Category Archives: Equipment

Apple Does It Again

In an earlier post, I lauded an experience I had while contacting Apple. Well, it’s happened again.

Except for a brief flirtation with a MacBook Pro in 2003, I’ve strictly been a PC user until 2013, when I bought my second MacBook Pro. This time I’ve kept if for more than a few weeks. In fact, it’s been the only laptop I’ve used since I bought it. And I love it. Although my desktop computer is still a Window-based PC, I permanently retired my PC laptop I was using at the time.

Back when I bought my current MacBook Pro, I also bought the Parallels app to be able to run Windows alongside Mac OS X. I had no idea what I was doing when I first got the machine, and apparently either corrupted or maybe even deleted at least part of Parallels. Over the past couple years, I’ve tried to revive it on my own, but with no luck. Since I had configured my Mac with versions of the apps I used most often, it was never a real problem.

Recently, I’ve been wanting to do more writing on my Mac, but really missed using WordPerfect like I do on my PC desktop. A couple weeks ago, I decided I finally going to figure out how to get Parallels working, and install Windows 10 and WordPerfect on my Mac. (Yes, WordPerfect still exists, and is as great as ever. I’ve been using it since the DOS days. It just keeps getting better.)

After trying everything I could think of myself to access Parallels—which was an appallingly short list—I researched bringing the computer to either the Genius Bar at a local Apple Store or to an Apple reseller who also had a tech service department.

When none of that worked, I decided to search the Apple website for any other possible solution. In three clicks, the site suggested the best thing for me to do was to talk to a support tech. After logging in with my Apple I.D., it asked me to type with phone number would be best for them to call me, then click the link.

I did as they requested. Before I had even released the Send key, my phone rang. It was a computer voice from Apple saying they got my request, and asking if I could briefly hold for a tech. Then the voice asked if I wanted pop, classical, jazz, or silence while I was on hold! Never had those choices offered anywhere else.

A couple minutes later, Stacy came on the line. I explained my issue, and she asked if she could view my computer online. She gave me clear instructions to connect, and within seconds, she could see my computer. Interestingly, she used a red arrow cursor to point to what she wanted me to click. But the connection did not allow her to access or control anything on my computer. She could only tell me what she wanted me to do, then point to where she wanted me to click or to enter something by using her red arrow cursor. Pretty smart on Apple’s part. It completely eliminates any complaint that “Apple did something I didn’t understand and messed up my computer”. She explained what and why she wanted me to click on certain things, then I had to do the clicking or typing.

After about 25 minutes of smart, thought out, useful attempts, she agreed that it would be best for me to leave the fragments we found through Time Machine, but then buy the update (I had version 8 on my machine and Parallels is up to version 12!) She also sent me an e-mail with a summary of what was done, along with my case number and a link if I needed any follow-up. Pretty incredible service.

After we got off the phone, I upgraded my Parallels, bought Windows 10 and WordPerfect, and it has all worked flawlessly. Heartfelt thanks to Stacy P and Apple. It’s such a wonderful surprise to have such incredible service that you just have to make time to share it with others.

You can bet my next laptop will be another MacBook Pro. It goes nicely with my iPad, my iPhone 6s Plus, and my iPod. Now if Apple could only make iTunes more user-friendly….

©2016 Tom Vadnais Photography

Thom Hogan’s Nikon Complete Guides

Late summer 2001, I swapped my beloved Nikon F5 film camera for a Nikon D1x. While I had been dabbling in digital using a Nikon Coolpix 990 compact digital camera, the D1x was my first digital SLR. I had been keeping up with the Nikon DSLR developments through Thom Hogan’s website, and decided it was time to make the switch.

Of course, the fundamentals of using a camera (aperture, shutter speed, focusing, etc.) were the same between film and digital. But digital brought so many other tools and techniques to learn (white balance, instant review, histograms, blinking highlight warnings, etc.), I decided to take a workshop with Thom so I could start to master using a DSLR. It was a wise choice, as I came away from that workshop with a good working knowledge of my new camera.

