by J. Rae Chip

Photographers... do you use Apple or PC products? I think there is a good split between the two. I use Windows. There comes a day in business' lifetimes when equipment becomes obsolete and must be replaced. My Dell Inspiron still runs, actually, and is a great personal computer now, but it's past its forecast business lifetime and was therefore up to be replaced.

After much unwanted drama with Best Buy (read it HERE), I ordered a Lenovo IdeaPad for my photography business, and like most new computers, it came with Windows 8, a steep learning curve for me. 

Please allow me to give you this Windows 8 tour.

It seems that most of the tech-minded people I know don't like Windows 8 for some reason. For me, every time Microsoft Corp. decides to update their operating system, it is a learning activity for me to figure out how to do all the things I need to do. I remember being in awe of XP when I took the tour of it. My Dell Inspiron runs on Windows XP, and I love XP.

That said, my only real complaint about Windows 8 is that it doesn't have a function to run in XP mode. I checked, and it does not exist.

Otherwise, so far, I'm satisfied. I think a lot of people just haven't figured out how to use Windows 8 yet, and that's understandable. In fact, it makes me feel better that I'm not the only tech-challenged sub-35 year old individual on the planet. (I know of at least one other, and he has had the same last name as me since he was born.)

Contrary to popular belief, you can customize the Windows 8 start screen. If you click on the tiles and drag them to new positions, they will be stuck there. I have a nice dock of Adobe functions so they're all together for me to use for my photography business. Then I have another dock of office programs, accounting programs, etc. For touch-screen computers, you can do it on screen. You can create a new dock by holding a tile between established docks. A vertical bar will show up, and then drop the tile there.

If you right click a tile, it brings up a menu, and you can ask it to make the tile smaller (or bigger), or you can deactivate the animated tiles. You can un-pin a tile from the Windows 8 start menu so the tile never shows up on that screen again. You can even uninstall a program from the right click function. 

Allegedly, Windows 8 was developed for people who like touch screens. They're trying to turn your computer into a phone. As a photographer, I like my screen to be clean, so I don't have a touch screen. 

If you have a touch screen you can still right click, but you can also touch the bottom segment of the screen, and a dock will pop up. Click on the tile and hold onto it for a second until a check mark pops up, and then you should be able to utilize all the functions as if you right clicked.

Pressing the windows button from the desktop brings you to the start screen. Pressing the windows button from the start screen brings you back to the desktop. You're welcome. 

You can also get back to the start menu from the desktop by moving your mouse to the lower left corner where the Windows icon used to be. The Windows 8 start menu will pop up once you move off screen, and then you can click on it.

Pressing the windows key and holding it while you press w brings you a small new Windows 8 menu where you can search for programs on your computer easily. Again, you're welcome. Make sure you have the apps option selected if you are looking for a program (I guess Microsoft wanted to emulate a phone operating system and utilize the word "App.")

Pressing the windows key and holding it while you press c gives you a menu where you can go to the start. Or if you click on "settings" in there you can shut down or restart windows.

If you downloaded something and it doesn't show up on the start screen, you can find it in the windows w menu and ask the computer to pin it to the start menu. If you downloaded something as a zip file, you have to unzip it in order for it to show up on the start menu, just like before.

You can update your start menu profile photo by clicking on it and uploading one or taking one with your webcam.

Are you bilingual? If you click on your photo and name in the start menu, click on "change profile photo" but instead click on "general" in the menu and scroll down to "languages" to install a second language on your machine. Go to "language preferences," and from there you can "add a language." This is actually much easier to do with Windows 8 than it has been with previous operating systems.

Clicking or touching the top of a program and moving downward off the screen will close the program for you. Also, moving or touching from the left side to the right side will change the screen to your most recently used app. If either of those things annoy you, you can deactivate them under the profile photo on your start menu, under the general tab and "app switching." This tab is generally your control panel now.

You can change the background of your lock screen and start screen under the new control panel and the "personalize" menu. Change your desktop background by right clicking an image and saying "set as desktop background," just like before.

To change the screen saver you can go to the windows w menu and search for "screen saver." That will find the menu for you. And holy cow you'll realize that the menu is the same as what you remember from previous versions of Windows.

Do you have any other questions about Windows 8? (That a dummy like me could answer?)
I've been using my pair of Alienbees B800 professional strobe lights for about a year now, so it's about time I write about them.

