Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Review of the new Samsung U28D590D 28" monitor - A 4K monitor for only $559?

As many of you know, I upgraded my editing workstation to the new Mac Pro (the cylinder) about 6 months ago. I was really excited to get the new computer with a screaming fast processor, USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt ports and so much more. When ordering the new computer, I had the option of adding a 4K monitor to get super sharp resolution, but the cost was CRAZY expensive. Apple was, and still is, offering a Sharp 32" 4K display for a whopping $3595.00! That is more than most computers cost these days. Needless to say, I chose to stay with my Apple 30" Cinema Display as my primary monitor. 

Then a couple of months ago I saw a new bulletin about a new Samsung 28" 4K monitor for only $700 (which is now only $559 after rebate!). And my skeptical brain thought "Can this really be any good?" I figured for this amount of money, I would give it a try and let you all know my findings. Yep, I will be your guinea pig. 
I ordered the Samsung U28D590D 28" UHD LED TN Monitor from B&H Photo and had it shipped to me. The first thing I noticed, when the box arrived, was how small and light the box was. Remember, I was used to my older Apple 30" monitor which was big and heavy. I was a little nervous looking at the box, because I like a really large monitor for photo editing, and was concerned that this might not meet my needs. Upon opening the box and putting the display up against the Apple 30" monitor, I was happy to see that it was not much different in screen real estate. And, knowing that this would be much higher resolution, I figured this would make up for the loss of 2" diagonally.

Then it was time to disconnect the old display and connect the Samsung. The new monitor has two options for video connection. I had a choice of HDMI or DisplayPort. I decided to connect the monitor to the new Mac using HDMI, and this was a good choice (more about that to come). I love having one small cable connected to the new Mac, versus all the adaptors I needed for the Apple 30" Cinema Display.

I plugged in the power cord, turned it on and immediately noticed that the Mac OS looked amazing! All the text was super crisp, much like I am used to on my MacBook Pro with the Retina display. This looked to me like a 28" Retina display. Wow!

The first thing I did was to go to the Mac Display Preferences and change the resolution to give me more working space. Since the monitor is 3840 x 2160, even small text is very readable. The next step was to open some photos and see how they looked on the Samsung 4K display. Even the smallest of details showed amazingly well, but I questioned the color calibration. Since I already had the Datacolor Spyder4Elite connected to my Mac, all I had to do was start a new calibration. Even before starting the calibration, I noticed that the monitored seemed to be too bright. This was confirmed when I started the calibration, and I had to turn down the brightness to a level of 62 before calibration could be properly performed. Changing the brightness (along with all the other settings) is done with one small joystick button on the lower right hand side on the back of the display. I found it very easy to figure out without having to read any documentation.

After a couple of minutes I was fully up and running with this new display. And for the last couple of weeks I have been using this daily and I am really liking it. My photos show excellent detail, the colors are vibrant and the color calibration seems to be holding nicely.

At this point, you might be wondering if there are any drawbacks to the Samsung U28D590D. And there are a couple. The refresh rate when using HDMI is only 30Hz, which means that fast moving graphics do not refresh as fast as the Apple monitor. This is important to gamers and possibly to video editors, but not a serious drawback to still photographers. To be fair, I have not noticed any annoying slow-down in my day-to-day workflow, but wish that I had a faster refresh rate nonetheless. After reading about this monitor and asking people at Samsung, I found that the DisplayPort connection supports a 60Hz refresh, therefore twice as fast as the HDMI connection. But I also saw rumblings on the Internet that the Mac Pro would not support this mode on this monitor. I purchased a DisplayPort to MiniDisplayPort adaptor and connected it to see for myself. Everything came up great, except for the far right hand side of the display where there was obvious problems. You can see this in the image below.

The Samsung monitor connected through DisplayPort to the Mac Pro (running at 60Hz)

UPDATE: After installing MacOS X Yosemite (v10) the DisplayPort now works perfectly!  

I am hoping that Apple can fix this problem with a firmware tweak or change to the Mac OS, but this could be a hardware issue.

Another thing that I noticed with the SamSung monitor is the change in brightness which varies with the viewing angle. With this 4K monitor, it is really important to angle the middle of the screen (which can be tilted 15 degrees) directly at your face. Even though my Apple monitor showed minor changes depending on the viewing angle, it is more pronounced with the Samsung.