Well, Thom didn’t stop with workshops. Since the earliest days of Nikon DSLRs, Thom has written a series of incomparable users manuals, which he justly calls ”Complete Guides”. I download the fully searchable PDF e-books, then read them (and refer to them) on my iPad. They thoroughly explain every button, switch, wheel, and menu item in unsurpassed detail. If that’s all they did, they would be worth the read.

But they do much more. Thom suggests specific settings, and recommends against others, based on his long-time real-world use of the cameras. But, again, he does even more than that. For each recommendation, Thom discusses how and why those settings will affect your photography. These discussions allow you to understand what each function or setting does, why it does it, and how you can best use it. If you own a Nikon DSLR, whether FX or DX, I cannot recommend Thom’s guides highly enough.

  • Even though I’ve been shooting with a pair of Nikon D810′s for over a year (and with a fairly similar D800E before that), I’ve been looking forward to his D810 book all along. Well, it’s now here. Even if you’re an experienced Nikon owner, if you own a D810 (or any other Nikon DSLR), you owe it to yourself to buy and read Thom’s Guides.

    ThomHoganNikonD810ManualCover

    Here’s a link to his D810/D810A Guide: http://www.dslrbodies.com/books/bythom-complete-guides-/nikon-d810-guide.html. Any of his guides can be accessed with the link to his home page: http://www.bythom.com/.

    ©2015 Tom Vadnais Photography

  • Amazing Service from Apple

    This isn’t strictly photography-related, but can be for anyone using any Apple product. All customer service should be like this!

    The weekend before this past one, I upgraded to an iPhone 6. While I was in the AT&T store, I had to log into my iTunes account with my Apple ID in order to get the phone activated. When I went to do that, I was told (well, on the screen) that I had to change my Apple ID to an email address. My Apple ID had always been a series of letters, but not an email address.

    I changed it as requested, and it worked great in the store.

    When I got home, I tried to get all my apps on my new phone through iTunes. The apps copied over just fine, but I couldn’t use the ones I had bought, and none of them would update. I kept getting an error message that they were bought using a different Apple ID, so were not authorized on this phone. I checked all settings, and tried several things, but to no avail.

    After searching the Apple site for a solution, I sent a message via their site stating my problem. Within a second of clicking Send, my phone rang. It was Apple. I was shocked it was even possible for the call to have been made so quickly. The message said they had received a request for help, but there might be a delay on the phone due to call volume. Yet within a minute, I was talking to a live person! He checked a couple things, then said I would need to talk to a specialist. He said they were quite busy at night (and this was a Sunday night); it would likely be at least 45 minutes on hold. Mornings are always better. Could they call me at 8:45 in the morning? I was impressed, but still skeptical. Continue reading

    Digital Camera Sensor Resolution and Print Sizes

    After a presentation to the 4th annual Western North Carolina Foto Fest in Montreat, NC, in September 2013, a couple participants asked me to post my two slides showing the resolutions of digital camera sensors, and effect of resolution on print sizes.

    The first slide is reproduced here:

    Typical Image Sizes in Pixels

    Typical Image Sizes in Pixels

    As you can see, a 1.0 megapixel (mp) camera has more resolution than the old NTSC television and more than most PC displays used to have. You might be surprised that a 3.0 mp sensor has more resolution than HDTV! Even more shocking, perhaps, is that the incredible iPad with Retina display has a resolution of 2048×1536 pixels—-exactly what you could capture with a 3.0 mp camera.

    So what in the world do we need a 12 mp or 24 mp, or goodness knows, a 36 mp sensor for? That’s where the second slide comes in:

    Print Sizes at 240 dpi

    Print Sizes at 240 dpi

    This chart shows the native print sizes you can make at 240 dpi from the various digital camera sensor resolutions. (Note: I’m not suggesting that you always print at 240 dpi, but that resolution was chosen as a constant to make a comparison. Selecting the appropriate print resolution is a topic unto itself.) Continue reading

    Is It Equipment, Photographer, or Both?

    It all started innocently enough when a friend e-mailed our group of photography friends asking if he should get a Nikon D600 or D800, and why. Since most of our group happens to shoot Nikon, it was a sensible thing to ask.

