Reviewing the Flip Mino HD

A few months ago I had been searching for an inexpensive way to record video for tutorials. I have my D90 which shoots excellent HD video, but it’s also my primary camera body, so I couldn’t use it if I wanted to do a shooting tutorial.

With that said, I set out to find a great HD video solution that wouldn’t break the bank. Enter the Flip Mino HD. For $229.99, I got an awesome little camera that performs really well in low-light situations and records great audio as well.

The Mino HD comes in two models – one which records 60 minutes of 720p video at 30 frames per second (fps) and another that records 120 minutes of the same. I went with the 120 minute model for flexibility purposes.

This thing is super portable! It’s about the size of a cell phone and I can carry it comfortably in a shirt or pants pocket and it doesn’t feel out of place. The USB connector flips out of the top (thus the name), so it doesn’t get in the way and I don’t have to worry about carrying a cable to connect it to a computer. However, the USB connector on the camera seems to be a little smaller than those on my 2-year old MacBook Pro and so I have to use a cable to make it work.

The 2″ TFT LCD Screen is nice and bright, which is great for shooting outdoors on a sunny day. You can still clearly see your video and know whether or not you got the shot. The camera also features an HDMI port (cable not included) that allows you to connect it directly to an HDTV to show off your videos. The tripod socket allows you to mount it on a tripod, monopod, lightstand, or Gorrillapod.

Performance is superb. The 1280 x 720 HD video at 30 fps is nice and clear and the audio is outstanding for such a small device. It seems to handle motion and panning pretty well, unless the motion is extremely fast. The touch-sensitive buttons are very functional and I don’t have to be very deliberate in order to activate a button. The video format is H.264 with AAC audio compression and the files are saved as MP4 files, making them compatible with most consumer editing programs like Windows Movie Maker or iMovie in addition to the higher-end editing tools.

Here’s a couple of short clips – the first showing motion and panning and the second showing motion and handling contrast and exposure:

Overall, this little camera is a great device to have for any purpose and it goes with me in my camera bag all the time. If you need a portable video camera to capture family, friends, tutorials, or just about anything else you can think of the Flip Mino HD is a great fit. You can pick them up directly from their website or from any major electronics retailer. The 120 minute Mino HD retails for $299.99, but I’ve seen them on sale for $199.99 too! A great buy for a great device!


Lumodi Review: Speedlight Beauty Dishes and Reflector

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Brandon Cruz, the owner of Lumodi while I was hosting the Lighting Essentials Workshop here in San Diego. I was really attracted to the very lightweight Model 14 (14″ beauty dish) and Brandon was kind enough to offer a dish up to use and review. After a few emails, Brandon also sent a Model 11 (11″ beauty dish) with a custom logo and a prototype Speedlight Reflector. I put them all through their paces and I have to say that these are some of the lightest, durable, and most efficient speedlight modifiers available. Keep reading for the full review.

The Model 14 (see photo above) is a 14″ beauty dish and comes in one of two interior finishes – white and titanium silver. In fact, all three of their products are available with both interior finishes. The Model 14 gives off very soft, gorgeous light that falls off quickly, giving you a lot of control over spill. The silver finish is slightly more efficient and the center is just a tad hotter than the edges. The white finish produces a more even light from center to edge. The silver finish would work better in outdoor settings where you need as much out of your speedlight as you can get. Speaking of light, these beauty dishes reduce the output of your flash by approximately 2 stops so you’ll need to keep that in mind. Price: $69.95

The Model 11 is an 11″ beauty dish which is not as deep as the Model 14, making it a little easier to put into your camera bag or backpack. It works well for a key light if you get it in really close, but I like to use it for a little on-axis fill in combination with the Model 14. If you’re working in a tight space, the Model 11 might work better due to size and control of your light. You can also easily hand-hold a flash with the Model 11 and get great off-camera light without the need for a stand or an assistant. Just remember to get in close. Pricing information isn’t available at this time, but I will update this post as soon as I have it.

Back of the Lumodi Model 11 mounted on an SB80DX speedlight.

The Lumodi Speedlight Reflector (SLR) is a prototype modifier, but it’s got some serious potential! With the beauty dishes, the only light that comes out of them is reflected light. The Speedlight Reflector gives direct light that is diffused as well as reflected light, much like a studio strobe would with a reflector mounted on it. This makes the modifier very efficient while still producing a soft and controllable light. One thing that I noticed with this modifier is that I was able to control the softness of the shadows based on how much or little I zoomed my flash head. This gives you even more control over the output of your light. Very cool. I currently don’t have pricing information on this unit, but I will update this post as soon as it’s available.

Back of the Lumodi Speedlight Reflector on an SB80DX speedlight.

Now that I’ve given you a good description of each of the products and what they can do, lets get to the images!

Model 14, camera left of the subject and a little higher, pointing down.

Model 14, camera left (same as above); Model 11 used as on-axis fill.

Model 11, camera left of the subject and a little higher, pointing down. In nice and close too.

Speedlight Reflector, camera left, SB800 zoomed to 24mm, producing soft shadows.


Speedlight Reflector, camera left, SB800 zoomed to 105mm, producing harder shadows.


Speedlight Reflector with SB800 zoomed to 24mm – you can see the soft falloff on the background.

Speedlight Reflector with SB800 zoomed to 105mm – hot spot in the center and fast falloff.

Model 14, directly above and feathered in front of the subject to give a very dramatic feel to the light. Think “back room mafia poker game”.