Now that I have covered some of the drawbacks of the 4K monitor, let me tell you some more advantages of this display.

The older Apple display used a CCFL backlighting which drew a lot of power and created a lot of heat. It was not uncommon for my home office to be 10 degrees warmer than the rest of the house, with two of the Apple 30" Cinema displays turned on. This was a benefit in the winter, but very much unwanted in the summer! The Samsung U28D590D uses LED backlighting and it runs noticeably cooler than the older Apple monitor. Not only is it cooler, but it draw much less power than my older display. The Apple 30" monitor would use 150W in normal operation and 3W in standby, whereas the Samsung 4K display uses 32W (a fifth the power)  in normal operation and .3W (a tenth the power) in standby.

Overall, I am very happy with the Samsung U28D590D 28" UHD LED TN Monitor (other than the crazy long name) and very happy to have it as my primary display. There are way more advantages than drawbacks, and the 28 inches of overall clarity trumps everything else. Would I have spent $3700 for this upgrade? No way. But for $559, I think that this is an amazing deal.

Now my big question is...when will they come out with a 37" 4K monitor for a similar price point? Because I want to go even bigger!!!


If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. I would really appreciate that.

And stay up-to-date with all my photos and videos on my Facebook page.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Yeehaw - This was my first Rodeo!!!

Last weekend a friend of ours asked if we wanted to go with her to a rodeo, which was happening in Salinas, CA (about an hour from our home). We had the day open and we all thought it would be fun to experience a rodeo for the first time. And, of course, I looked forward to bringing the camera and seeing what I could capture. (And no - I did not attempt to fly the drone over the rodeo!)

This was a family outing, and I didn't want the emphasis to be on the photography, so I decided to bring only one camera and one lens. I decided that, since I did not know how close we would be to the action and what we would see, I would bring the Canon 28-300mm lens since it gave me a wide range to shoot with. And knowing that there was going to be a lot of fast action, I did splurge and bring the Canon 1DX.

We got to the rodeo around 2pm and found our seats, which were located about 40 rows up and pretty close to the center of the ring. At this point, I was wishing that I had brought the Canon 100-400 lens to let me zoom in a little closer to the action.

(Canon 1DX, 28-300mm lens at 300mm, ISO 400, 1/1250 sec, f/5.6) 
I zoomed the lens all the way to 300mm and started shooting some of the bucking broncos. And with a little bit of cropping, everything worked out pretty well. I made sure to keep my shutter speed high to freeze the action.

(Canon 1DX28-300mm lens at 300mm, ISO 400, 1/2000 sec, f/5.6) 

The fast shutter speed did freeze the action. When I saw this image and some of the others, I was wondering how these guys take this kind of abuse. I'll bet this guys back hurt more than mine after a full day of shooting!

(Canon 1DX28-300mm lens at 210mm, ISO 100, 1/80 sec, f/16) 
After the riders were done, these ladies came out and performed some really amazing tricks on the horses. At this point, I slowed the shutter speed to 1/80 sec to get some motion in the horse's legs. I panned at the same speed as the horse to freeze the the ladies and the horse. (And for those of you wondering how I got them tack sharp at such a slow shutter speed, I took a lot of photos and grabbed the best - and I have practiced this too.)

(Canon 1DX28-300mm lens at 300mm, ISO 500, 1/3200 sec, f/5.6) 
Having never been to a rodeo before, I was surprised when they announced some stunt motorcyclists. But, since I have always wanted to shoot photos of these guys, I was happy to see them there. I started taking photos of these guys from our seats, but as you can tell, the background was pretty distracting. I was trying my best to make this a family day, but I just couldn't help myself and quickly excused myself and ran down to the lowest seating to get a better angle.

(Canon 1DX28-300mm lens at 135mm, ISO 500, 1/5000 sec, f/5.6) 
Getting down low, and having some nice clouds in the background, made the shot so much better!

(Canon 1DX28-300mm lens at 150mm, ISO 800, 1/8000 sec, f/5.6) 
I could have cropped out the lights and tree tops from the bottom of this photo, but I like the way that it shows the height of the jump.

