather buckets used, like the pointed container above, to carry water to the fire. Again, the fighters formed a long line and passed the buckets to the person up front who threw it on the fire. I can't help but think of the arm strength they had to have (not that today's demands are easy by any stretch.)

Fire Fighters Helmets from days gone by.

Nobody was sure but it appears to be a clamp of sorts that allowed fire fighters to hook two hoses together.

(Left) Yes they really slide down the pole to get to the equipment. (Note: the hole is sealed off by a mirror which explains the red floor reflection)

(Right) Poles and ladders on display.

In memory of those that served and those that fell. 

For more photos check out www.HLDPhotos dot com

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