Why Use A Beauty Dish?
A beauty dish gives you a lot of control over light spill and they produce a very pleasing light when they are in close. That’s why you want to have your beauty dish no further away from your subject than twice the distance of the diameter of the dish. In other words, with the Model 14 which is 14″ in diameter, you would have it no further than 28″ away from your subject. Further than that, it is just a light and it’s not anywhere near as pleasing as it is in close. Beauty dishes work great in small spaces because of the control over spill and size. Try using a big octabox in a 3′ x 5′ office… not gonna happen folks. A Model 14 or Model 11 will work great.

Build Quality
The Lumodi products are handmade, just as they say on the back of each of the units and they are fairly durable. They are subject to warping/melting under high heat conditions, so if you live in the desert I wouldn’t recommend leaving them in your car where they are exposed directly to the sun. If you step on them they will certainly bend or crease and most likely crack. But, this isn’t the type of product that’s designed to fold up and go in your shoulder bag either. Since Lumodi products are made of light plastic, they are extremely light and you don’t have to worry that they will dent or break if one falls or is dropped. Overall these modifiers are well-designed and well-built.

Overall
I really don’t have a bad thing to say about these awesome little light modifiers. The fact that they are lightweight means that I don’t have to worry about them putting stress on my flash heads and I love that. They are universal, so they will fit most flashes on the market today and you don’t have to worry about having a specific model for a specific flash. So if you have an SB900 and some SB800s, all three products will fit on both flashes without any trouble. If I needed to travel with them, I would either mail them or pack clothes in and around the dish to prevent pressure and cracking. They are so lightweight that you could mail them for next to nothing and not worry about them being packed away in an airline suitcase.

So if you’ve been looking for a great beauty dish to use with your speedlights, the products from Lumodi are definitely the way to go. There are some other really great options out there, but they aren’t as lightweight as these babies. I’ve been very impressed with the Model 14, Model 11, and Speedlight Reflector and I know they will continue to get a lot of use since I mainly light with small flash.

Currently, the Model 14 is sold online in Lumodi’s eBay Store so you can pick them up there or contact them directly to purchase.

Don’t forget to check out Lumodi’s website and be sure to tell Brandon that I sent you!


“Winter” Contest Winner Announced!

Congratulations to the winner of our “Winter” photo contest, Mike Engel, for the excellent shot above! I picked Mike’s photo because of the composition, colors, and subject – which all came together very well to create a photo that captures the essence of the theme. Great job Mike!

Mike will receive a copy of BlinkBid, the estimating and invoicing software that was developed for creative professionals, by creative professionals. I would personally like to thank Lou and Alyse over at BlinkBid for sponsoring this contest! Thanks again guys!

I’ll be doing another contest soon, so be sure to tell your friends, family, and fellow shooters to keep their cameras close!


Photoshop CS5 – It Does Indeed Exist

I have made no announcement in regard to what I’m about to tell you – because I could not. But now, I can, therefore I will!

For the past several weeks I have been beta testing Adobe Photoshop CS5. Adobe has just given me permission to disclose what I have been doing, starting today. So I’m happy to announce that Adobe Photoshop CS5 does exist, and is well on it’s way toward release. There have been quite a few other folks that have been testing as well and I think Adobe is really onto something with the way they have gone about this round of beta testing.

Now, as much as I would love to divulge all the dirt about features, interface, and the like – I cannot. I apologize, but in order to honor my agreement with Adobe I simply cannot discuss any particulars about the software at this time. As soon as (and if) I am able to, I will be sure to update you with the latest and greatest from the flagship application from Adobe.

In case you have been wondering where I have been and the fewer posts that have been up on the blog, this is part of the reason why. I hope you’ll hang around with me this weekend, because I’ve got some more cool stuff coming, including the announcement of the Winter Photo Contest winner!

Be back soon!

Stephen


Exposing to the Right – Explained

Yesterday, I showed you this picture. Today, I’ll explain what I meant by “Exposing to the Right”.

In today’s wonderful world of digital, there are two helpful tools in our camera bodies to assist in making a good exposure – your in-camera exposure meter and your histogram. The LCD is very helpful too, but it can lead you astray if you’re not careful.

Exposing to the Right means that you are choosing an exposure for your shot that pushes more pixels up into the brighter tonal regions. Why? Because when you do that, you still retain ALL of your pixels in your shot. This is little trick could also be considered overexposing, or making your photo a little overexposed.

The histogram (as seen above) is what helps us push those pixels to the right. It’s broken down into four areas, from right to left. Those areas are: Highlights, Lights, Darks, and Shadows. The higher the graph in one particular region indicates that there is more information in that particular portion of the photograph.

Without getting too technical here, Exposing to the Right means that we are keeping that little graph (and most of the information in the photo) pushed to the right side of the histogram. Again, this is because when you overexpose all of the information is still there in the image file. When you underexpose, pixels are dropped from the file.

To see for yourself, go out and shoot a properly exposed shot, then set your camera to underexpose by 2 stops (ie f/4 to f/8) and then take the exact same shot. Copy both files onto your computer and look at the file sizes for each. The underexposed shot will have a smaller file size every single time, because there is less information in the file. If you still haven’t sipped the kool aid, shoot another properly exposed shot and then shoot an overexposed shot and you will see that both file sizes are almost the same size. All the information is still there!

So why is this important?

When doing any sort of post processing, you can still bring back information from an overexposed shot and it will be clean and retain detail a heck of a lot easier than you can an underexposed photo. So when you’re out shooting and you expose to the right, if you happen to overexpose “the shot” you can expect to save it in post and still have a great looking photo. Underexpose, and your shadow areas are going to be muddy and noisy – and you will have missed the opportunity to get a great photo of “the shot”.


DIY Video Lights

I created this video based off of Larry Becker’s “Cheap Shots” segment on D-Town TV. He showed this setup as being a simple modeling light when using small flash. I figured it could also be used in situations where you would like to add some light to your videos.

Enjoy!

Stephen