(Canon 1DX28-300mm lens at 50mm, ISO 500, 1/5000 sec, f/5.6) 
I grabbed this wide shot, during the finale, when they were all three jumping at the same time. As you can see, I only got two of the riders in this shot, and it was taken at 50mm. If I had been shooting with the 100-400mm lens, I would not have been able to shoot this wide shot.

(Canon 1DX28-300mm lens at 300mm, ISO 500, 1/3200 sec, f/5.6) 
Then it was back to the traditional rodeo events, and I was back in my seat (for a little while anyways).

(Canon 1DX28-300mm lens at 300mm, ISO 100, 1/40 sec, f/20) 
I photographed the first couple sets of these steer wrestlers at a really fast shutter speed. The photos were fine but seemed to lack the drama that I was seeing in front of me. So, I decided to slow the shutter down once again and pan with the riders. This was a little tricky, because I had three subjects in the frame and, at times, they would be going at different speeds. This was one of my favorite photos from the day.

(Canon 1DX28-300mm lens at 300mm, ISO 500, 1/1000 sec, f/5.6) 
My daughter asked if we could get up and walk around. To me, this meant that we could go explore together, and to her this meant that she could go shopping for a new sweatshirt or hat. After she and I sucked down a corn dog, we found some open seats that were low and right by the action. I grabbed some more photos from this location.

(Canon 1DX28-300mm lens at 300mm, ISO 320, 1/1250 sec, f/5.6) 
This bull had no intentions of leaving the area, so some cowboys had to rope him and give him some direction.

(Canon 1DX28-300mm lens at 300mm, ISO 320, 1/1600 sec, f/5.6) 
I photographed a bunch of the bull riders, but since most of the action was right up against the gates, it was tough to isolate them from the background. I like this shot with the bull's face in the dirt, eyes wide open, while being surrounded by a whole lot of cowboys and cowboy hats.

(Canon 1DX28-300mm lens at 260mm, ISO 100, 1/125 sec, f/11) 
In between the bull riders, there were women performing in the barrel racing. It was a fun challenge to change all the camera settings (to slow the shutter) for these riders and then quickly change them once again for the bull riders.

(Canon 1DX28-300mm lens at 300mm, ISO 320, 1/1600 sec, f/5.6) 
The last event that we saw, before heading back home for the evening, was the freestyle bull fighting, where these guys did their best to tease the bulls while staying in one piece.

(Canon 1DX28-300mm lens at 300mm, ISO 320, 1/1600 sec, f/5.6) 

(Canon 1DX28-300mm lens at 300mm, ISO 800, 1/1600 sec, f/5.6) 
See...if you ever have a bull charging you, now you know that all you have to do is jump over him!


If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. I would really appreciate that.

And stay up-to-date with all my photos and videos on my Facebook page.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Flying Over Niagara Falls (a new video made with the Phantom 2 Vision+ drone)

When I first got my Phantom 2 Vision+ and took it for the first flight around my neighborhood, I could only imagine the cool places where I could shoot video and stills. At the time, I had no idea that I would create videos (since I am really a still shooter at heart) in cool places like Italy and San Francisco. And a couple of weeks ago, I was asked to attend meetings at Niagara Falls, and all I could think about was "I need to fly the drone over the falls!"

For a couple of evenings last week, I had a chance to take the drone over the falls and capture the beauty of this amazing location from the air. You can click the image below to see the video.

For those of you who follow my Facebook page, you know that I also brought my Canon 5D Mark III with the Canon 28-300mm lens. And even though I used the Canon along with the Phantom, I kept thinking that the DSLR shots were really nice but not unique enough. So many people take photos and video of the falls, that it is difficult to show Niagara in a unique way. While flying the drone over the falls, I was just blown away at what I saw on the display of my iPhone (which is used to see a realtime view of what the camera on the Phantom is seeing). I was literally shaking with excitement. And...yeah...I was also shaking with the thought of losing the drone in the falls. It is really easy to fly, and honestly did not feel too much trepidation about flying it over the falls. The people watching me fly it around were much more nervous about me losing the drone than I was.

For those of you wondering about legality of shooting over the falls, it was hard to determine if there were any hard fast restrictions. On the Canadian side of the falls, I was asked to bring the drone down, and told that it was not allowed. But on the US side, I never saw any rangers or security. In order to be safe and stay within the FAA restrictions, I kept the Phantom under 400 feet in altitude, kept it within sight at all times, and avoided flying over crowds. Really, the worst that could have happened is, I would have dumped it into the river and had a very short video of it tumbling off the edge for it's last flight ever.