    For my personal work, I currently use a D800E, and briefly owned a D600 (which is a fantastic camera, but since it’s so close in size to the D800E, I stuck with just the D800E), so I replied with what I saw were the pros and cons of each. Of course, one of the main differences is the greater resolution of the D800, and I mentioned that higher resolution might allow him to create more detailed images, depending on what he was most interested in photographing. But one of the working pros in our group (who currently shoots Canon, but I understand is in therapy for it—-just kidding) took umbrage and said it was the photographer, not the gear, and we were concentrating on all the wrong things.

    The ensuing flurry of e-mails has been a really interesting discussion, with no right or wrong, and no definitive answer. But the topic of the importance of good equipment is certainly worth thinking about for yourself. Continue reading

    Some Thoughts About Equipment

    Okay, two posts in a row about gear that either didn’t work or was just plain missing. It’s time for the brighter side of photo equipment. Several of the next few posts will feature equipment I’ve used for a long time, and have come to rely on in the field.

    Before getting to any specific piece of kit (as my British friends say), it’s worth repeating something my friend and early mentor Bruce Dale (of National Geographic fame) said to me during the first workshop I took from him back in 2002. As I was about to photograph at the Pecos National Monument in New Mexico, he came over and looked in my overstuffed Lowepro Photo Trekker. In essence, he said, “What in the world are you going to shoot with all that stuff? You have way too much gear to ever do much serious photography.”

    I must confess the wisdom of those comments didn’t sink in for longer than I’d like to admit. But he was right. Reading tons of photography magazines (remember them?) convinced me I needed every gadget that came along. There might have been a few extraneous lenses in there, too. Continue reading

    Comfort Zones & Proper Equipment – Part Two

    (Note: Part One is just below this post.)

    When we left off, I discovered I didn’t have the right lenses nor the right techniques for capturing birds and critters. But that’s not the end of the story. Hence, Part Two.

    As I briefly mentioned in Part One, I also quickly discovered a geared tripod head can be next to worthless for moving subjects. My usual head is an Arca-Swiss C1 Cube, which I absolutely love. Its extreme precision results from its fine-tooth gears that separately control up-and-down (pitch) and side-to-side (roll) motions.

    Here’s the beauty of a geared head. Let’s say something’s perfectly aligned from edge to edge in the viewfinder, but is a tad low. Rotating the proper knob will raise the front of the lens without affecting the side to side tilt at all.

    Sunrise at Anhinga Trail

    By contrast, loosening the tension on a ball head allows it to move freely in any direction, and may reposition the camera in a way you don’t want. To add insult to injury, many ball heads shift by even the tiniest amount when they are locked back down. You finally get the image perfectly aligned in the viewfinder, but then it moves when you lock the ball head down. Frustrating.

    What makes the geared head so perfect for stationary subjects makes it completely worthless for moving subjects (glaciers excluded). By the time you crank the adjustment knobs to capture that bird taking off, it has migrated to another state. But you can precisely frame where it was! Continue reading

    Comfort Zones & Proper Equipment – Part One

    Thanks to Bill Lea, in February I visited Everglades National Park for the first time as one of the co-leaders of the NANPA Regional Event there. This is the first of two posts about what I learned during that trip.

    Before I saw Bill’s photographs for his forthcoming book, I hadn’t thought too seriously about shooting in the Everglades, despite how relatively close the Park is to Atlanta. It seemed like a flat, grassy, swampy area, where the big attractions are birds and critters. I don’t typically shoot birds and critters, nor flat, grassy, swampy areas. It didn’t sound like much of a destination for a landscape and travel photographer. Boy, was I ever wrong.

    Fortunately, for several days before the Event, Bill gave us an extensive (and photographically rewarding) tour of the Park, based on his five years of photographing there. I would never have figured out nor enjoyed the Everglades as quickly without Bill’s expert guidance. I found birds and critters fun and challenging to shoot (especially with my equipment), and found the landscape remarkably variable and beautifully photogenic. Now I can’t wait to go back.