Things I love about them:
  1. They're light!
  2. They're also constructed in a sturdy manner.*
  3. Very consistent light output, and great color consistency as well.
  4. Awesome price for the value of the lights. (There are better lights out there, but these are a great light for the value they sell for.)
  5. They come in different colors. This means that the photographer could, if he wants, purchase one in two different colors and color-code the flash outputs.
  6. Paul Buff has outstanding customer service
  7. I have not had to replace a flash tube yet and I bring them to some ridiculous places.
  8. They fit standard light stand sizes (you wouldn't believe that some lights from other companies in similar price ranges actually don't!)
  9. Very easy light for beginners to use.
  10. The gel kits are easy to use.
  11. The recycle rate! It's a very useful rate, and I've never needed (well at least not yet) a quicker recycle rate for my shots.
  12. The flash duration! 
Some inconveniences:
  1. I wish they came with a bag to carry them in.
  2. The light metering can at times vary by 1/3 stop. To me this is not so important, but to some photographers it could be a big deal.
  3. The power cord / sync ports could be made a bit better. Some photographers change them out, but really they work fine as they are made. I've never had issues with malfunctions, but some complain about the inconvenience.
  4. If something does happen to break, it's hard to find the part anywhere except if you order it straight from Paul Buff.

* I have taken my Alienbees lights to a lot of places without incident, and think it is important to discuss this. The most important incident to note was when I was shooting in Nevada and there was a strong EMF pulse. This pulse damaged my laptop, destroyed my Canon 50D, destroyed my cell phone, and demolished my Hollywood Stage spot lamp. However, the Alienbees light that was being used was not damaged by the pulse. 

I took my Alienbees to Egypt, and they had to ride in my checked luggage because of carry-on limitations. They made it all the way there and back without breaking. I carried one of them around in my pack for a few days. I dropped the pack on accident and the light did not break.
This is my new favorite lens, mostly because of the background blur capabilities, and it is SHARP SHARP SHARP! However, it is quite tricky to get used to at first. 

So... first the bad news.

It is very slow to focus, even when doing it manually. It uses Electronic Manual Focusing (EMF) which means that you have to have the camera body on in order for the focus ring to change. I personally don't mind it, but it is just different from most lenses. It is not a good lens for sports that require a fast focus-tracking, and it takes a while for people to learn how to use it without back-focusing.

The lens is very heavy and fat. However, I have come to appreciate the weight of the lens because it is easier to keep it still for shots with longer shutter speeds.

This lens is the KING of flare! I have come to appreciate this as well, because it adds to the art of some of my shots, but if you don't want flare in your photograph, be careful! The lens hood actually does help alleviate the flare problem (for sun but not other lights). The hood wobbles a bit, but it is easy to get on and off the lens.
"EMT's in Action" - 85mm 1.2 back-focused and displaying its FLARE.
Vignetting is relatively-noticeable at f/1.2 and not as noticeable by f/2 (on a full-frame camera.) I have never noticed any chromatic abberation.

Let's talk about FLASH! This lens does not provide the camera with distance information if the flash is used on E-TTL.  You can still use E-TTL, but it is much harder to optimize.

The price tag is outrageous for this lens. Quite honestly it is ridiculous that you can purchase four 85mm f1.8 lenses for the price of one 85mm f1.2. Come on, Canon!

Now for the good news...

Like I stated before this lens is SHARP! This is very important for my portraiture. In fact, I would recommend this lens above any other for wedding or fashion photography.
It is also the fastest EF lens Canon makes! If you open the aperture all the way, the background disappears completely, which is great for minimizing distractions. (Of course the depth of field is very thin when the lens is open that wide.) 

I use this lens for landscapes too!! I love being able to create a dreamy telephoto-esque feel with this lens on landscape photographs by shooting wide open. (Ordinarily, this is a portrait lens.)

I can hand-hold a shot with this lens wide open in low light and get great results. 

