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The Easter Eggs of the Disney Resorts

If you haven’t been down to the Walt Disney Resort around Easter time, you probably never knew that the pastry chefs at the Grand Floridian create massive chocolate Easter Eggs for display in the resort.  I’ve also seen eggs over in the 4th floor of the Contemporary in past years.  This is the 7th year that the eggs have been on display.

You can see a video of how they are made from an older Disney Parks Blog post here.

Team member, and all around great guy, Ben Hendel got a chance to walk through the eggs over at the Grand Floridian to capture some great images of the eggs this year.  Photographing the eggs can be a bit tricky!  There is always a crowd looking at the wonderful creations so you really have to consider your composition to pull off a good shot.   Thanks to Ben for getting the images of this year’s eggs!

 

Celebrate the circle of life with this Lion King themed Easter Egg.  I love all the details in the animals that are hanging off the side of the egg.

Even the villains get in on the Easter Egg action.  Notice how Ben used a shallow depth of field to blur out the background and put the focus on the egg.  

 

A new movie means an opportunity for a new themed egg for the pastry chefs at the Grand Floridian.  Here’s their Moana themed Easter Egg.  

App Update – On Sale this weekend only

Just a quick note about our Photo a Day app for iOS.  An update went live on the store fixing a bug where some past photos were not showing up correctly.  Our apologies for any inconvenience this may have caused our existing customers.  If you aren’t a customer already, what are you waiting for?  The price to drop?  Well then this is your lucky weekend.  The in app purchase that unlocks the photos for 2017 – that’s 365 images; a new one every day of the years – is now only $0.99 until Monday April 17th.  So if you’ve been on the fence, now is a perfect time to buy.  If you are looking for the App Store, you can follow the link here.  2017 Photo A Day from Disney Photography Blog underwent a bit of a name change because Apple said so – the app is now called Daily Magic from Disney Photography Blog.  If you already own the app – no worries, the app will update and you will never know the difference.

 

 

Lens Flipper Review

[Editor’s Note: The folks over at LensFlipper ( http://www.lensflipper.com , @LensFlipper on Twitter) offered to send us  a review unit of their new product.  This is Ben’s take on using the equipment – Keith]

The LensFlipper is a solution to a problem you probably didn’t know you had. While roaming around Disney, or on a vacation to a national park, it can be very difficult to find a convenient place to swap the lens on our cameras. The LensFlipper, in instances like this, operates as a third and fourth hand, holding your on-deck lens for you while offering you a spot to place the lens coming off your camera.

[Editor’s Note: I would have killed for something like this when I was shooting High School Football games since I don’t have a second body to keep a second lens on. – Keith.]

How does it do such sorcery? Well, the LensFlipper is essentially two Nikon lens-mounts (or Sony or Canon), and sandwiched between them is a pair of pivot points on opposing sides of the device. It looks a bit like a teleconverter from the outside, albeit one with a shoulder strap. The idea in using the LensFlipper is that it is already holding one lens for you, and you can attach the lens coming off your camera to the other side, flip it over, and detach the other lens so you can mount it on your camera. Because the LensFlipper holds onto your lenses like your camera does, there’s no need to fiddle with any rear lens caps. Additionally, since it is based on the same collar technology that holds a lens onto your camera body, the lenses lock into place with a satisfying click, and require a button to be held down before they can be removed. Finally, there is a rubber “body-cap” that fits over the unused spot on the LensFlipper (once you remove one lens, there’s an open spot; this is not a device that allows you to carry two lenses around without a camera bag) to prevent dust from getting inside, and thereby on the inside of your lens when you store it on the LensFlipper.

I specifically went into EPCOT one day with a minimum of gear to test out the LensFlipper. This deviated from how I normally visit the Disney Parks, but I’ll get into that later. I carried my Nikon D610 with my Nikon 28-70mm f/2.8 attached, and locked my Irix 15mm f/2.4 to the LensFlipper, and headed in for a day with Flower and Garden. One major benefit to my change of gear is that I did not have to go through bag check; I was able to jump in a shorter “No Bag” line. Throughout the day, I can honestly say that the LensFlipper worked as advertised. It was very easy for me to swap back and forth between my 28-70mm and my 15mm lenses. I never had to crouch down on the ground or rest lenses on top of trash cans. I never had to dig through a bag for a lens or a back-lens-cap so I could switch lenses. It was all very convenient, and I barely noticed the small cloth strap bandoleering from my right shoulder to my left hip, the opposite of how I carry my Nikon on it’s BlackRapid Sport strap.