    As an aside, living with Atlanta traffic, I misunderstood the concept of traveling to a park to shoot birds. During any given rush hour here, you could see so many birds shot within such a short time that it gets old pretty quick. But I get it now.

    Believe it or not, just like in many other parks, there are signs denoting elevations in the Everglades. Unlike my experiences in some of the Western parks, however, it wasn’t any harder to breathe even at the highest elevations. I felt pretty much the same at the Elevation 4 Feet sign as I had earlier at the Elevation 3 Feet sign. Guess I’ve stayed in pretty good shape.

    My first morning in the Park started with a sunrise shoot over Florida Bay at Flamingo. So far so good. I’m in my comfort zone with my lenses, geared tripod head, focusing cloth, remote release, and the rest of my usual landscape kit.

    Sunrise at Flamingo

    Sun’s fully up now, so landscape photography is done. It’s off to nearby Eco Pond to shoot birds. Hey, these bloody things move! What’s up with that? And they’re relatively small. And relatively far away. And just as soon as I compose my shot, it’s either changed or gone. There goes my comfort zone. Continue reading

    Using a Focusing Cloth

    At a workshop in Redwood National and State Parks back in 2003, Jack Dykinga gave me one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received for getting better images in the field: Use a focusing cloth. It was simple, had been around just about as long as photography itself, yet was rarely used by anyone but large format shooters. I adopted it back then for use with my DSLR, and have been using it ever since. For me, it has become as essential as my tripod and cable release.

    It helps me compose and focus, both physically and mentally. With it, I can easily see anything on my LCD, regardless of the ambient light. It helps keep wind, sprinkles, and even flying bugs out of my eyes while I’m shooting, helping me concentrate on my subject. With it, it’s much easier for me to check the corners and edges of my frame, and to look for merges throughout the image. It even allows me to use the Depth of Field preview function, regardless of how dark the image becomes when I push the button!

    It’s become so important to me, that I bring a spare when I travel in case something happens to the first one in the field. And as a final bonus, many of my shooting buddies have encouraged me to use it all the time—even when I’m not shooting. They say it’s a fantastic fashion accessory that looks great over me.

    My original focusing cloth, also known as a dark cloth, was a 36″x48″ Toyo-View focusing cloth that I got from B&H. After using it for a few years, I wanted something waterproof, breathable, darker, and more versatile. Besides, B&H no longer carried the Toyo-View cloth. After six months of testing various combinations of fabrics and Velcro placements, I now use my own Tom Vadnais Photography 36″x48″ waterproof focusing cloth. It’s an improved design that’s handmade right here in the USA, and is available only from me. Please e-mail me at tom@tomvadnais.com if you’re interested in ordering one directly (US$84 + US$5 shipping and handling to a US address). It’s black on the inside, to give you a dark area to shoot from, and white on the outside to reflect heat. There are strips of Velcro on both sides of one end that cinch the cloth around your lens, making it fast and easy to attach and remove when changing lenses in the field.

    Focusing Cloth in the Field

    After wrapping one end around your lens, the rest of the cloth simply drapes over your camera, your head and shoulders, and partially down your back. This eliminates most of the stray light around you, allowing you to see much better through your viewfinder. You can’t believe how much easier it is to concentrate on your composition and focusing when surrounded by relative darkness. It also allows you to see everything on your LCD, even in the brightest sunlight.

    As you can see from the photograph below, it can also help you blend in with any ghosts you may encounter when out shooting.

    Focusing Cloth and Ghost

    Now, do you have to spend US$84 on a commercially available waterproof dark cloth with Velcro. Of course you do—-if it’s one from me! Not really. A US$5 black bath towel from a discount store works just fine. You can drape the towel over your lens, camera, and head, as my friend Sue is doing during a workshop in the Smokies. (Her towel is dark blue, but is still effective. In general, though, you want a black cloth or towel, so you don’t have any visual color contamination while you’re shooting under it.)

    Sue with Dark Towel

    Like any other new tool in photography, using a dark cloth takes a little getting used to at first. Think back to when you first used a tripod, remote release, or any filters. But almost right away, you’ll likely find the benefits so outweigh any learning curve that you’ll adopt it full time. I did.