Monday, March 9, 2009

Black-to-Silver Wheel Transform

My stock 650 V-Strom was black in too many places - including the wheels. It stripped the bike of personality and a degree of visibility, which I have made a priority since Day One. A fellow Strom forum member had done this treatment to his bike, so I finally found a weekend to turn around this transformation on mine.

Prep was typical automotive de rigeur with 400-grit sandpaper removing the majority of the original black paint without scratching up the cast wheel surfaces. Taping under the wheel lip at the tire joint and across mating surfaces for brakes and sprocket parts came next. A newspaper masking 'wrap' around the exposed tire had me ready for the fun stuff.

I placed a paint-ready wheel on some clean cardboard atop a fullsize plastic garbage can - a perfect height for spraying around the wheel without moving it. A simple flip and both sides can be painted in just minutes. Changing out the cardboard after both the primer and paint cycles kept dust and other issues to a minimum.

A thorough cleaning with paint prep solution got me ready for priming. Duplicolor's Etch Primer went on first in several light coats before a few 'wet' coats were applied. Within 30 minutes I was prep-washed again and applying color - Duplicolor's Silver Wheel Metallic. Similar light-then-'wet' coats were down in another 30 minutes.

Lastly, several coats of Duplicolor's Clear Coat polished off the project. An hour later, I was peeling off the masking materials and placing the wheels where they would safely dry for the next few days. Results? My HD-riding next door neighbor said they looked factory - can't get a better compliment than that, huh?

It was really pretty easy as long as you follow Duplicolor's paint instructions, which means my errors are basically invisible and anyone else can pull this mod off with some patience and close attention. Better get started, though - spring is almost here!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

SparX Corsa Full Face Helmet Review

Along with full face protection, I wanted a little visibility for my money and a splash of color to add to my black jacket and metallic gray bike paint. My SparX Corsa full face helmet is one of their 2007 S-07 street series models. As a $79 closeout with free shipping from Revzilla, it was a slam dunk decision but not before reading up on its qualifications. The Corsa's classic red/white color scheme is a cool Italian throwback - the other S-07 models are highly attractive, more contemporary black/grey graphic designs.

The SparX S-07 lineup was given the thumbs-up for price/quality by many reviewers/owners. Other than a thinly disguised slam by an unidentified rival, they challenge the price points of many helmets which is good news for the rider who cannot justify a $300 Shoei - and can live without the added features.

A thermoplastic design, the SparX S-07 line is lightweight but rugged. I detected no flex or cheapness in its build. Fit and finish were excellent with quality materials and workmanship clearly evident. The Sparx S-07's are made with a removable liner, D-rings and snapping neckstrap, clear visor and mouth/brow/forehead ventilation, as well exhaust vents at the rear. The mouth vent sends air up in front of the visor - not at your face. This worked well with additional brow vents just below the visor's top edge. At speed, this design is above average for a tightly filled space with your head in it.

The visor received a low score by some on ease-of-operation with just one small side tab for opening it. I anticipated some aggravation but had no trouble cracking it open to the first clickstop easily with a gloved thumb/forefinger manuever.

What bugged me more was the neckstrap being placed aft of an ideal location under my chin and that the strap snap is in a tight spot under the padding. Truthfully, the strap location wasn't a big issue and the strap end is short and doesn't necessarily need to be snapped up.

There is also an elastic retainer for your earplugs to keep them handy - a nice touch and noble effort toward ear protection advocacy. A substantial helmet bag finishes this quality product's features.

Internal fit was spot on and very comfortable with good padding all around. The cheek pads were much more comfy than I anticipated and felt fine throughout the afternoon - they will get better over time. One thing I will miss is being able to take a drink of water or pop some chocolate in my mouth while riding (note to self: get a squeeze bottle). Overall, the SparX is a huge improvement over my more spherical HJC open face CL model which is now officially replaced.

SparX's are DOT and ECE 22-05 safety rated - for a nice read on the Snell vs. EC 22-05 controversy, read this test report for further insight on US and European performance standards.

As my first full face, I was initially hesitant about crammin' my heads into one of these designs, but the Sparx cured me almost immediately. On my trial run with the Corsa, I rode for 4 hours and enjoyed myself immensely - having springlike weather was a plus.