I really only have two complaints about the LensFlipper, as it is incredibly good at what it does. First, because it is only supported by a shoulder strap, one needs to be careful when leaning forward to take a picture. In EPCOT’s Flower and Garden Festival’s Butterfly Gardens, I wanted to get closer to a butterfly than my 28-70mm lens allowed, and when I leaned in to take the shot, my 15mm lens came swinging forward wildly, bouncing off the fencing. No damage was done, thankfully, but I was a lot more careful with the LensFlipper after that. My second, and biggest, complaint is that it’s on a shoulder strap. I do not often carry only one lens with me when I go anywhere with photography in mind. I usually carry some sort of bag, which allows me to carry an extra battery, an air-puffer, my remote-shutter release, a lens-pen, a MagicBand (to sync on ride photos to my Disney account; I wear a watch on my left arm and a FitBit on my right, leaving my wrists quite cluttered), and other accessories. It’s annoying enough having my BlackRapid strap caught under a backpack or messenger bag strap; having the LensFlipper under there would just add to the tangle and chaos. I would really like a solution so I could attach the LensFlipper to my bag, and am thinking of rigging up something to do just that on my own.

To conclude, the LensFlipper is very good at what it advertises itself as doing. It just so happens that I don’t operate in a manner that’s very conducive to keeping the LensFlipper on me full time, at least in it’s current form. If you don’t head into the parks with a huge bag all the time, then this is the solution that lets you easily take a second lens with you.

[Editor’s Note.  Thanks again to the team at LensFlipper for sending us this review unit.  They make models for Canon, Nikon, Fuji, Sony A, Sony E, Pentax K, and Micro 4/3rds.  They also make a Clip that looks like it would be perfect for people like Ben and myself that head into the park with a monster bag of gear into the park.]

Irix 15mm Ultrawide Lens Review

[DISCLAIMER ALERT: We contacted Irix requesting a demo lens for reviewing purposes, however due to high demand for the lens we were unable to secure one before the Peace on Earth and Global Countdown fireworks tags would have concluded.  Since these shows were to form a comparison point in this review, Ben purchased a copy of the lens out of his own pocket.]

I, like so many others, enjoy following PetaPixel on Facebook. A few months ago, I saw a posting about a lens that caught my eye. I hadn’t heard of the company before: a small Swiss company called Irix.

The Irix 15mm f/2.4 is an ultra-wide, manual focus prime lens. It comes in two styles, the Firefly and the Blackstone. It has a 110-degree field of view, 15 glass elements in 11 groups, all of various acronyms that describe the glass, 9 rounded aperture blades, the blades of which are controlled by the camera, and a minimum focal distance of just short of a foot. The more-expensive Blackstone is made of a magnesium-aluminum alloy and comes with engraved exterior markings painted in UV reactive paint, while the Firefly comes with a high-strength plastic exterior with printed markings. They both are weather sealed at three different points, the camera mount, the focus ring, and the focus lock ring (more on that later), while the Blackstone adds weather sealing at the front lens element, too. This review focuses specifically on the Blackstone, which retails for 695 euros on their website or $649 on Amazon, while the Firefly costs 475 euros on Irix’s website or $449 on Amazon. Both lenses accept 95mm filters on the front and drop-in gelatin filters in the back.

That last line is the real reason I took such an eye to the lens. I love my Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, but because of the construction of the lens and glass, there is no way to mount filters without a $250 kit, plus the cost of the filters themselves. I tend to use my Nikon 14-24mm only at the 14mm end, anyway, so one millimeter narrower with six degrees less field of view was, for me, a decent trade-off for easy mounting of filters. That’s it for the background – time for the review.

Please don’t confuse this review with that of a seasoned professional. It does not contain any charts that show the distortion of the lens, or how harsh the vignetting is, or things along those lines. Photography is a hobby, as is writing, and my review reflects that. It will contain sample images, some you may have already seen, and my opinions of it from use at Disney. That being said, this lens has me seriously considering selling my Nikon 14-24mm. Considering how often I spend with it set to 14mm, I’m not reaping the benefit of the full range of focal lengths. I spend a lot of time shooting landscapes, where having instant auto-focus is not super important. For the situations I have used it in thus far, some daytime handheld, some nighttime off of a tripod, and some fireworks pictures taken with an ND filter, the Iris has met or surpassed my expectations in all regards.