The 72mm filter size is convenient as it is a common size. 
"San Diego Skyline at Blue Hour" - 85mm f/1.2 wide open hand held at night.
This lens used to be my favorite. It focuses very quickly, quietly, and accurately. The focus and zoom rings are sized well and turn correctly. The movement is completely behind the filter threads, which is nice for those who intend to use filters. Filters attach to a fixed lens barrel, or attachments can be purchased for a square or rectangular filter. This attachment is best purchased for those intending to utilize GND filters. I like the 77mm filter size because it makes it pretty easy to use the same filters as other lenses. When a UV filter is applied to the front, this lens is completely weather-sealed. The lens resists flare quite nicely, and colors and contrast are good. Chromatic abberation is controlled well, but you will see some in the corners when you're wider than 24mm. There is very little vignette, but you can only use one round filter at a time if wider than 24mm or else the outer part of the filter will show in the frame. Some distortion should be expected. I see a moderate barrel distortion at 17mm and a mild pincushion distortion at 40mm. I find that 24mm is the focal length where distortion is minimal.

Compared to the 16-35mm f/2.8 lens, this one is much more affordable. It has the same minimum focal distance of eleven inches, and is a few ounces lighter than the 16-35mm.

I will complain that the lens is not as sharp as I would expect from an "L" lens, even when stopped down to f/11 or smaller. Also, the EW-83E lens hood does almost nothing for the image quality in my experience. It is very wide and very short, and really doesn't even protect the lens much. I often have to use my hand to block the sun flares even when the hood is on.

As far as uses go I would recommend it as a general-purpose lens if you can deal with the unsharp factor, especially if you are using it on a crop-sensor camera. It is mostly used for landscapes and architecture. I have used it for portraits on occasion, but I often have to sharpen the image to feel satisfied with the outcome - especially if using it at f/5.6 or smaller. Also, it is not good for head shots because of the distortion, as it is an ultra-wide lens. It's really best to just invest in a portrait lens if you are photographing people.
San Diego - with EF 17-40mm at 17mm on full frame camera
Google has a safety feature on its accounts that is optional. You can sign up for it to keep people from stealing your account - and for many of us, that means they steal our identity as well. When you log on from a computer you haven't used before it asks you for a pin number in addition to your password. You get the pin number when it is texted to your phone. When I was in Egypt, I got locked out of my account because.... I didn't think about the logistics of this before I left. IE my cell phone did not work overseas so I couldn't get into my account.

Recently, this has happened to another photographer I know who was studying in Australia and then went home. So now his Australian number does not work, and he is locked out of his account. I was lucky enough to come back to the USA whereas, unfortunately Danny is not returning to Australia so he cannot simply just wait to get his account back.

If you have 2-step notification enabled, make sure you:

1) Actually print out the back-up codes Google gives you. Those will save you if you are overseas and can't get the text message from your phone. You can get to them by going to your account settings and clicking on "download backup codes." It may ask you for your password.

2) Find out the dates that you started using all the Google products you use. It is probably the FIRST email you have in your box if you use Gmail (unless you delete them) or the FIRST in your Google Voice inbox.... etc. If you become locked out, they will ask you for the specific DAY. If you're off by a few days... no access.

3) Maybe set a backup number that belongs to your spouse / friend / mother so that if you lose access and none of the rest works.... you can still get your pin code from them. DON'T SET YOUR BACKUP NUMBER AS A GOOGLE VOICE NUMBER. If you're locked out of your account that includes your GVoice number. So if you can't get it on your cell phone (which your voice number is linked to) and you can't see the text message on the GVoice site, it does you absolutely no good to do it that way.

You could always go into your account settings before you leave and disable the feature, but if you enabled it in the first place, it was for a reason, right? That said, I personally think Google could probably have a better way of doing this service - maybe security questions that we can make up (I guarantee nobody would guess the name of my first stuffed animal and steal my identity.) HOWEVER I am not a Google Geek nor really a geek in general so there may be a very good reason why Google decided to use text messages / voice call instead of the way every financial institution seems to do it. The answer would probably contain a whole bunch of computer-y words that make my head hurt. If there is a reason why we NEED to have something we know and something we have in order to be secure, then maybe we could print out a big grid of codes - say 100 boxes with one code in each box. The computer could ask you for the code in box AA5 and then you count 27 over from the left and 5 down and that's the code you put in! That would keep people from having to rely on a phone if they are overseas.

If you are moving overseas..... just deactivate the security feature until you finish moving. Honestly it's a lot easier. Hopefully nobody will hack your account during that time. Make sure you only log on when necessary, as you will probably be on unsecured networks. Just be careful! 
LEE FILTERS - to join the list of people waiting for theirs from back order..... or to settle for something else?? Disclaimer: I am not being paid by ANYONE to put out this mini review.

