Manfrotto 405 Pro Geared Head Review

During the last few weeks, I have been trying to come up with a good solution for testing lenses that did not require constant movement when dealing with slightly de-centered lenses. The idea was to build a setup similar to macro rails, but one that is bigger in size and very stable at the same time. Stability is extremely important, because even a slight vibration can negatively affect lab results. Using an Arca-Swiss quick release setup was a no-brainer, because it allows moving the setup without having to deal with mounting and dismounting anything, while being rock solid when tightly secured. While my BH-55 Pro tripod head from Really Right Stuff has been serving me well for a while now, it was hard to use for minute adjustments that are often necessary when testing lenses. Therefore, I decided to replace it with a geared head that would allow very precise vertical and horizontal tilt adjustments, along with the ability to pan, when needed. My quick search revealed that unlike the army of pan/tilt heads and ballheads, which are made by a myriad of companies, there are only a few options available for geared heads today. One of them is the Manfrotto 405 Pro Geared head, which I am reviewing today.

Manfrotto 405 Geared Head

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Eye-Fi Pro X2 Review

When testing lenses, I have to make sure that my setup is calibrated and the camera is perfectly aligned with the test chart. The process can take quite a bit of time, since I have to take a picture, make minute adjustments, then take another picture and retest again. In some cases I have to repeat the process many times over, which can be very painful. To simplify and speed-up the process, I have been connecting my laptop (which sits right under the tripod) directly to the Nikon D800E with a USB cable and have been using Nikon’s Camera Control Pro to dump files into a local folder, from which I pick up and process images using Imatest software. The problem with this approach has been speed – Imatest is pretty demanding when it comes to processing large RAW files from the D800E and my laptop just could not keep up. So I ended up moving the software to my powerful desktop machine, which created another problem. Every time I take a picture and need adjustments, I have to walk back and forth between the camera setup and the computer to analyze the results and make adjustments. USB 3 cables have length limitations and even with “active” USB 3 extension cables, the maximum length is typically under 10 meters. And that’s just not going to work for me, since I often test telephoto lenses and I have to be more than 10 meters away. To address these issues, I decided to try some wireless solutions that are available on the market. The first and the cheapest product to try was the Eye-Fi Pro X2 memory card. I got a 16 GB version and wanted to see just how well the card with its software could work for my setup. In this review, I will be focusing primarily on the transfer speed of the card and its usability with the Nikon D800 / D800E DSLR.

Eye-Fi Pro X2 Review

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Lexar Professional 400x SDHC Card Review

This is a short review of the Lexar Professional 400x SDHC UHS-I Class 10 card, which I have been using for the past 6 months. I have owned 4 of these cards in 16GB capacity and decided to write a review after every single one of them failed. I have never had such problems with memory cards, especially those that have a “professional” label attached to them. So this is more of a warning to potential owners, rather than a full-blown review of a product.

Lexar Professional 400x SDHC Card

When it comes to memory cards, the market is simply overflowed by so many different brands and different types of cards, that it can get quite overwhelming for a first time buyer. Out of all those brands, the two most popular ones in the USA are SanDisk and Lexar. They put a lot of effort into marketing their products, particularly in the professional photography arena. For years I have been relying on SanDisk cards and have owned many Compact Flash and SD cards from them. Perhaps I have been lucky, but during the last 7 years, I have never had a single SanDisk card fail (I still own some pretty old 2 GB SanDisk cards). So last year when there was a good promotion on Lexar Professional cards and after I heard so many good things about the brand, I decided to give Lexar a try and purchased four of the professional 400x SDHC class 10 cards.

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Hejnar Photo 10% Discount Coupon

Chris Hejnar from Hejnar Photo Store is kindly giving a special 10% off discount coupon code for Photography Life readers. So if you want to buy his products at even a better price, please use the coupon code below. As I have pointed out in my Hejnar Photo Accessory Review, their Arca-Swiss compatible products are top notch in terms of quality, easily comparable to Really Right Stuff, Kirk and other top brands in the industry. Plus, Chris makes products right here in the US, so by purchasing from him we are supporting a growing small business (and at PL, we do care about US businesses competing with cheap foreign labor).