I tried the Corsa out three ways - without earplugs and cracked at the first visor opening, without earplugs and visor closed, and then both 'cracked and closed' with ear plugs. To be honest, any of 'em was fine with me on a cool day. The SparX Corsa was sufficiently quiet open or closed, but earplugs and a closed visor gave me the serenity needed for truly enjoyable riding.

SparX offers a 5-year warranty and free helmet replacement with a submitted police report in the event of a crash - a unique approach to developing brand loyalty! For my first full face, the $140 retail-priced SparX Corsa is a great choice - and a response to the demand for cheaper, high quality head protection in the 'new' economy.

SparX's Customer Service (800.595.0080) will confirm an accurate fit based on your existing size and brand - give 'em a call.

Monday, December 15, 2008

FX or DX? That is the Question...

Without getting too controversial, the typical trend toward further development in FX bodies is pressing the above question. So which way do you need to go? It's not likely Nikon will drop the prosumer DX line right away, but eventually DX may not be necessary. What!? Well, how many 6-megapixel DSLRs are there anymore? And how many current 12-megapixel bodies do we have to choose from? Get the point? Older and smaller body models are being phased out faster than ever - and unless Nikon makes a 14-20 megapixel DX body, there's isn't much room left in the AP-C format to grow.

This postulates what the future might be - the rise of FX bodies in the same manner as recent DX models. Instead of a new D60 or D90, we should see the D600 and D900 - FX models created to fill a price point with the continuing feature sets Nikon develops for new cameras. Honestly, I would go bonkers if a D700 base model was developed for under $2000. Would I buy another DX model if it were? Maybe - maybe not...

Our glass collection is the major factor. Obviously. So we need to decide if it's time to reconfigure our kits while these lenses still have any value. Many are problematic. Some are classics. The bottom line of cost over time is more important. Personally, I've spent as much on lesser lenses as I could have on pro glass - and I'm not proud of it. For economic reasons, Nikon isn't overly interested in adding top level performance or extreme focal ranges for DX optics. This presents limitations to the DX lineup as well.

Therefore, I'm moving forward to FX glass - first for the quality and secondly for some longevity as FX rises into the mainstream. The typical DX customer isn't looking for premium glass but will spend an equal amount over time trading up to better versions.

Which one are you? Time will tell...

FX: On the Rise!

Like many serious shooters, you may be wondering if there is any wisdom in continuing to acquire DX lenses with the introduction of FX bodies like the D700. Eventually, economical full-frame sensors will find new bodies to live in and make any DX body a lesser choice for lower noise at higher ISO's and greater dynamic range - this applies primarily to stock images and more critical assignments.

Therefore, my strategy for purchasing lenses has changed for the better - pro glass to be more specific. With FX bodies on the rise, I expect to be shooting in that format within a year or two, so it was decisionmaking time regarding any new glass I would acquire. As a result, I have added two of the best zooms Nikon makes to my stable while shedding a handful of older DX and AI samples. They will perform beautifully on my current D300 and D40 DX bodies until I begin to acquire an FX body.

D200 with 14-24/2.8 Nikkor

A few 'for sale' posts were setup in photography forums this month to sell off my 18-70 Nikkor, 10-20 Sigma, a 35/2 AI Nikkor and an even older 135/28 AI'd Q Nikkor. (I've already liquidated other older lenses like the 180/2.8 AI, 70-300 ED and several pre-AF-S DX consumer zooms.) These recent sales netted me half the cash needed to finance my latest pro zoom, the new 14-24/2.8 G ED AF-S IF Nikkor. (When I realized the cost difference of just $300 between it and the otherwise excellent 17-55/2.8 DX Nikkor, it was a no-brainer.) As a new standard in superwide performance, this FX design effectively obsoletes the 14mm Nikkor prime, making this pro zoom a valid substitiute for all previous designs. Combined with the new 24-70/2.8 VR and 70-200/2.8 VR models, you have a full range of focal lengths that offer excellent wide open performance, high AF speed and top optical results under any circumstances.

This decision came on the heels of my first pro glass buy earlier this year - the 70-200/2.8G ED AF-S IF VR Nikkor - likely the most popular and first pro glass choice by most amateur/semipro shooters. Everyone seems to have one. Nothing prepared me for the image and build quality of this classic midrange tele. VR technology enables handheld or monopod shooting for much greater flexibility and response to imaging opportunities. And the wide open performance extends the use of lower ISO's under lower light levels. To my surprise, it also works beautifully with my $125 Kenko 1.4 Pro Teleconverter producing perfectly sharp images while retaining all lens functions.

