Monday, 29 June 2015

Review - WD My Passport Wireless

We've been using passport hard drives during our travels since converting to digital from film in 2005. We always carry at least 2 passport drives and keep a copy of all images taken on each of them. These are used daily when travelling. We then each carry one of these with us at all times when in transit or alternatively leave one in the room or hotel safe and one in our camera bag. This way we reduce the chances of losing everything. Downloading the images in the past has been a time consuming chore at the end of the day when you would rather be relaxing (preferably soaking your sore feet from all the walking!). We have always wondered why the manufacturers of external passport hard drives never gave customers the option to be able to download their images straight to the drive saving them heaps of time.

Well, they must have heard us, as Western Digital has now released the WD My Passport Wireless. Although quite expensive and a bit bulkier and heavier, this hard drive is a great tool for the working Travel Photographer, or anyone travelling for extended periods that takes a lot of photos, especially when shooting RAW images. It is especially great for those short trips where you don't want to carry a laptop.

Features -
  • Built-in SD card slot
  • Rechargeable battery 
  • Wirelessly connect with your mobile devices
  • Internet sharing
  • Ultra-fast USB 3.0
The passport has a SD card slot on the side which allows you to quickly backup your images on the fly, which is awesome if you have some free time and your memory cards are filling up. Unfortunately the passport will not take CF (Compact Flash) cards although if your camera has Wi-Fi then you should be able to use this function to transfer your images (although slower) and for those with Micro cards (such as GoPro users), it will work with the SD card adaptor. The passport will also need to be kept charged so unfortunately it will require you to carry yet another charging cord. For those connecting the product to their laptop it has USB 3.0 capabilities making it super fast for transferring images. We have not tested its capabilities using the transfer of images wirelessly however we will get back to you on that one. One of the great benefits is the ability to access images on the drive wirelessly from your smartphone, tablet or laptop for processing images and loading to social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.

  • Great for shorter trips when you don't want to carry a laptop
  • Downloading images on the go/in the field
  • Excellent for accessing images to share to your social media platforms
  • USB 3.0 - lightning fast
  • Wi-Fi
  • Large capacities
  • Will only take SD cards (unless camera is Wi-Fi enabled)
  • Another item to keep re-charged and another cord to carry
  • A lot bulkier and heavier than other current passport drives available
  • Expensive but hopefully the price will come down in the future
  • Displays only JPG files when accessing on your smartphone or tablet
 Below are the dimensions of the 500GB, 1TB & 2TB capacities in descending order.  

It currently comes in 500GB, 1TB and 2TB capacities however you can only buy the 1TB and 2TB capacities in Australia. Prices retail in Australia start at about $250-$300. 

We always like to check that the images have actually downloaded to the device. Call it paranoia, but before we re-format our SD card we would prefer to check that the files are there. You can do this easily using the downloadable app 'My Cloud' which allows you to view the files on your tablet or smartphone using the Wi-Fi. However....
  1. If you only shoot JPEG then you will be able to see all your files on the device in folders when you click on the 'Photos' tab and a small thumbnail image will also display.
  2. If you shoot RAW+JPEG then you will only be able to view the JPEG in the 'Photos' tab, the RAW files will not appear. You can view the RAW file by clicking on the 'All' tab and select the SD Card Import option. This will show you all the JPEG and RAW files on the device. You will see the JPEG files as thumbnails but not the RAW files.
  3. If you shoot RAW files only, follow the above step to confirm that all the RAW files are downloaded however you will not be able to view any thumbnails. 
Naturally, this is only the case when wanting to view the files on a mobile device. Using a laptop will allow you to preview images with thumbnails for both RAW & JPEG. 

We are very excited with this product and we will travelling with 2 of these on all our trips. So instead of sitting in your hotel room downloading memory cards and making backup copies enjoy that extra drink or 2 at the bar before dinner :-) or alternatively do your backups throughout the day/night without having to rely on a laptop. Well worth the money!

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Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Discount - Topaz Labs DeNoise

As Travel Photographers we are constantly shooting in all sorts of lighting conditions and quite often we have no alternative but to increase our ISO to get a shot especially when it is impossible to use a tripod. This is not a major problem on our Full Frame sensor camera that can handle higher ISO settings however on crop sensor cameras it becomes a problem at high ISO settings and especially if an image is underexposed. This is where Noise Reduction software comes to the rescue.

There are lots of Noise Reduction plug-ins on the market including Lightroom which also has Noise Reduction that does an average job of reducing Noise although we rarely use it. Third Party plug-ins, as far as we're concerned, always seem to have better results as the plug-in is dedicated to perfecting the results that its been designed for. They are always far more intuitive than the features that are built into the major editing suites available and give you far more control. Please note however that we have not tested all the plug-ins that are available for Noise Reduction other than Lightroom, Nik Google Dfine and Topaz DeNoise.