Manfrotto 405 Arca Swiss Hejnar Photo

To take advantage of this 10% offer, please use the 012ccfcfb1 discount coupon upon checkout. This coupon is good for a year and if we continue supporting Chris, he will be able to extend the offer even more going forward. Please note that Photography Life does not earn any revenue from this offer. We are purely doing this to support a local business.

Hejnar Photo Accessory Review

About 3 weeks ago, I decided to make some changes to my tripod setup in my lens testing lab, in order to make it easier, more consistent and fluid to test lenses. My decision was based on the fact that I found myself moving the tripod a bit too much when testing lenses, especially the de-centered ones (those that do not have a straight optical axis due to a slight dislocation of one or more lens elements). I decided to replace shorter macro focusing rails for much longer and bigger rails, so that I could have more room for side to side movement and more focus bracketing options for testing telephoto lenses. As I was configuring the setup, I realized that I needed to spend close to $2K in a more versatile tripod head and lots of Arca-Swiss rails, clamps and other accessories. The first task was to replace the standard quick release plate of the heavy duty Manfrotto 405 Pro Geared Head (to be reviewed later) with an Arca-Swiss quick release clamp. As usual, I started researching for a proper solution on Google, which pointed me to Hejnar Photo Store on the first page of search, with exactly the product that I was looking for. I then spent another 30-45 minutes researching the solution and read a number of posts on different forums, where people were raving about Hejnar Photo’s products, including the adapter that I needed. This was very important for me, because I needed a setup that would be extremely reliable and stable, especially for handling heavy super telephoto lenses.

Although I have never heard of the company before, I decided to give it a try and purchased the Arca-Swiss adapter and clamp for the Manfrotto 405 tripod head, along with a bunch of other accessories for my custom setup. The pricing was very good, so I wanted to see how Hejnar Photo’s products would compare to the most popular brands like Really Right Stuff. My order was processed on the same day and the package was shipped to me right away without any delays. After a few days, I received everything I ordered and started modifying the Manfrotto 405. After going through the instructions on Hejnar Photos’s website (which are nicely laid out with images), I was able to modify the head in less than 5 minutes. Once everything was put together, I was pleasantly surprised by how solid the setup was. I slid one of the long rails on Hejnar Photo’s tripod clamp and once secured, it was rock solid. No vibrations of any sort – and that’s exactly what I need for testing lenses! Here is the image of one of the configurations:

Manfrotto 405 Arca Swiss Hejnar Photo

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What is Arca-Swiss Quick Release System?

Many of our readers frequently ask us questions about tripod heads and accessories to support heavy camera and lens combinations. Those that are especially new to super telephoto lenses quickly discover that tripod feet supplied by all manufacturers on modern lenses are simply not suitable to be mounted on regular tripod heads. Unfortunately, whether it is Nikon, Canon, Sony or a third party lens manufacturer like Sigma, they all supply non-standard tripod feet with their lenses. For new lens owners it can be a rather frustrating experience trying to figure out which tripod head would fit their large and heavy lenses, because nobody wants a lens worth thousands of dollars to end up crashing on the ground. And since most tripod plates are only equipped with a single mounting point, it can be extremely unstable and even potentially dangerous to mount anything heavier than a few pounds on them. The solution, which has become somewhat of a standard nowadays, was developed by a company called Arca-Swiss back in 1990s and since then has been popularized as “Arca-Swiss Quick Release System”. The idea behind this quick release system is quite simple, but very effective. Almost all professional photographers that use super telephoto lenses have adopted the Arca-Swiss quick release system and more photographers are converting even their regular cameras to this format for ease of use, stability and compatibility reasons.

Arca Swiss Z1 with Plate

1) Arca-Swiss Quick Release

The Arca-Swiss quick release system is based on a two piece mechanism. The first piece, generally referred to as a “plate”, is attached to a camera or a lens (or any other device). It comes in a standard, “arca-style” 35mm wide form with a 45° dovetail and can vary in length (a sample plate is illustrated above to the right of the tripod head). The second piece is the mounting base, generally referred to as a “clamp”, where the plate gets attached and secured. The clamp can be fully opened, allowing the plate to be dropped in and secured, or can be partially opened to allow the plate to be slid into the position. The biggest advantage of the Arca-Swiss quick release system is this ability to slide the plate without having to worry about mounting or dismounting anything. The 45° dovetail on the plate, as pictured below, allows equipment to be moved across the clamp and secured in a specific location using a side knob or a locking release.