This trend toward FX-ready optics is being followed by many forum participants who have run the course of prosumer glass and are also looking to the future now in their lens choices. If you never intend to graduate to an FX body, this is not necessary for producing excellent images - Nikon makes a number of DX zooms worthy of your attention. Several I like include the 17-55, 16-85 VR , and 70-300 VR. Although optically slower and offering lower performance wide open, they are more than sufficient for well lit subjects and flash photography.

Make no mistake - FX pro glass is an investment and any choices should be made with more care than we may have used with our DX choices. But each one is also a keeper - prized optics that will serve for a lifetime as we move into the FX format and offer a greater return over time.

10.5/2.8 Fisheye Nikkor

In addition to adding these two jewels to my kit, I became enamored with Nikon's 10.5/2.8G ED AF-D DX Fisheye Nikkor - a fullframe design with speed and sharpness to boot. Fortunately, I managed to acquire a perfect, used sample for 2/3 of the retail cost, making my potentially last DX lens purchase even sweeter. Presenting a whole new perspective on composition, I spent an exploratory afternoon shooting in downtown Knoxville, Tennessee, which you can view here: A Fisheye View of Knoxville.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

D700 vs. D300, D200, D40 Viewfinder Comparo

Viewfinder performance is an all too often overlooked specification as megapixel count and the latest whizbang features dazzle the eye and mind of todays' digital shooter. But in the old days, Nikon's 100% viewfinder cameras were state-of-the-art for accurate, pro level performance - and they gained a venerated status as a result. Not entirely so today. Rare is the full size viewfinder, and yet, many are the complaints of a less than ideal experience with today's hardware - in part due to the scaling back of this critical design element.

For those who have owned a 100% viewfinder camera, you know what I'm talking about. For the rest, what you don't know hasn't hurt you. Until now. An interesting comparison of the D700, D300, D200 and D40 viewfinder might influence your next purchase simply based on this spec. We spend so much time looking through these devices, I thought it was one of the more critical areas of concern. What do you think?

D700 Viewfinder
Viewfinder: SLR-type with fixed eye-level pentaprism
Diopter Adjustment: -3 to +1 m-1
Eyepoint: 18 mm (-1.0 m-1)
Focusing Screen: Type B BriteView Clear Matte VI screen with superimposed AF points and framing grid lines
Frame Coverage: Approx. 95% (vertical/horizontal)
Magnification: Approx. 0.72x (50mm f/1.4 lens at infinity; -1.0 m-1)

D300 Viewfinder
Viewfiner: SLR Type, fixed eye-level Pentaprism type; built-in diopter adjustment (-2.0 to +1.0 m-1)
Eyepoint: 19.5mm (-1.0m-1)
Viewfinder Frame Coverage: Approx. 100% (vertical and horizontal)
Viewfinder Magnification: Approx. 0.94x with 50mm lens at infinity; -1.0m-1

The differences are obvious. Now compare this info with the lower end D40 body viewfinder specs.

D40 Viewfinder
Viewfinder: Fixed-eyelevel penta-Dach-mirror type; built-in diopter adjustment (-1.6 to +0.5m -1)
Eyepoint: 18 mm (-1.0 m -1)
Focusing Screen: Type-B BriteView Clear Matte screen Mark V with superimposed focus brackets
Viewfinder Frame Coverage: Approx. 95%
Viewfinder Magnification: Approx. 0.8x with 50mm lens at infinity; -1.0m-1

Why, even the D200 outperforms the D700 handily - its specs can be considered a minimum performance for a pro level camera:

D200 Viewfinder
Viewfinder Frame Coverage: Approx. 95%
Viewfinder Eyepoint: 19.5
Magnification: 0.94x with 50mm lens at infinity

Very interesting. A new $3000 body has less magnification and the identical eyepoint of a $400 Nikon body. When it comes to a key feature for any camera - looking through it - we need to remain aware of Nikon's efforts to consumerize camera design when price advantages translate into feature compromises. This is a more drastic one considering the D700's price tag, IMHO. Am I to expect the view within the D700 to be similar to that of a D40? (I have a D40 and use it less and less due to its squinty viewfinder experience compared to the D300. It's basically a backup body at this point.)