Topaz DeNoise is a excellent plug-in for anyone that loves low-light handheld photography where the only option is to increase the ISO without the use of a tripod and especially for those that use anything other than a Full Frame sensor. Naturally for those that use a Full Frame sensor camera will also love this plug-in for those shots that need very high ISO settings beyond the native ISO settings for their particular camera model.

Although every image will not need Topaz DeNoise, you will be able to shoot high ISO images with the confidence that you have a plug-in that will save an image if needed. 

The beauty of this plug-in is that you can selectively reduce the noise in the shadows or highlights without affecting the rest of the image while retaining detail. Naturally, this can be done by applying to the whole image and then using masks in Photoshop to paint out the effect but doing it within the plug-in is far more efficient in your workflow. Where this plug-in really shines is the reduction of Noise in those underexposed shadowy areas of an image that are lurking and appear when you use editing tools to bring out details in your image.

As with all Topaz plug-ins, there are a great range of Presets which are excellent for giving you a starting point or alternatively create all your adjustments from scratch. Below are some of the before-and-after shots when used with really high ISO images. Just imagine what this plug-in can do with noise on images up to ISO1600!!!

We strongly recommend this software and suggest you download the Trial and give it a go for 30 days to see how it can vastly improve your images. You can see some great video tutorials on the plug-in by clicking here. Also from the 16th June 2015 till the end of June 2015 they will be offering a discount of the plug-in by using the Coupon Code: JUNEDENOISE when purchasing. This plug-in is one of the most expensive in their suite so if you want to snap up a bargain then click on the box below to check out Topaz DeNoise.

Click here for Topaz DeNoise Discount

To watch a great video tutorial on the plug-in see below -

Here's one of our shots taken in Venice, Italy and processed in Topaz DeNoise. This is a zoomed in section of the image to show the incredible job DeNoise does while still retaining detail. The results are amazing for photographers using Crop Sensor cameras in low light.

We are big fans of the Topaz suite of plug-ins. Every one of them, when used, will really enhance your images and make them pop or give you an effect that can't be reproduced in traditional editing software. Topaz DeNoise also seamlessly plugs into your existing workflow. Get it as a plugin for Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture, and many more existing products.

Please Note: we are affiliates of Topaz Labs software plug-ins and although they did not pay us to write this post we will receive a commission on any sales of the plug-ins that result from this post.

We would love to hear any comments about this plug-in and we hope it helps you in your creative journey.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Long Exposures - Using 9 & 10 stop ND Filters

Hoya ND400 2.7 (9 stops)
The Neutral Density filter is a very handy filter to have in your camera bag. Although it doesn't get used that often in our Travel Photography it certainly should be near the top of your list of "must have" creative filters.

What is a ND 2.7  & ND 3.0 Neutral Density Filter?

B+W ND110 3.0 (10 stops)
Both of these filters have the same purpose except the ND 2.7 reduces about 9 stops of light from reaching your sensor/film and the ND 3.0 reduces about 10 stops of light. To calculate the reduction of light of any Neutral Density Filter simply divide number by 3 e.g. ND 2.7 / 3 is 9 stops. We essentially use these filters to create a smooth water effect in an image to give it mood and emotion although it also has other benefits. 

In the middle of the day you will sometimes find that the light levels when shooting are too bright to allow you to shoot at slow shutter speeds even when stopped down to the smallest aperture (usually F22) and the ISO is set to its lowest (usually 50 or 100). Although the shutter speed will be reduced dramatically it usually will not be enough to get the effect you want especially when shooting the following -
  1. Waterfalls - where you want that dreamy blur look of the water cascading over the waterfall.
  2. Seascapes - to create the misty look and soft flat look in seascape shots.
  3. Clouds - for images that you want blurred/streaky clouds.
  4. Reduce the visibility of moving objects. For example, removing people from shots in busy thoroughfares. 
There are quite a few brands on the market but beware as you can get some weird effects with some brands and therefore we recommend that you stick with the well known brands such as Hoya, B+W, Tiffen, Formatt-HiTech, Singh Ray and Lee. We have not noticed any colour cast on images taken with the ND400 filter however the B+W ND110 does have a slight red colour cast but this is easily corrected in post processing. 

The filters are also generally quite expensive so make sure that you keep it clean and scratch free. Make sure you keep it in it's original plastic container or in a soft filter holder. Also note that with the increased exposure time, every spec of dust on your sensor is amplified so you may need to do a bit of cleaning of the image in your post-processing.

This was taken in the Bay of Fires Conservation Area. As soon as we saw this image we knew it would be great using the ND400 filter (9 stop). We took several images as the water wasn't always extending as far into the foreground as we wanted. In Photoshop we simply opened the images we wanted to use as layers and using masks we painted through the water in the foreground to give it more blur and making it a better image.

We have released an E-book which includes a step-by-step guide to using these filters for long exposures and a handy printable pocket guide to using the filters.
We hope you found this post useful and we would love to hear any comments from you.