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Sensor Gel Stick Status and International Shipping

Lola and I have been crazy busy this week, fulfilling all pre-orders for the sensor gel stick. Over 400 orders have been processed and we’ve finally caught up, which is a huge relief! I know that some of our readers have been frustrated with the delays – we really apologize for all this. Having a short supply and a boatload of pre-orders has not been easy. In addition, we are still learning our ways around the new order system and trying to find better ways to ship more efficiently. The good news is, we are now much more efficient with the handling and shipping process, so we will hopefully handle the load much better going forward.

We still have about 100 units left, but those are all called for through the pre-orders. If you have placed a pre-order before Christmas, you should have received an email notification from our system, asking to make the payment (please check your spam/junk folder if you have not received anything yet). Please make sure to complete this step ASAP, so that we can send the rest of the units. Meanwhile, all new pre-orders are on hold, awaiting for the new shipment – we want to make sure that all of our customers that pre-ordered get their sensor gel sticks, instead of having to wait for the next batch.

Sensor Gel Stick

We also have great news – International shipping options are now open! We are shipping to most European countries, Australia and New Zealand. If you live in a different country and would like us to consider the option of sending there, please use the Contact Us form and let us know which country you want the sensor gel stick to be shipped to, including information on customs and potential taxes (best that you research in advance and provide us with this information). While we will do our best to ship to most countries, please understand that we might refuse to ship to certain countries due to US regulations, high probability of theft, etc. In some cases, we just don’t want the potential headaches with shipping and tracking orders.

Happy holidays!

BlackRapid Sport Camera Strap Review

Maybe you can teach an old dog new tricks.  I hate camera straps, they seem to always be in the way and so more often than not, I end up ditching them.  Instead, I end up carrying the camera  by the body or by the tripod foot when using larger lenses.  I should say, I used to hate straps, until I finally used a BlackRapid Sport and in this quick review we will discuss the advantages of this strap.

BlackRapid Sport with D4 and 300mm

The reason I didn’t use straps was simple, I didn’t like them.  I didn’t like them because they usually weren’t  comfortable.  When used straight around the neck, the strap tended to pull and give me a neck ache.  Another reason for my disdain of straps was that If you placed the strap over your head and onto your opposite shoulder, it would be more comfortable but it was hard to bring the camera up to your eye to shoot.

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Expert Shield Screen Protector Review

I thought I was perfectly happy using the standard hard plastic Nikon screen protector that came with my D800. It does what it’s supposed to do, right? It protects the screen from getting scratched without getting in the way of actually seeing the screen. Why mess with a good thing? That’s what I thought until I was given the opportunity to try out an Expert Shield Screen Protector.

The Expert Shield Screen Protector is a flexible screen protector that is applied directly to your device’s screen. I’ve used screen protectors like this on cameras and phones in the past and always had issues with bubbles, scratches and peeling. Would this be the same or would I end up loving it and throw away the hard plastic screen protector that came with my camera? Only one way to find out.

Expert Shield Screen Protector-15

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Guide to Photographic Photo Paper

Photographic photo papers are designed to produce a high quality image in an effort to best reproduce the photographed object. How good or bad the paper is at meeting this objective will depend on the type of printer, type of ink and of course the subject of this guide; the type of photo paper. In this guide we will explain the various considerations to take into account when evaluating your options.

Inford Photo Paper

Inkjet Vs. Laser Photo Paper

The mostly widely adopted technology by the professional printing community is the Inkjet printer technology. Laser printing is able to outperforming Inkjet printing in terms of speed, but it lacks the accuracy that high quality photographs require. Laser uses melted powder-like substance in CMYK colours, while Inkjet uses the same colours though liquid ink form that are delivered to the paper by means of small jets (hence Ink-Jet). This method of printing can achieve 2880Dpi vs. 720Dpi commonly found in laser printers. Therefore from here on, the various parameters for choosing photo paper will refer to the Inkjet type.
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