Once I captured all of the video footage, I went through each clip to find the ones that were the most interesting. This amounted to an hour of footage. And then on my 5 hour flight home, I spent most of the flight pairing down the one hour of video (in iMovie) to 5 minutes. This was not easy!

After reviewing the video over and over again, I made minor adjustments to some of the clips and then needed to add the music track. I went to Audiojungle and listened to numerous audio files to find a suitable audio track. Once I found the one I liked, I purchased it and then added it to the video. Since the song was shorter than the video clip, I actually had to loop it twice.

And then it was complete and ready to share with all of you. I really hope that you have as much fun watching the video as I did capturing it!

If you want to try one of these yourself, here are the links to what I used.

DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ (which includes the camera and gimbal)
2 extra batteries (each one lasting approximately 25 minutes)
HPRC Travel Case (with wheels)
3 of the Lexar 32GB 633x microSD cards (which come with a USB 3.0 reader)

You will have SO much fun!


If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. I would really appreciate that.

And stay up-to-date with all my photos and videos on my Facebook page.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Flying Over San Francisco - How I made the video with the Phantom 2

I have received a lot of questions about my new video called "Flying over San Francisco", People want to know how I shot it, how the camera stayed so steady, what technology I used, and the legality of shooting in these locations. So...I am writing this blog entry to answer your questions and tell you how I made the video.

All of this started a couple of weeks ago, just after I returned from shooting in Sardinia. I was spending a lot of time in San Francisco, since my daughter was staying in the hospital there. One afternoon, while my daughter was resting, my wife (who had been staying for almost a week in the hospital with my daughter) really needed to get out for a little bit, so we drove over to the Golden Gate Bridge. I had the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ in the trunk of my car and I really wanted to fly by the bridge. We parked at the base of the bridge, I powered everything up, and sent the flying camera up and away. The winds were howling and my wife looked at me like I was crazy. Once the Phantom was in the air and hovering near the bridge, I looked down at my iPhone (which gives me a realtime view of what the camera on the Phantom is seeing) and it was obvious that the motorized gimbal could handle the movement. I was totally amazed at what I saw on the screen! I captured 9 or 10 different video clips and a bunch of still images from different angles, and then brought the Phantom back to me.

Once I got back to the hospital, I downloaded everything. My wife, daughter and even some of the hospital staff were all impressed with the unique perspective of the video. At that point, I was inspired to get more footage.

Over the last couple of weeks, I continued to make trips to San Francisco (about an hour from where I live) to shoot video of my favorite spots in San Francisco. Knowing what this device could do, I set out to try and get different views of the city. At the same time, I was also careful to fly safe and legal. Right now, it seems like the rules are all grey, with the technology being way ahead of the law. But from what I read on the Internet, I needed to stay under 400 foot altitude and away from heavily congested areas. But, as you will see from other video clips, I did fly over people, but stayed away from "heavy congestion". I kept thinking, "what constitutes heavy congestion, vs. people in the area."

During my second trip to SF, I wanted to go and shoot more video of the Golden Gate Bridge, but from the north side, facing back to the city. As I drove across the Bay Bridge, I looked west to see that the Golden Gate Bridge was completely covered in fog. That wasn't going to happen.

But, since it was perfectly clear at the Bay Bridge, and this was a rare time to see both the new segment and the dismantling of the old segment, I decided that this would be my first stop. I got off at Treasure Island, which exists in the middle of the two spans of the Bay Bridge. I flew the Phantom towards the bridge from a distant location and decided that it was just too far away. I wanted to keep the Phantom in my vision while shooting the video. So, after driving around the small island for a while, I found a closer location where I could launch the flying camera and see it the whole time.

This sequence was pretty easy to shoot, since the Phantom maintained it's position, using GPS, and I just had to pan while in place. Honestly, the hardest part was using the controls to do a slow and steady pan, without any jerky motions. This took numerous tries to get a useable clip.