Most people want Lee Filters, but get frustrated because they're on back order. You can add your name to the list of people waiting for theirs to come. I have managed to get my hands on their 3, 6, 9 Neutral Density set as well as their 3, 6, 9 Graduated Neutral Density set, the square full red, and the sunset set (half red, half orange, and half yellow.) I also have a Tamron half red and a Tamron half blue. In addition, I have a whole bunch of home-made filters, but that's another post worth of information.

While using a filter, I can indeed produce a SOOC (Straight out of camera) image that is (from my perspective) better than the one I could produce with layers in photoshop with no filter use. I also find that to properly use LEE filters, one needs to know how to use the white balance on their camera to better amplify the effect of the filters (or you can do it with software, but that doesn't typically turn out as nice). What I'm saying is that when you use filters, you're better off NOT shooting on AWB.

Lee is the top-of-the-line company, but if you don't want to wait or don't want to pay that much (remember that a British Pound is currently $1.55) here are some you could substitute as kits: HiTech, SinghRay, Tamron. Don't substitute Hoya or Cokin. Honestly I think my Hoya is best used as a Frisbee. Cokin only produces graduated color filters, and there is a big difference between that and a graduated gray filter. I can't speak by experience about their quality, as I don't use their products.

Things I like about LEE: they are very compatible with my light meter. Some others I have borrowed have done wacky things to the light meter that make it annoying to shoot - you basically have to guess and check on exposure until you get a feel for whether it sits at +2 or -2. 

Like all filters, Lee's products are not scratch proof. However, they come in a great cloth case and cardboard box. You can buy their filter pouch for like $7 and that's well worth the price as well. The square ND filters are best kept in the cardboard box. Don't screw up that box!

I don't have much negative to say about the filters except I wish they weren't so hard to obtain.

I will also say that the LEE grad colors out-perform my Tamron grad filters. However, if I tweek my white balance, I can achieve the same result with the Tamron product as I could with the Lee's.

About my LEE Holder

It is larger than other companies' holders, which is very convenient. It holds larger filters (4"x6"), and is great construction. I love the quick release! I can take it off the 77mm (filter size) ring and put it on the 82mm easily and quickly. It's also drop proof by the way.

I wish the attachment (the part that the quick release releases from) screwed onto the lens like either a lens cover or filter does. It's kind of a pain in the neck to attach to my lens quite honestly. It's so much of a pain that I wish I could just leave it permanently on my lens - but if I leave it on and release the holder, I have to take it off to use a lens hood or a filter. It's more than a little annoying, and I have seen better schematics on my friends' cameras.

I wish it had a slot for three filters instead of two (they make a part you can add on, but it's always sold out so if you want to use three filters and have one stay tuned as I am making something and will blog about it once it works the way I need). I find myself sometimes hoping I could use 2 grad colors and an ND but I can't because there are not enough slots to hold them. If someone can find me a 3 slot LEE holder for sale that is not sold out I'd sell my 2 slot holder.

I wish there were a way to use the LEE holder with a circular polarizer on the lens. They sell a "circular polarizer front mount thread" but is back ordered (of course.) I am going to attempt to make one of those as well from a step-up ring. 
I've been using this new software called Tyfromagnicon, and it works for pretty much any photo I shoot. I used it on a portrait, landscape, cityscape, waterscape, on a cat and even on a macro shot of a flower.

I think its HDR capabilities are the best available, as it has the capability to make a scene look like it was taken anywhere, including places that exist only in one's imagination. And you don't have to spend any time in photoshop. Composites are way easier, and take only a few seconds.

The flower picture I used it with was out of focus, but Tyfromagnicon was able to make it in focus. If you take the shot and later decide that you should have taken a few steps to the right or left, Tyfromagnicon also has a slider for that. It also has a very useful feature of being able to make anyone look like Megan Fox. It is for this reason that I find it to be of the utmost use for my work. I don't need to use lights to make anyone look attractive anymore, and I don't need to know anything about the settings on my camera. I can just snap away against any backdrop and Tyfromagnicon can change it! Everyone must buy it, or else you can't be a serious professional photographer.

Because I wrote this snazzy review, and because you're nice and decided to read it, the TyfroStore is offering a 50% discount on new purchases with this code: ekaf43 si6 siht