First, the unboxing process. I didn’t expect to include this as part of a review when I first bought the lens, but I have to say, this is a treat! My previous Nikon lenses come into a big, gold cardboard box. This is an exciting box because it means a new toy, but once you pull back the flap on the top, your shiny new lens is in a cardboard box, suspended in foam and cellophane. When I removed the cardboard outer box when taking out my Irix lens, I was greeted with an inner metal box. I was greatly impressed with this box, especially the fact that it was also embossed on top. Inside this metal box was the lens’ hard case, a feature unique to the Blackstone version. The Firefly includes a soft case. There was also another surprise inside the box, under the lens: a second rear lens cap! In a world where every bit and bobble is an added extra, including a second rear lens cap was a treat. Unboxing this lens was a treat, and the process truly was made to feel special with the attention to detail Irix paid.

As a prime lens, it retains the wonderful sharpness that comes with not worrying about retaining sharpness across a range of focal lengths. As you will see in the below image, the Eiffel Tower remains clear when taking a picture from the bridge closest to the United Kingdom. You can also see the low amount (in my opinion, your mileage may vary) of distortion in the shot. And as far as the aforementioned vignetting is concerned, I don’t notice any in that shot.

Having to manually focus a lens does take some getting used to, coming from all autofocus lenses. The more I use it, however, the more I’ll get used to it. Thankfully, the camera body does report whether or not the shot is in focus using a series of arrows and a dot in the lower left corner of my eyepiece. Along the lines of the focusing system, however, Irix did not skimp on the manual bells and whistles. For the street photographer crowd, they included their Focus Lock Ring, which when turned, works as advertised. Spin this wonderful little ring at the front of the lens and it locks the focusing ring into place, allowing you to run and gun without worrying that you have accidentally brushed the focusing ring and will have to refocus at your next location. Additionally, there’s a great little feature when you’re focusing and hit infinity. As you are rolling through focus, there’s a tiny little click when you reach infinity. It isn’t big nor does it intrude if you need to head past infinity in either direction, but it’s fantastic in darkness where you can’t see the markings on the lens, or when you’re looking down the viewfinder.

For night photography, I am very happy with this lens. I haven’t noticed any flaring issues, night or day, but this is especially important for me at night, as Disney likes to put bright lights in the oddest places. The lens is wide enough to make a good sky with clouds seem epic, and also to capture almost all of the highest bursts in the IllumiNations: Peace on Earth tag while still getting a good amount of crowd at the bottom of the frame.

You can find a Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens direct from Nikon on Amazon for just under $1,900. The Irix 15mm f/2.4 Blackstone retails for around $1,200 less than that. It does not come with autofocus, and it does not zoom in to 24mm. But as an ultra-wide prime lens, this is a cracking piece of kit to add to your bag. It weighs less than two pounds, doesn’t take up much room, and does a great job taking landscape photos. I find it to be sharp lens, and I feel confident taking it out in the rain due to its weather sealing. As I mentioned before, the unboxing was an experience that I did not expect to enjoy as much as I did. All of that leads me to say that this is a fantastic value for the money, even more-so if you don’t need the full weather-sealing and purchase the Firefly version of the lens, which saves you an additional $200.

[Editor’s Note:  Another great post from Ben.  From the review and the images he’s posting from the lens, the Irix seems like a great lens at a great value.  For those of you who shoot Canon (like me) Irix has a version of the lens with a Canon mount for the same price as the Nikon one Ben has.]

FoCal Lens Calibration Software

[Editor’s Note.  We hope everyone had an enjoyable three day weekend, and making sure to remember the men and women who gave their lives in service of our country.  Here’s another great piece by Ben Hendel, this time talking about an interesting bit of software used for calibrating your lenses.  You need to be following Ben on Instagram.  He got a chance to take two big lenses into Animal Kingdom recently and got some GREAT photos.  So jealous of the opportunity Ben had.  Thanks again Ben for the article! ].

 

High-end cameras cost a lot of money and you get a great product for them. Same thing goes with lenses. But what if I told you that if you just bolt your new-and-shiny lens to your new-and-shiny camera, that you aren’t getting everything you’ve paid for? Because of production variables and tolerances, not every camera and lens leaves the factory “perfect.” The camera body manufacturers know this, and they build in a way to fine-tune your camera body to your lenses. On my Nikon, this is called AF Fine-Tune, and is usually called AF Microadjustment (AFMA) on a Canon.

Disclaimer: NOT ALL CAMERAS SUPPORT THIS FEATURE. It is usually found in higher end models. My D7000 had it, my D60 did not. [Editor’s note, my Canon 60D does NOT have this feature. Guess that saves me from getting the FoCal software myself. Will keep this in mind for the next camera I get.]