This was also one of the reasons I opted to buy the D300 - viewfinder performance is a pro level 100% with a .94X magnification - and, believe me, you can see the difference. Bright, open and easy on the eyes, you can practically 'look around' the image and study it during composition. Owning a pro level Nikon has always been a dream for me, and the D300 has made it come true as it continues to be the most unique offering in the Nikon lineup today - for now. 'Priced to sell out' is how B&H is describing the D300 - and Adorama no longer has any new stock for sale. The writing is on the wall. At $1624 on the street, it represents a bargain in what Nikon calls their "compact professional DSLR". No other currently available Nikon DSLR has a 100% viewfinder but the D3. In view of the foregoing comparison, doesn't that scare you just a bit?

If you've read this far, you will appreciate the following information published at Luminous Landscape on the viewfinder - "the single most important user interface on any camera". Their advice clearly steers us toward the better viewfinders of the D200, D300 and D3 specs for pro level cameras. The D700 is underqualified for its price point. Buyer beware...

Understanding Viewfinders

Saturday, July 26, 2008

My New Identity is Here...

Attached Image

It's been coming for a while and now I see it's the only way I can go. I've no time to think, little time to compose, and the situation is never going to change. It's time dated. Short lived. Measured in minutes - not hours. Nothing can be repeated. Nobody waits for you. You work with what you have and must always be ready - until it's over.

What kind of situation is this?! Job interview? Tax audit? Oh, no - I'm talking about wedding photography!

Every location is new. Every customer is different. Every group of people is unpredictable. All of this is designed to test your preparedness and nerves, not to mention your manners.

Being in control of yourself is the key to success. The ceremony is predictable - cover every minute, literally. Shoot until people start looking at you funny. The family/friends group shots are cut and dried - you're in charge and they will turn out fine. But catching people in their most natural state and making good images of them can be two different things. (She's ugly. He doesn't smile. Will someone check their pulse, please?)

So, you put on the charm and coax them into a romantic mood with promises of fabulous photos for their efforts. If they believe you, there's a chance you'll get some shots even you will like. If not, they can't say you didn't try. Usually, something good happens and if you apply one of the aforementioned dictums, you will have a decent shot of even the worst subjects.

Are they all like that? Not at all. When the mood is festive, the location is engaging, and people are ready for the event, it can be a fantastic experience. But the rules don't change and you gotta come home with the goods. So, shooting voraciously is de rigeur. Don't stop and enjoy the moment - shoot it!

But more truly is better - a more picturesque location begs for creative coverage. Well dressed people are portrait practice potential. Attractive rooms become interior design challenges to show off the wedding decor. Late afternoon sun, the swimming pool, the dinner tent - each adds extra dimensions to what you can record - so do it quickly! Time is running out! Light is fading - people are moving. You are the only constant in this human drama. You're not there for the same reason they are. They will want to see this day again - and that's why they hired you.

Taking advantage of creative timeframes is a luxury. Most couples don't spend all day getting married like they use to. You get 3-5 hours to perform your miracles of modern photography and what you can cram in that space in time is all you get to work with. So revel in the opportunities to shoot in a garden after the ceremony and before the reception takes control of your time. Build in a half hour at a guaranteed location that will deliver cool personal images. You'll make a bigger fee, sure, but you'll feel even better for the images you gained.

All this is wrapped up in wedding photography - and it is a blast. You perspire. You improvise. You cajole the kids and compliment the bride's mother. All to get that elusive image that turns you on. Your images will tell the tale. You are a wedding photographer!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Lessons Learned in Lightroom

Here's a great example of the recovery potential in RAW images with Lightroom's powerful Develop tools. This image was heavily overexposed, especially in the bright area representing his shirt. Had this image been shot as a JPG, it would be unrecoverable. Not so with RAW! What a transformation! Exposure, saturation and detail is all there...

Attached Image
Original RAW

Attached Image
Recovered RAW

Moral of the Story During camera exposure, push that histogram as far to the right as possible and don't delete those blown files until you've checked them out in LR - even a couple of stops of overexposure can be corrected on many shots.

PS I've also made it a practice to move the Recovery and Blacks sliders to adjust exposure - then adjust Fill if needed. With big corrections, the Exposure slider can tend to reduce saturation and contrast and complicate the process. Also, the Auto button often adds excessive Black values in the shadows portion of the histogram. This worries me as I prep for printmaking, so I manually adjust Black levels to just touch the left side of the histogram to retain maximum detail in dark areas.