Once I knew that I had good footage from the Oakland side of the bridge, I moved to the other side of the island to get video and stills of the San Francisco span of the bridge. But after a lot of searching, I determined that there was no close and clear view of the bridge from that side. I found a parking spot on the southwest side of the island, and launched the Phantom straight up to determine the quality of the view. I was happy to see that the bridge was close by and at a nice angle from me. It was on one of these exploratory flights that I came up with the idea for this sequence. I pointed the camera straight towards the trees and sent the Phantom 2 Vision+ straight up in a slow and steady rise. You will notice a little bit of left/right motion as I get past the tree level. That was from the winds, which increased once I was over the tree cover. I tried this shot many times, but could never avoid that wind change.

(You might be wondering how many batteries I had with me, since each lasts about 20 minutes. I only had 3 batteries, but on my way up to the city, I made a stop at an electronics store and bought a $40 inverter for the car. This let me charge the batteries while I drove from one location to another. This proved to be an excellent purchase, as I never ran out of fresh batteries. Since I never ran the batteries below 30%, I could get a reasonable recharge in 30 minutes.)

This middle sequence was actually the last one that I took. I was just about done editing the video (using Apple's iMovie), when I felt that something was missing. I really wanted to include a shot with the colors of the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park. Since my daughter had another procedure at UCSF, and we were heading back to the city once again, I packed the Phantom for this one last shot. As it turned out, the weather was really nice on Saturday, giving me a great shot of the park.

Since this was a weekend in Golden Gate Park, and the height of tourist season, there were a lot of people at the Conservatory. I have flown the Phantom quite a bit for the last month, and feel confident in my abilities. I was a little worried, not about safety as much as the noise of the Phantom disturbing people. (For those who have not heard one, they sound like a loud cluster of bees).

Like almost everywhere else I have flown this, I turned out to be the attraction as opposed to the distraction. Lots of people were coming up to me, wanting to see the display, and astounded at what I was capturing. And lots and lots of questions. The most common questions were "how long does the battery last?" and "how far away can it be flown?" As for the answer to the last question, The farthest that I have flown was 2300 feet away, and then it lost connection to the controller. This happened over the ocean in Sardinia, Italy. And the best part is, when the Phantom loses connection, it uses GPS and flies itself home to where it took off. Brilliant!!! I have had this happen 5 or 6 times now and it works amazingly well. They even tell people that if you lose site of the device, to turn off the controller and let the Phantom bring itself back.

I was teaching at a camera store in San Francisco one evening last week, and left home early to make a couple more stops in the city. This time I went to Coit Tower, to try and get some shots from high above San Francisco. Just like the tree shot, I pointed the camera directly at Coit Tower and did a slow climb, eventually going above the tower and seeing just the city.

Once I had the "climb" shot completed, I switched batteries and sent the Phantom up once again for some different views. One of the harder maneuvers for a new "pilot" is flying around something while pointing at the subject. I am still not great at this, but managed to get a useable sequence for the video, and actually once that I am pretty happy with. What a beautiful view of San Francisco from this altitude!

The closing shot of the video, was taken at Lombard Street, otherwise known as the "crookedest street in the world". I was standing at the bottom of the hill, so that I could get a good perspective, and see the height of the Phantom. I did numerous passes up and down the street, both at low and high altitudes. I figured that I could not have a video of San Francisco without this famous tourist attraction. The last shot was fairly simple, with me maintaining the Phantom's altitude and just backing away from the street. I like the way that it shows the details of Lombard street with a context of the surrounding buildings.

Oh yeah, one other question I get a lot is "How much does that cost?" When I tell people that it costs $1299, the next question is usually, "How much is the camera?" When I tell them that the $1299 price includes everything (other than the mobile phone I am using to remotely view the camera), they are pretty impressed. I look at the Phantom as something that costs half of what many of my lenses cost, and it lets me get photos that are impossible with any other camera or lens. And, flying this thing is a whole lot more fun than using a traditional camera.

As I mentioned, I did all the editing in Apple's iMovie, mainly cutting down the clips and merging just the best sequences. I then purchased the music from AudioJungle and voila!

If you want to try one of these yourself, here are the links to what I used.

DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ (which includes the camera and gimbal)
2 extra batteries (each one lasting approximately 25 minutes)
HPRC Travel Case (with wheels)
3 of the Lexar 32GB 633x microSD cards (which come with a USB 3.0 reader)

You will have SO much fun!


If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. I would really appreciate that.

And stay up-to-date with all my photos and videos on my Facebook page.