Modern cameras can hold multiple lens profiles. As you can see, my camera can hold 12 different adjustment values in memory, each one tied to a particular lens. If you have more than 12 lenses, well, you’re richer than I am. Spread the wealth, eh? I accept PayPal. If you rent a lot of lenses, you may want to keep half an eye on how many values you’re storing and clear them out occasionally. I know I need to do that with the values from tuning the Sigma 150-600mm.

Photo May 26, 8 38 13 PM

In the past, this has been a manual process. You’d set up a target, take a picture, and decide whether you were back-focusing (your actual focus-point is behind where you wanted it to be) or front-focusing (just the opposite of back-focusing). Then, you’d dial in a setting that reflected this, and compare the images to see if it was better or worse. Repeat until you found a value you liked, or until you gouged out both of your eyes with a used grapefruit spoon.

However, there is now a company in the UK called Reikan who makes a wonderful piece of software called FoCal.

Double disclaimer: Reikan did not contact any member of the Disney Photography Blog and ask us to write this review. We were not provided with a free piece of software, and we are not compensated in any manner by Reikan or any company because of this review. Got it? Good.

FoCal is a piece of software that makes automatically calibrating your camera body to your camera lenses, so long as you shoot Nikon or Canon. And even then, not all cameras are supported by FoCal. To see if your body is supported, please visit this website: http://www.reikan.co.uk/focalweb/index.php/why/camera-compatibility/ . Even then, if you shoot Nikon, automatic calibration mode is not supported. This shouldn’t steer you away from the software, but it may save you a couple bucks not buying the super powerful full-featured edition when some of those fancy features don’t work for your camera.
First, you’ll need to set up a target. FoCal provides you with a PDF to print out, and recommends you print it on good card stock instead of plain white office paper. They say that ink bleeds into office paper too much, and this prevents FoCal from getting sharpness readings right. Once you’ve set up your target an appropriate distance away, you set your camera up on a tripod and go through the most frustrating process for me. When choosing where to place your target (mine is on the back of the front door of my house so I can use the long hallway to calibrate long lenses), you’ll want to choose an area with a lot of light. Alternatively, you can just have a 3 D-cell MagLight hanging around and point it at the target while FoCal is doing its thing. Don’t judge me. It works.
Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 8.34.55 PM

I hate aiming the camera at the target. It must be aimed just-so, and I always tend to overshoot when adjusting the ballhead on my tripod. It also likely doesn’t help that most of the lenses I’ve calibrated recently are super-telephotos, and so I’m halfway across my house, trying to aim at a 2.5 inch center, with a heavy lens-and-camera combination.

That’s the hardest bit. FoCal will tell you when it is happy about your aim, and from there, does the vast majority of the work for you. Frankly, on a Canon, it likely does all the work for you. It takes pictures, changes the AFMA automatically, compares the shots, and repeats until it dials in the sharpest, most accurate possible autofocus value. If you’re shooting a Nikon, it’s a little bit more user-interactive. FoCal still takes pictures for you, and it still compares them for you, but you’ll have to adjust the AF Fine-Tune value on your own. Be gentle when you do, because if you nudge the camera off the target-point, your comparison data will be useless and you’ll have to start over.

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There is a fantastic amount of data that FoCal gives you while it is working. This particular lens required very little adjustment. It only required a +1 Fine Tune in order to be considered sharp and accurate. I’ve had other lenses that live in the +17 to +19 realm like my Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8. Before FoCal, I could focus on the nose of a Princess during a parade and “miss” focus because the lens was back-focusing so much. Adjusting that lens made a world of difference.
Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 8.44.44 PM

After about 5 minutes of actual work, FoCal said it was done. It gave me a new value, and a lovely set of charts to go with them. I set that value in my AF Fine-Tune menu, and was ready to go for a day of shooting. There is also the option to Save Reports of what your lens correction looked like. I’ve attached, via links at the bottom of this review, those reports from the Sigma 150-600mm and the Nikon 200-500mm so you can see a little bit more of the data that FoCal can produce for you.

This is software I highly recommend, for anybody who is serious about getting the absolute most out of their camera and lenses. Whenever I get a new lens, the first thing I do is calibrate it. I’ll never miss another shot because my lens doesn’t understand what my camera body means by “in focus.”

Here are is a link to what the report looks like that FoCal generates.
Sigma 150-600:  150-600mm f_5-6.3_600mm
Nikon 200-500: 200-500mm f_5.6_500mm